IN PERFECT HARMON-Y: BBA's Jordan Harmon smashes ace to win match and lift team to title
BENNINGTON -- In the last two seasons, Burr and Burton Academy junior Jordan Harmon watched as Montpelier lifted the Division II state championship trophy.
But at match point, in the eighth game of the second set in her No. 2 singles match at this year's final, Harmon took the ball to serve with a chance to turn the tide and bring home the Bulldogs' first title since 2011.
She made no mistake about it.
Letting go of a hard serve, Harmon fired an ace past Caitlyn Bashara, giving her a 7-6, 6-2 win that clinched the state title, a 5-2 win over the Solons.
"Right before I was serving, I was thinking that it was like déjà vu to my freshman year when we lost and I was the fourth match," Harmon said. "It felt better to be in the winning position. I just thought that I was going to win this point and I wasn't going to lose it, and it worked."
Harmon's win gave BBA (16-0) the title after only the first four matches on Tuesday, a remarkable turnaround considering the Solons (15-2) won the 2013 and 2012 titles in 7-0 matches over the Bulldogs. The contest was the fifth straight between the two sides in the D-II title game, with BBA winning the first two in 2010 and 2011.
"I don't know how to describe [winning today]. It was a little bit of relief and excitement," Harmon said. "Losing to them two years in a row, it was extra special to be the one that sealed the deal and won the fourth match."
Her teammate, No. 1 singles player Maddy Pagnucco, hammered that point home.
"It was so perfect," said Pagnucco, the only Bulldog that played on the 2011 title team. "She has been the fourth one every year and it's tough to be the decision maker, even though it doesn't fall on one person. I couldn't be happier that it was Jordan who won the last match."
And while Harmon was busy securing the decisive fourth match, Pagnucco set the tone when she overcame some early jitters to crush her opponent, Chloe Golonka, and end the season with a perfect match record (16-0).
Golonka hopped out on Pagnucco early in the first set, going up 2-0. But any momentum Golonka built was quickly washed away as Pagnucco recovered to take the first set 6-2 before rolling through the second set 6-0.
"I think there were a lot of nerves, obviously, on this match," Pagnucco said. "Once I started breathing and relaxing more and getting more in the swing of it, it made a difference."
A key to the senior's win was breaking Golonka's serve in the first set, swinging out of the 0-2 hole to go up 3-2.
"To break her serve, obviously that's always a great thing to do because it takes the pressure off of your serve as well," Pagnucco said. "It allowed me to relax and play my game more."
The quickest of the first four matches was at No. 3 singles, as Irene Matas dominated Montpelier's Julie Connor, winning her final match as a Bulldog 6-3, 6-2 to put BBA up 1-0. After a perfect record this season, Matas, an exchange student from Spain, will return to her home country at the end of the school year.
After Pagnucco put BBA up 2-0, the No. 1 doubles team of seniors Stella Oh and Julia Campanella, one of several duos BBA has used in doubles this year, were locked into a fight against Alyssa Barrett and Emily Bashara to try and pick up the third team win.
Oh and Campanella came out as the stronger of the two sides, going up 1-0 then trading games with Barrett and Bashara until it was 5-4. The BBA team won the set 6-4, then went up 1-0 in the second set.
But Barrett and Bashara wouldn't go down quietly, and the Solon duo took the next two games to go up 2-1 and stayed in control up 5-4.
That was the last glimmer of hope for Montpelier, though.
Oh and Campanella rallied to dig themselves out of the hole, taking the next two games to go up 6-5, then won the match when Campanella returned a shot just in, painting the edge of the left corner of the court with her final shot.
"They were good players, we were expecting them to be comparable to our level," Campanella said. "We had to figure out what their weaknesses were when we first started off, and then we tried to utilize that."
"I think we were just prepared for the worst," Oh added. "Because we lost it the last two years, we thought to ourselves that we had nothing to lose, we got this, and we are going for it."
With BBA up 3-0, the stage was set for Harmon to bring home the trophy.
"It was huge for those first four matches to all come out and win quickly and take the early lead," said BBA coach Dan Hutner. "I was impressed with every one of them. Even when they got down, they recognized the adjustments they had to make and they made them."
BBA picked up its final win at second doubles when Silvia Velasco and Maria De Pablo rolled past Sam Ringer and Anna Hamilton 6-0, 6-1. Montpelier's two wins came at No. 4 and No. 5 singles, where Madie Dunn and Kelsey Golonka beat Gabby Vella and Eliza Breed, respectively, in three-set tiebreakers.
Kelsey Golonka won 7-5, 1-6, 10-3 to pick up Montpelier's first win, while Dunn had to dig in and hold on to top Vella 7-5, 4-6, 10-8. In the tiebreaker, Dunn trailed 8-7 at one point before pulling out the match.
"I was really pleased with Madie at fourth singles because she has had an up-and-down season," said Montpelier coach Wendy Watson. "That was by far her best match, and going out as a senior it felt really good. She put all the pieces together and beat a really good player."
For Hutner, a clean sweep would have been a nice punctuation on this year's title, but he was still proud of how his girls fought in the two losses.
"I was really impressed, they figured out how to handle adverse situations and turn them around in their favor," Hutner said of his whole team's day. "Even with the two we lost, in third-set tiebreakers, they fought to the bitter end. They both lost the first set and came back to win the second, and that was huge."
Despite falling this year, Watson gave credit where it was due before already turning to a possible, and frankly unprecedented, sixth match-up between the two sides for a D-II title.
"They were very tough this year due to their senior leadership," Watson said of BBA. "They were tough. But we didn't lose very many people, so hopefully next year we will give them a better run."
For Hutner's part, he is game to keep playing these big-moment matches.
"I think it is a great rivalry. It is something they look forward to all year long," Hutner said. "Montpelier was on their lips from the first practice and they have thought about it throughout the season. I hope we keep winning, but regardless it is nice to have that big match [with Montpelier]."
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