What a way to end a program.

The South Hope Christian School volleyball squad earned its sixth straight Athletics for Christian Education League state championship Saturday afternoon in a best-of-three match victory over the Pioneers of South Liberty Baptist Academy at Lisbon Falls Baptist Church.

The Royals won the first two games — 25-20 and 25-12 — to earn their sixth straight state crown and improve their unbeaten streak to 103 matches.

The outcome of the championship is fitting since it has been announced South Hope Christian School will close at the end of the current academic year, thus ending the volleyball program as well.

“[It] just feels great. It was a blast,” said South Hope coach Fawn Adolphsen. “I had a great three years [with the team] and I’m happy we could end it this way and I’ll miss it and [the players] will miss it.”

South Hope, coached by Fawn Adolphsen, includes Marina Adolphsen, Shachia Harvey, Nona Harvey, Gina Harvey, Savana Adolphsen, Taylor Brown, Tanya Brown, Shianne Wadsworth, Darcy Finnemore and Kaytlin Kee.

For Kee, a senior, who has been on the team through all 103 wins, said the final day was not as sad as she thought it would be. “I’m just, right now, I’m so happy I can’t think of anything else,” she said. “Tonight it will probably hit me that, ‘Oh, it’s the last time playing with my team ever.’”

Despite the loss, South Liberty coach Jay Pelton said his team played hard and had a strong season. South Liberty, coached by Jay and Jenn Pelton, is made up of Adrianna Wadsworth, Bethany Smith, Dawn Elliot, Nicole Young, Abby Daggett, Christiane Wadsworth, Julianna Smith, Samantha Wadsworth, Lucy Giguere and Emily Pelton.

“That was our goal at the beginning of the season, was just to get to the championship game,” coach Jay Pelton said. “Just see what we could do, you know? We gave it our best shot and [South Hope] played very well and they were the better team.”

The Royals opened with a 5-2 run on the strength of Savana Adolphsen’s serves and Kee’s spikes, as well as a wily tap over the net by Tanya Brown. But the Pioneers came to play and clawed tooth and nail to stay in the contest.

“The girls played well,” Pelton said. “We were trying to hit the ball to certain areas to try to kind of keep Kaytlin out of the game, which we kinda did during the first rotation [and] the game was even. But then, once she got in the back, we just couldn’t find any holes and they just out-volleyed us, really.”

With Wadsworth serving for South Hope at 11-6, Samantha Wadsworth’s spike took the ball back for South Liberty. South Liberty took the ball to the service line and served two successive points, with help from another Samantha Wadsworth spike and a South Hope unforced error, and it was 11-9 for the blue and gold.

The action continued back and forth until, at 16-15, a South Hope return went out of bounds and the game was knotted 16-16. However, Abby Daggett’s serve went out, and  Kee took the ball to the service line. Kee served five straight points, with assistance from two spikes by Finnemore, and suddenly it was 22-16 for the Royals. But South Hope lost the ball on a net violation, and Samantha Wadsworth strode to the service line for the red, white and blue.

Three points later it was 22-20 and the tension was palpable. Then an unforced error returned the ball to South Hope. With Shianne Wadsworth serving at 23-20, Tanya Brown’s spike won the next point, and the game was won when the Pioneers’ return found the net. The South Hope faithful heaved a collective sigh of relief.

Game two gave all indications of being the same as game one. With the Royals leading 9-4, Kee’s return went into the net to give the Pioneers the point and the ball. Samantha Wadsworth then served four straight points and it was 9-9. Again the action was back and forth until Shianne Wadsworth took the ball to the service line with the Royals leading 12-10. She proceeded to serve 10 consecutive points, with help from spikes by Tanya Brown and Finnemore.

The Royals lost the next point, but took the following point on Tanya Brown’s spike that glanced off the net and in for a winner. Finnemore served the next point to make it 24-11, but Emily Pelton tapped the ball over the net to take back the serve for South Liberty. However, no miracle was in the cards for South Liberty. On the next point, a Pioneer return went out of bounds, and history was made with the Royals’ sixth straight state title and 103rd straight victory.

“I can’t explain it,” Kee said. “It’s just so exciting. It’s really hard to believe. To say that 103 games straight, championships and playoffs included, the team is very happy, we had a great attitude towards each other today. We always pulled it together, we always do no matter what. It’s just one of the things about our team.”

However, come spring, the team will be no more. After their marathon streak, the South Hope school is closing, leaving the Royals with a bittersweet ending.

“It’s overwhelming,” said junior Tanya Brown. “It feels sad but happy at the same time. Sad, but I’m happy that we went out with a championship like we wanted to and we also reached our hundredth win this year also.”

Other members of the South Hope squad felt conflicted as well.

“It just feels amazing because the girls, they worked so hard for six years and now we have come to this point,” said eighth-grader Nona Harvey. “Even though it is sad that we are not having a team next year, but they have really earned [the title]. it just feels awesome.”

For Kee, this game was even more important than breaking the 100-win streak. “I was just praying, ‘Just give me this last game. Let’s have this last game perfect, no mistakes.’ This last game meant a whole lot more to me than all the other championships before just because people will remember this game because it is the last game ever for us.”

Now that the Royals have heard their final cheers, coach Fawn Adolphsen wondered if another ACEL team would ever reach the same lofty achievements as South Hope volleyball has during this remarkable stretch.

“For 30 years I have never seen a team this good,” she said. “So what they had was really special and I don’t know if we will ever see a team this good. I don’t know if another team would be able to do that. I don’t know why they were special, but they were.”

Sherwood Young contributed to this story.

VillageSoup sports staff can be reached by phone at 207-594-4401 or by e-mail at sports@villagesoup.com.