WINDHAM—For four seasons, Falmouth’s volleyball team was defined by a series of almosts.
Twice, the Yachtsmen got to the state final and lost and twice more, they suffered close playoff losses to rival Greely.
Now, at last, almosts are a thing of the past.
Saturday morning at Windham High School, Falmouth met Scarborough in a compelling Class A state final and after almost beating the Red Storm twice during the regular season, this time, the Yachtsmen left no doubt and in the process, made history and at last can call themselves the two words they so longed to hear: state champions.
Falmouth, a team which suffered from mental lapses at times this fall, shot out of the gate in the first game, grabbing a 13-3 lead, but the Yachtsmen were pushed to the brink when Scarborough rallied to go up, 24-22, priming itself to deliver a painful early blow. Instead, Falmouth rose off the deck and made a statement with four straight points, winning, 26-24, as senior Riley Burfeind capped the comeback with a kill.
The Yachtsmen built another big lead in the second game and the Red Storm again made a run, but this time couldn’t catch up and Falmouth took a stranglehold on the match with a 25-19 decision, as junior Ally Hickey punctuated the game with a kill.
Not surprisingly, Scarborough fought back in game three. Just seven points from the end of its season, the Red Storm pulled away to win, 25-21, and send the match to game four.
There, with their legacy on the line, the Yachtsmen wouldn’t be denied. They never trailed, gradually pulled away and this time, they didn’t let Scarborough entertain any comeback hopes and when senior Katrina Meserve’s block fell to the hardwood, Falmouth had a 25-16 win, a 3-1 match victory and at last, a Gold Ball, as it finished 15-2, handing Scarborough’s its only loss in 17 outings this fall.
“It feels amazing,” said Burfeind. “I can’t even believe we’re the first team to do it. We’ve come so close. We got to the championship match as freshmen. Winning it as a senior is just unreal.”
The 2013 season was one of unrivaled parity in local volleyball, meaning the fans were the ultimate winners, but when all was said and done, Scarborough and Falmouth were slightly better than the pack.
The Red Storm, which dropped a five-set heartbreaker to eventual champion Greely in the 2012 semifinals, lived up to preseason billing by not dropping a match this fall, although it was tested on several occasions.
Scarborough had no trouble with visiting Thornton Academy or Cony in 3-0 victories, then made a big statement with a first-ever win (3-1) over visiting Greely. The Red Storm followed that up by defeating visiting Gorham, host Biddeford, visiting Lake Region and host South Portland by 3-0 margins, sweeping the season series with a 3-0 victory at Greely, blanking host Kennebunk, rallying for a five-set win at Falmouth, sweeping three sets at Windham, holding off visiting Biddeford in four games, then winning at Gorham in four sets, before closing with a thrilling 3-2 home decision over Falmouth to go 14-0 for the first time.
The Red Storm earned the top seed for the playoffs and after blanking No. 8 Kennebunk in the quarterfinals, was pushed hard by No. 5 Greely in Wednesday’s semifinals, but this time, Scarborough didn’t buckle, winning a marathon 34-32 decision in the third game, before closing it out in four.
The Yachtsmen, who were also ousted in a frustrating match by Greely in 2012 (in the quarterfinals), have been nipping at Scarborough’s heels all year and found themselves involved in a series of compelling matches in the second half of the season.
Falmouth won nine in a row to start the year, blanking host Gorham and visiting Thornton Academy, winning 3-1 over visiting Biddeford and host Cape Elizabeth, blanking host Kennebunk and visiting Cheverus, downing host South Portland in four games, visiting Lake Region in three, then holding on for a 3-2 win over visiting Greely, beating the Rangers for the first time since 2010 in the process. The Yachtsmen then led visiting Scarborough, 2 sets to 1, but let it slip away and fell, 3-2. Falmouth got back in the win column with a 3-1 victory over visiting Gorham, rallied for a palpitating 3-2 win at Greely, then eked out a 3-2 win at Biddeford before going to five sets again in the finale, a 3-2 loss at Scarborough.
The Yachtsmen earned the second seed and impressed in the quarterfinals, blanking seventh-ranked Biddeford. Wednesday, hosting No. 6 Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, which started slowly in every game, was on the brink of defeat, trailing 2 games to 1 and 23-22 in the fourth set, but the Yachtsmen won the final three points of that game, then took the fifth set, 15-9, to prevail, 3-2.
Prior to Saturday, Falmouth was 7-6 all-time against Scarborough.
Considering six of Falmouth’s previous eight matches (including both versus Scarborough) went the distance, many on hand were expecting the state match to do the same, but instead, the Yachtsmen weren’t about to tempt fate and were rewarded with the first Gold Ball in program history.
The Red Storm won the first point of the match, but Burfeind tied it with her first kill, Meserve registered a point with a block and a kill from sophomore Julia Treadwell gave Falmouth a 3-1 lead. A kill from Meserve, an ace by Treadwell, a Meserve kill and another Treadwell ace pushed the lead to 7-2.
Scarborough coach Jon Roberts called timeout, but after getting a point on a kill from senior Abby Mills, the Red Storm’s deficit grew, as Meserve had a kill, Hickey a block, junior Leigh Bernardy an ace, Meserve a block and after another point, Hickey a block, which pushed the lead to 13-3.
Scarborough gradually came back.
Consecutive blocks by senior Mary Cleary cut the deficit to 14-10. An ace from senior Lauren Piper made it 17-15. The Yachtsmen pushed the lead out to 21-16, but behind Mills’ serves, the Red Storm scored the next five to tie the match, 21-21, the first deadlock since 1-1. Cleary then registered a block and Scarborough had the lead, forcing Falmouth coach Gary Powers to call timeout.
A block by Meserve tied the score, but a Cleary kill and an ace from senior Hallie O’Donnell (in which two Yachtsmen had a miscommunication and let the ball drop) put the Red Storm up, 24-22.
The turning point had arrived and momentum for the rest of the match hung in the balance, as another Scarborough point might have re-instilled doubt in the mind of Falmouth’s players, but this group had come too far to let the game slip away.
A Hickey kill and a Treadwell ace tied the score again, 24-24, forcing one team to win the game by two.
It would be the Yachtsmen who did so, as Falmouth got one point, then ended it when Burfeind soared for a kill, giving her team the pivotal 26-24 decision.
“It was really big for us,” said Yachtsmen junior setter Megan Tammaro, who set up Burfeind’s set-ending kill, along with many other points. “It meant a strong start, which is what we’ve worked on.”
“Our mental game can get us down, but we’ve focused on that,” Meserve said. “We stopped, took time to think about it and we got it done.”
“I think if we win that game, we probably win the match, but we couldn’t find a way to do it and it exemplified how we couldn’t quite get it done today,” lamented Roberts.
The second game followed a similar script, but wasn’t as dramatic.
Red Storm junior Kayla Savage started with four consecutive service points, punctuated by an ace, for a 4-0 lead, but a Burfeind kill put the ball in Tammaro’s hands behind the service line and she rattled off eight straight service points, including four aces, to put Falmouth on top, 9-4. A block from Treadwell and a Burfeind ace made it 12-5. Scarborough crept back to 16-12, but the Yachtsmen made it 18-12. The Red Storm then pulled back to 18-15, but Falmouth got the next two. Scarborough then cut the deficit to two, 20-18, but couldn’t get any closer.
A Treadwell block and a Meserve kill made it 23-18. After a service fault gave the Red Storm a point, the Yachtsmen put it away as Meserve switched gears and instead of pounding the ball over the net as she does so skillfully, she softly pushed it over for a point and Hickey followed by doing the same, giving Falmouth a 25-19 win and a 2-0 lead.
Scarborough hadn’t trailed 2-0 all season and only once previously (Oct. 8 at Falmouth) even faced a 2-1 deficit, but the Red Storm quickly erased an early 5-1 Yachtsmen lead in the third game, pulling even, 6-6, on a block from senior Natalie Foster. The game would be tied again at 11-11, 12-12, 13-13, 14-14, 16-16 and once more at 18-18, as Meserve drew her team even with a kill, but a kill from Savage put Scarborough ahead to stay. Savage followed with an ace and after a Red Storm service fault, Scarborough got the next three points to go ahead, 23-19, forcing Powers to call timeout.
It worked briefly, as Falmouth scored two points, but a kill from O’Donnell and a ball hit into the net by the Yachtsmen got the Red Storm off the schneid, giving it a 25-21 victory and pushing the match to a fourth set.
Once again, Falmouth could have folded, but instead remained focused and strong.
“We talked about our mental game and not getting down,” said Burfeind. “We were worried because they’re a strong team, but we knew we made a lot of mistakes in that third game that we could fix.”
“You play that point and when it’s over and done with you look at the next one,” Powers said. “That’s what we talked about. The pressure was still on them. They still had to win another game. I said to just let that game go by and start strong like we did the first two games.”
Tied, 2-2, early in the fourth game, the Yachtsmen rattled off four straight points to open up a lead. A pair of Treadwell aces helped the cause. Scarborough pulled back to 6-5, but a Bernardy kill sent her to the line to serve and another point, a Meserve kill, another point, a Meserve kill and a Treadwell block made it 12-5 Falmouth, as Bernardy had five straight serves lead to points.
The Red Storm got two points back, but a Treadwell kill and another point made it 14-7 and forced Roberts to use a timeout.
In the break, Meserve was very vocal with her teammates.
“We had to leave it all on the court,” Meserve said. “No regrets. I said, ‘Get your heads in the game, we can do it.’ We did.”
Burfeind stymied the timeout strategy with a kill and another point made the score 16-7. Scarborough got a point on a service fault and another on an ace from Foster, but Falmouth won the next three. The Red Storm pulled to 19-11 on a Cleary kill, but a Burfeind kill got the Yachtsmen within five points of the Promised Land.
Cleary answered with a kill, but Burfeind countered with one of her own. After Savage and Piper had kills for Scarborough, Cleary served an ace to make it 21-15 and provide a glimmer of hope, but the next serve went into the net and a Meserve kill made it 23-15, forcing Roberts to call one last, desperate timeout.
The Red Storm got the first point out of the break, but it would prove to be its last of the season. A service fault put the Yachtsmen on the brink and at 11:43 a.m., for the first time in program history, the championship arrived when Meserve soared for a block, giving Falmouth a 25-16 game four victory and the match, 3 games to 1.
“In that moment, I was just so happy,” said Meserve. “I started crying. It was the best feeling in the world to block that ball. This year, we were a family. We all love each other and play for each other. We all wanted it so bad. I had so much faith in every single person. The seniors wanted states this year. It was our last chance. We worked as hard as possible.”
“This means the world,” Tammaro said. “It feels amazing. This time, I think our confidence was key. We knew they were undefeated, but we knew how to play. We’ve been in tough situations. I just played for my coaches and teammates.”
“We are such a strong team,” said Burfeind. “If one of us gets down, we all are supportive of each other. We get together after every point and talk about what we can do to get better. We came through in the fourth game and accomplished something we’ve never accomplished before.”
“We’d been here twice before and (didn’t win a game), so this is phenomenal,” Powers added. “These kids have been awesome to work with. We came out and played well, played hard. They did everything they were supposed to do. We said if it went five we’d be ready, but we didn’t want to dig a hole like we did every game against Cape. All six of them jelled together today.”
Meserve had 13 kills and five blocks. Burfeind finished with 10 kills and a pair of aces. Hickey had five blocks and five kills. Treadwell added three blocks, three aces and two kills and Bernardy had a pair of kills and a pair of aces. Then, there was Tammaro, who capped her first season as setter with a mind-boggling 27 assists.
“Megan’s really stepped up this year,” Meserve said. “Having her fill the setter position was so vital for this year’s team. She mastered it. She has great court sense.”
“Megan’s incredible,” Powers said. “This was her first year on varsity. She did an outstanding job. She reads the court well and knows where to put the ball. We wouldn’t be here without her.”
Tammaro credited Burfeind and Meserve for her success.
“They’re so smart,” Tammaro said. “Katrina’s amazing at tipping. Riley’s a great player. They’re always there.”
Falmouth had 52 service points (Bernardy led the way with 13, while Tammaro had 11, Treadwell nine and Burfeind and Hickey eight apiece) to 36 for Scarborough. In a match where the Yachtsmen finished with 13 more points, clearly that aspect of the game was a huge difference.
“We’ve worked so much on serving,” Tammaro said. “That was our weak point. We knew great serving wins. We tried our best and it worked out.”
“In our last match against Cape we had a lot of errors which brought us down, but today, we really improved,” Burfeind said.
“We worked on serving the last couple days,” Powers added. “Basic serving. We didn’t have to ace the ball, just get it over and make them make mistakes.”
In the end, Powers had praise for his super six players who led this program somewhere it had never gone before.
“Katrina and Riley made a pact when they were sophomores that they’d win a championship and they were phenomenal,” Powers said. “Katrina’s been a funk the last couple matches, but she came out of it against Biddeford and played well against Cape. That was key. (With Ally, Julia and Leigh,) we’re a dangerous team because we always have three people in the front who can hit the ball and do something. We have a setter who can put the ball wherever it needs to be and five others who can put the ball down at any time.”
Senior-laden Scarborough knew this was a golden opportunity to win its first championship, but it wasn’t to be.
“Hats off to Falmouth,” Roberts said. “They played great. That’s the best I’ve seen them play. They just played better than us. All year we played to win, but today we were nervous and played not to lose. They came out and played to win. They hit hard, they were aggressive, we weren’t quite as aggressive. I felt like we weren’t playing our game. It’s hard to beat a good team three times. I think they came in knowing they had nothing to lose and we had the weight of the season on our backs.
“I’m really proud of our season. I think our seniors accomplished a lot. They set a new standard for Scarborough volleyball. You can’t take away from the fact we beat everybody in the state. We came in undefeated. We beat (Falmouth) twice.”
Statistically, Savage led the way with 10 kills and seven service points. Mills bowed out with eight kills and seven service points. Cleary added seven blocks and six kills. Piper added 11 assists, while O’Donnell had nine assists and Foster finished with five blocks.
“I thought Kayla played great for us,” Roberts said. “Abby played great. Mary played really well.”
Savage will be the lone returner who saw a lot of playing time Saturday. While Scarborough won’t be the favorite in 2014, the Red Storm should be very much in the mix again by the end of next season.
“We’re going to have our work cut out,” said Roberts. “This was definitely our year. We’ve got good, quality players coming back. We’ll look to be successful with what we have.”
Falmouth only graduates two starters, but they’re two of the best players in the whole state, Burfeind and Meserve.
With that said, Bernardy, Hickey, Tammaro and Treadwell all return and now that the Yachtsmen know what it takes to win it all, they’ll be primed to make another run in 2014.
“Next year we’re going to have a great year,” said Tammaro. “The outside hitters have big shoes to fill, but I think we can do it.”
“I lose two great players, but we have a lot back,” Powers said. “Hopefully we’ll make another run next year.”
Falmouth senior Katrina Meserve was close to unstoppable at the net Saturday, producing 13 kills, closing her stellar career in style.
Scarborough senior Abby Mills goes all out to get to the ball. Mills had eight kills and seven service points.
Falmouth senior Riley Burfeind goes way up for one of her 10 kills.
Falmouth juniors Megan Tammaro (26) and Ally Hickey go up to block a shot.
Scarborough junior Kayla Savage goes up for one of her 10 kills.
Falmouth junior Leigh Bernardy handles a serve and bumps it to a teammate. Bernardy was very effective as a server herself, delivering 13 points to her team’s cause.
Scarborough senior Mary Cleary looks to block a kill attempt from Falmouth senior Katrina Meserve.
Falmouth senior Katrina Meserve (21) and junior Megan Tammaro celebrate a point late in the match.
Scarborough senior Hallie O’Donnell celebrates a point.
Scarborough senior Natalie Foster manages a smile as she (and classmates Lauren Piper and Mary Cleary) show off the runner-up plaque.
The 2013 Class A state volleyball champion Falmouth Yachtsmen.
A celebration several years in the making. Falmouth exults after beating Scarborough, 3-1, in Saturday’s Class A volleyball state final, the first championship for the Yachtsmen, who lost in two prior trips to states.
Mike Strout photos.
Falmouth raises its Gold Ball to the heavens after Saturday’s win.
More photos below.