State championships are nothing new to the South Hope volleyball team. In fact, it is becoming quite customary to not only the Royals themselves, but their fans as well. And after winning four straight state crowns, who could blame them.

However, that does not mean they are becoming jaded to all their success, as the South Hope fans came out in droves Saturday at Lisbon Falls Baptist Church as the Athletics For Christian Education League (ACEL) volleyball championship was again up for grabs as the Royals prepared to take on the Grace Baptist Church Lions of Portland for the prestigious state title.

In a best-of-three series, the Royals once again proved to be on top of their game and left little to chance as they dominated play and won their fifth straight undefeated state championship season, winning the first set 25-13 and the decisive championship set 25-17.

The win marks the 88th straight victory for the Royals, whose dominance in the ACEL stretches all the way back to 2006. South Hope was 73-0 heading into this season and won 12 regular season games along with three playoff games this year, including Saturday’s state final.

The Royals were state runners up in 2005 and also won the state title in 2004, giving South Hope six state titles in seven years.

“It feels great,” said South Hope coach Fawn Adolphsen on their fifth straight state crown. “They’ve been looking really strong the last three weeks, and we just felt like we could do it. And sometimes if you feel like you can do it, you go in and you’re confident and you get a good lead, you feel like you can relax a little, and it works.”

Adolphsen added that in their semifinal matchup against Oxford Hills Christian Academy, the Royals played a more defensive game and had trouble getting into any kind of rhythm.

Saturday, however, was a different story, as they jumped out to a big lead in the first set and only trailed briefly in the second set.

Grace Baptist coach Katie Carr said her team was missing two starters and were constantly subbing in and out throughout the contest, but that her team played as well as they could have against the highly touted Royals.

“They did very well, and I’m so proud of them,” she said. “We haven’t been to the championships in 16 years, so just this in and of itself is just great.”

Carr added that her team was not intimidated by South Hope, but rather motivated them in hopes of ending not only their state championship reign but their impressive winning streak as well.

“It wasn’t freaking them out or anything, but we just wanted to end their reign,” she said. “Five years is long enough. They wanted their turn to be today. It didn’t work out that way, but I’m really proud of the way they stepped up. They really played well.”

The match opened with a 7-0 run by the Royals, as Darcy Finnemore hit service winners on four of the points, and was aided on one point by a Lion return that went long. South Hope held Grace Baptist at bay over the course of the first set, not allowing them to get closer than their initial seven-point deficit.

Then with the score 24-13 and the final serve upcoming, Tanya Brown served the ball which just barely cleared the top of the net. She then breathed a sigh of relief as the ball grazed the top of the net and fell in front of a Lion defender, for the winning point of the first set.

That put the Royals up 1-0 and following a 10-minute break, the defending champions got back to work.

The second game began with Olivia Merrill serving for the Lions. She managed only two points before drilling a serve into the net. Back and forth it went until Corinne Mathieu returned the ball into the net, making the score 4-3 Lions with the Royals’ Tanya Brown taking the ball to the service line. Brown proceeded to serve seven straight points, aided by two Kaitlyn Kee spikes, a Kee tap, and a Grace Baptist return out of bounds.

Perhaps the most impressive volley of the day came with South Hope up 16-11 in the second set, as both teams battled for well over a minute with many terrific plays made by both teams in an effort to keep the ball in play. The volley finally came to an end when Royal Kaitlyn Kee, playing in front of the net, deposited the ball over the head of a Lion player and onto the floor, putting South Hope up 17-11.

Then with the score 24-17, and not wanting to prolong the drama any further, on the very next point Kaitlyn Kee tapped in the winner for the Royals, sending both the players and fans into a frenzy.

While one would think it would be difficult to keep a team with such a winning streak motivated, Adolphsen said that is the least of her problems as the competitive streak on this team runs deep.

“They challenge themselves, and they are also competitive against each other,” she said. “And they just love to play. They love volleyball. They live for it. They eat it and drink it. If I had five practices a week they would love it.”

While all team members played exceptionally well, it was the play of Kee that stood out. She scored many points and was a force in front of the net as teammates were constantly setting her for well-placed spikes, which she more often than not converted on.

Impressively, the Royals had no seniors this season, meaning this year’s team will stay intact and will have the deck shuffled in their favor to earn their sixth straight state title next season.

Team members for the reigning state champions from South Hope include Alexandra Sukeforth, Savannah Adolphsen, Malyla Chadwick, Rachel Pease, Taylor Brown, Tanya Brown, Darcy Finnemore and Kaitlyn Kee.

Team members for Grace Baptist include Anastasia St. Ours, Mackenzie Berry, Kayley Cimino, Crystal Day, Stephanie Wadsworth, Abbigail Jorgenson, Shelby Simoneau, Natasha Day, Olivia Merrill, Corinne Mathieu, Natalia St. Ours, Kelsey Simoneau and Lindsey Balfour.

Click for more photos from the ACEL state volleyball championship.

Sherwood Young contributed to this story.

Village NetMedia Associate Sports Director Mark Haskell can be reached at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at mhaskell@villagesoup.com.