LAFAYETTE — Bridget Bell will tell you that she was just happy to be there.
The Dawson freshman didn't have a ton of expectations entering her first high school season, and understood the Mustangs history of falling just a little bit short in a what-used-to-be-brutal Class 4A regional tournament.
But when CHSAA opened up a new classification this season, things changed and for the better for the Dawson program that head coach Kathy Benninghoff said "found a home in Class 3A."
In their inaugural season in the new classification, the Mustangs established themselves as a program to be reckoned with. They placed five of the seven positions — finishing in the top four — and both Bell (No. 2 singles) and Maggie Berry (No. 3) became the schools first-ever state champs.
Bell dropped the first set in the final against Colorado Academy's Savannah Mease before rallying to avenge one of her two losses during the season, and in doing so earned the BoCoPreps.com Player of the Year honor for 2017.
"I went into it knowing that I had already had a good season, and I had made it to the finals and I was just excited to have a chance to play her again," said Bell, who had lost to Mease just two weeks prior in a a baseline slugfest. "It was one of the best opportunities ever and I had to take advantage of it."
And in stark contrast to their first hard-hitting meeting, Mease got defensive very early in the match and it paid off for a first-set victory.
It was a tactic that Bell vowed to not let beat her again after she dropped a similar kind of match to Eaton's Lindsey Leafgren in the first round of the Longmont Tournament.
Mease, who rallied from a 4-1 deficit to win the first set, stayed with the defensive tactic throughout the rest of the match. Bell remained mentally strong, however, and didn't let the strategic shift impact her. She continued to play her game and won the state title.
Benninghoff said that improving her mental toughness was Bell's greatest improvement throughout the season.
"I knew if she got of to a good start that she would believe that not only could she compete, but she could win," said Benninghoff, who pointed to two victories over Peak to Peak's Trini Somasundaram as big moments in her freshman's season. "She adapted to the way (Mease) went to plan B and went into that lob oblivion and it was a smart thing for her to do.
"She's a young player and is really as student of the game. She is able to put her losses — and she hasn't had many — into perspective pretty quickly."
Said Bell, who is still on Cloud Nine since winning her state title: "I was really surprised to have to see that in the final, but when I won it was liberating to know that I can play all sorts of styles."