Players on the Waterville girls’ tennis team hold the championship trophy after defeating Cape Elizabeth 3-2 in the Class B final Saturday at Lewiston High School. Drew Bonifant/Kennebec Journal

LEWISTON — Depth had been the primary strength all season for the Waterville girls’ tennis team. On Saturday, it lifted the Purple Panthers to the biggest win they’ve ever achieved.

Waterville won both doubles matches to go with a victory at third singles from Sarah McNeil, and the Panthers defeated Cape Elizabeth 3-2 in the Class B state final at Lewiston High School for the first state championship in program history.

“It’s the most overwhelming feeling in the world,” said Waterville junior Keira Gilman, part of the first doubles team along with Karin Zimba that won 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 to clinch the championship. “I’m filled with emotions. That was the hardest match we’ve had, ever.”

It was a similar story in the boys’ match, as Yarmouth also lost the top two singles matches but swept doubles and won third singles for a 3-2 victory over Waterville. It’s the second straight title for the Clippers (15-1).

“We had a very deep team,” Yarmouth Coach Bill Shardlow said. “Of all the teams that I’ve coached, the difference in ability between 1 and 8 is the closest on this team I’ve ever had. If you watch our No. 2 doubles players, they’re good tennis players. We knew our whole season was going to be predicated on that.”

Depth has been the backbone for the Waterville girls (16-0), who were dealt only four individual losses leading up to the state final, none of them coming from the doubles teams of Gilman and Zimba, and Hannah Hubbard and Miranda Troy. Waterville had strong players at the top two singles spots, as well, in Inga Zimba and Amna Sheikh, but with Cape Elizabeth (13-2) bringing Blair Hollyday and Caroline Gentile, respectively, the doubles matches became vital.

Waterville’s Inga Zimba hits a return during her singles match against Cape Elizabeth in the Class B final Saturday at Lewiston High School. Drew Bonifant/Kennebec Journal

“We knew coming into it that (No.) 1 singles was going to very tough to take,” Waterville Coach Devin Lachapelle said. “We knew we were going to have to take both doubles and, likely, (No.) 3 singles.”

That’s how it played out, with Gentile winning 6-2, 6-2 at second singles but McNeil winning 6-4, 6-2 at third singles to help the Panthers pull even.

“I did know going in that I needed to win my match,” McNeil said. “But I honestly didn’t think about it all that much. I didn’t feel the pressure until 4-2 at the second set.”

With Hollyday on her way to a 6-1, 6-1 victory at No. 1, attention shifted to the doubles courts, where both matches went three sets. The second team of Hubbard and Troy finished first, winning 6-2, 6-7 (4), 6-1. At first doubles, Gilman and Karin Zimba knew the heat was on.

“It took a lot of focus, and me and Karin are really good at balancing each other out and calming each other down when it’s a big match like that,” Gilman said. “That helped a ton.”

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Karin Zimba said. “You could feel that pressure. It can get to you if you don’t keep a clear head and focus.”

She and Gilman did, bouncing back from a second-set loss to seal the title.

“(The team) played unbelievably well,” Lachapelle said. “The fact that both doubles were able to really clamp down and take charge in that third set was obviously critical. That was great.”

In the boys’ match, Yarmouth was in control from the beginning, jumping out to big leads in third singles and both doubles. The matches ended within minutes of each other; first Andi Cobaj and Miles Hagedorn beat Cole Bazakas and Nick Poulin 6-1, 6-0 at second doubles, then Quinn Federle defeated Josiah Bloom 6-0, 6-3 at third singles, followed by Sutter Augur and Ethan Lombard winning 6-3, 6-2 at first doubles.

Owen Evans (6-1, 6-3) and Charlie Haberstock (6-3, 6-1), a quarterfinalist in the singles tournament, won at No. 2 and 1 singles, respectively, for the Panthers (15-1).

Federle, a sophomore, was particularly sharp while helping Yarmouth build the early lead.

“I played really well in the first set, let him back in it in the second,” he said. “I just came out firing at the start. I think that first set was the best I’ve played this season.”

Federle said the Clippers learned early on in the spring that they would be a tough team to bring down.

“After the first few matches, we were pretty clearly the team to beat,” he said. “I don’t think we really let it get to us, though.”

Not even after most of the 2019 core graduated last year.

“We had to rebuild a little bit this year, retool,” Shardlow said. “None of our three singles players had played singles before this year.”

With the Clippers’ depth, however, the rebuild couldn’t have gone smoother.

“We’ve been that way all year long,” Shardlow said. “We’re a deep team that just grinds it out.”

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