At one point Wednesday at Derryfield School in Manchester, Littleton tennis head coach Al Smith was wondering if either team was going to win the Division III girls’ tennis title after singles.
“The matches were so close and we were actually trailing early on in five of them,” said Smith. “But our girls refused to lose and found a way to come back.”
Key single wins from Jaclyn Howard and Allison Horne catapulted fourth-ranked Littleton past second-ranked Conant of Jaffrey 5-4 for the Crusaders’ first state title since 1998. From 1992 through 1998 under coach Smith, Littleton won six state titles in seven seasons, including four straight from 1995 to 1998.
The interesting note about this year’s Littleton team is none of the starting six single players were seniors. “We came into this season with the attitude of playing as well as we could,” said Smith. “We knew we had a young team, but we also knew if we worked hard and played together good things would happen.”
In the semifinals Littleton shocked previously-unbeaten and top-ranked Moultonborough 6-3, sending the Crusaders to the state finals for the first time since 2009. “That win against Moultonborough was closer than the final score indicated, but it clearly gave us momentum into the championship finals,” said Smith.
Horne was trailing her No. 4 singles match 6-3 to Conant’s Ashley Rogers, but battled back to win, 8-6. Howard was behind early to Allina Bennett, but the Littleton sophomore bounced back to take an 8-6 decision. Wins by Horne and Howard coupled with Maddy McNamara’s No. 6 singles win (8-2) against Hannah Duncan, allowed Littleton to enter the doubles tied at 3-3.
In doubles, Howard and Horne teamed up to beat sisters Shannon and Allina Bennett 8-4 at No 1 and, Maddy McNamara and Rachel Fillion sealed the deal with their 8-2 decision against Rogers and Duncan at No. 6.
“It was a great way to end a memorable season,” said Smith. “We never gave up as a team.”
Conant, making its first state title appearance in school history under head coach Judy Baker, produced three single wins. Shannon Bennett beat Phebe Lahout 8-0 at No. 1, Courtney Dillon defeated Fillion 8-4 at No. 3 and Hannah Clark posted an 8-4 decision against Libby McNamara at No. 5. Dillon and Clark posted the lone doubles win for the Orioles, a 9-7 nailbiter against Lahout and Libby McNamara. Both teams closed out their outstanding seasons with 15-2 records.