In 1992, the Park City High School girls' tennis team won a state championship. In the more than two decades that followed, heartbreak ended every season, often seeing the Miners walk away with a second-place trophy.
But Park City coach Tim Donnelly had a feeling this year would be different. With a senior-laden squad balanced out by rising stars in the underclassman ranks, Donnelly felt his team had a fighting chance to end the title drought.
"It's always been the goal, really," he said. "But you never really know until you're in it if you can do it. Six months ago I thought, 'Gee, we can win a state title,' but you don't know what that means exactly. We've always had the talent to do it. But the question is how you take that talent, after coming in second so many times, and get it done."
The Miners got it done behind the title-winning efforts of No. 2 singles player Danielle Lecher and No. 3 singles player Jessica Santos.
After cruising to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Dixie and a 5-7, 6-1, 6-1 win against a North Sanpete opponent on Friday, Lecher entered Saturday's semifinals on a roll.
By defeating a Pine View opponent in the semis, 6-1, 6-4, she earned a chance to face Borgen Nelson of Snow Canyon, the player who knocked Lecher out of last year's state tournament in the second round.
This time, Lecher was up to the challenge, winning the first set 6-2 before Nelson could settle into a groove. Nelson bounced back in the second set, though, winning in a tiebreak.
After falling behind 4-1 in set three, Donnelly said Lecher played her best tennis yet while fighting her way back and forcing a tiebreak, which she ended up winning to claim the title.
"She's been working on remaining calm and having somewhat of an even temperament throughout her matches," he said. "It was so unbelievably cool that she could have that mental fortitude and stamina to do that against someone that has played probably dozens more tournaments in her career than Dani has.
"I still can't believe it," Lecher said. "I never thought I'd win. I remember it being 4-1 and all of a sudden I was like, 'I'm not going to lose 6-1, I'm going to make it close. I just played my game and played smart after that."
After two torn ACLs and various other injuries, going out on top was extra sweet for the senior.
"I've never really had to dig that deep before," she said. "Now that I've done it, I've learned so much more. It was more of a mental game, that match. It was so exhausting mentally and it just came down to who wanted it more."
The road to the title was very similar for Santos. After a 6-0, 6-2 win against a Stansbury opponent and knocking off a Desert Hills player 6-4, 6-0 on the first day, Santos once again had an easy, straight-set victory in the semifinals.
That led to a showdown with a Pine View player in the finals. Santos came out strong, winning the first set before losing in the second set. But, like Lecher, Santos was able to stay calm and battle for the win in the final set.
"She played the match of her life," Donnelly said. "She completely dominated the third set using her cross-court backhand to open up the court. It was incredible to watch."
For Santos, who was ranked 16th out of 21 players on the tennis team last year, it's been an incredible season.
"I was really excited," she said of winning the last point of the title match. "I was shocked because I didn't know if it was really happening. I've worked really hard for this moment."
Offseason dedication to the sport has made Santos a favorite to take over the No. 1 singles role next year.
"I started playing a lot more over the summer and playing with other kids, older most of the time," she said. "That helped me get to that level. The intensity is higher."
This season's No. 1 singles player, senior Solveig Karlsen, had a great tournament until the finals, cruising through the first day while only losing two games in back-to-back 6-0, 6-1 victories.
"Solveig's been playing the best tennis I've ever seen her play," Donnelly said. "She's worked incredibly hard at it. This year, I think she's played something close to like 30 tournaments."
Karlsen won her semifinal match against a Snow Canyon opponent 6-2, 6-3 before facing off against Lacy Hancock of Pine View. Hancock overpowered Karlsen en route to a 6-0, 6-0 win and a state title. But Donnelly said Karlsen has a lot to be pleased about this year.
"I'm so proud of what she achieved this year," he said. "Throughout the whole year not just this tournament, not just region. She has been able to correct things that weren't working and change her game plan when she needed to. She led this team to a state title."
Though the No. 2 doubles team of Natalie Beal and Carlin O'Connell lost their opening match to a tough Hurricane squad, Donnelly said the two juniors have cause for optimism.
"Although they were trying to follow a strategy that we had devised for them, I think their nerves got the better of them," he said. "But they did a fantastic job battling back in the second set. Unfortunately, they weren't able to advance to the second round."
The No. 1 doubles team of Kylie Schwalbe and McKenna Tychsen fared better, advancing to the second day of the tournament via a 5-7, 6-2, 6-1 win against Dixie and following it up with another win against Stansbury.
Donnelly said the girls played much better after losing the first set.
"It's kind of been their way all year in that they almost need to get beaten in that first set for them to wake up a little bit," he said. "They tend to relax in the first set, which they did. Shortly after that set though, they turned it on big time. That gives you an idea of how quickly they can turn it around and completely dominate a match."
Schwalbe and Tychsen won their semifinal match against Hurricane, 6-2, 6-3.
"They completely looked like a championship team," Donnelly said. "They were moving well together, executing their volleys very well. Both of them are just incredibly talented and aggressive players."
But against an experienced Desert Hills team in the finals, the duo lost in three sets to finish as the state runners up.
"That's just the way it goes sometimes," Donnelly said. "But they should be very proud of their achievements this year."
By accumulating 20 team points to Pine View's 14, Park City was able to end the title drought as a squad. Donnelly said he'll always remember the way this year's team battled and improved every week.
"It's thrilling, but I'm not surprised," he said. "These girls they did it. It's all them."
The senior class, which includes Karlsen, Tychsen, Lecher, Blair Roussos, Katie Lagnese, Katie Hardman and Caroline Davis, has left its mark on the Park City program, Donnelly added.
"They got us a state title," he said. "It's their contribution and their leadership that helped us get to this point."
With Santos, Schwalbe, O'Connell and Beal returning, along with a large group of talented underclassmen, the future is bright for the Miners.
"We're doing things towards the latter part of the year that I never saw them do when they got on the tennis court back in August," Donnelly said. "We've also got a fairly big contingent of juniors. A bunch of them are starting to understand what it takes to be able to compete at this level."