Individual talent and collective chemistry can go a long way in team sports.
For the Waterville High School girls tennis squad, that means all the way to Saturday’s Class B state championship match.
Coach Devin LaChappelle’s top-ranked Purple Panthers remained undefeated Thursday afternoon with a 5-0 victory over previously unbeaten Caribou in the North regional final played at Hampden Academy.
Waterville (15-0) captured its first regional crown since winning four in a row from 2011 through 2014, and will face South champion Cape Elizabeth (14-1) for the state championship at 4:30 p.m. Saturday at the Anita Murphy Courts in Lewiston.
“More than anything we were honestly just excited that we got this far,” said Waterville senior co-captain Amna Sheikh, who scored the match-clinching point for the Purple Panthers. “I talk about this all the time but we have great team spirit and that gets us all pumped before a game rather than being super-stressed or anxious about things that go wrong. [Instead] we think about all the positives and being together.”
Caribou, which began its season with just six players and was unable to field a second doubles tandem until mid-May, concluded its season at 14-1.
“For them to get this far, especially considering the fact we started out without a second doubles team, is a good season for us,” longtime Caribou coach John Habeeb said.
Habeeb felt going into the match that his team’s best chance to knock off Waterville would rest with his singles contingent, and Waterville indeed jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead against the Vikings by sweeping both doubles matches.
The Purple Panthers’ Kiera Gilman and Karin Zimba defeated Mia Theriault and Naomi Cote without dropping a game at first doubles and Hannah Hubbard and Miranda Tracy topped Jayden Fournier and Kallee Parent 6-0, 6-1 at second doubles.
The match-clinching point took somewhat longer to achieve, until Sheikh won a first-set tiebreaker and went on to top Caribou second seed Livia Bouchard 7-6 (3), 6-2.
“I think having everyone supporting us while we played really helped me,” Sheikh said. “It helped me overcome the heat, which was really affecting me in the first set.”
Waterville stretched its lead to 4-0 at third singles where Sarah McNeil fought off a challenge from Caribou’s Ashlyn Bouchard, winning a second-set tiebreaker to cap off a 6-4, 7-6 (3) victory.
Inga Zimba of Waterville and Sage Dubay of Caribou squared off in the final match of the day, with the two top seeds trading plenty of lengthy rallies before Zimba emerged with a 7-6, 7-6 (0) victory.
“We knew Waterville was a good team, and I thought, ‘Boy, it’s going to be a tough match for us to win all three singles,” Habeeb said.
Caribou was bidding for its first North title since winning back-to-back championships in 2017 and 2018.
“It seemed like once we lost those first sets, everything kind of catches up with you,” he said.