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Greely holds off Scarborough in volleyball showdown

Sports

Greely holds off Scarborough in volleyball showdown

SCARBOROUGH—Last autumn, for the first time since 2002, the Greely volleyball team fell short of a state championship.

The Rangers aren't about to let it happen again.

Thursday evening at Scarborough High School, Greely earned another clutch triumph over a top contender, getting past the Red Storm by a 3-1 score.

Scarborough was in every game, but couldn't close out the ones that were tight late. The Rangers took the first game, 25-20, rallied to win a marathon second game, 28-26, then, after the Red Storm took game three, 25-13, again made the plays when they had to and finished the match with a 25-19 victory in game four.

Greely improved to 5-0, while Scarborough suffered its first setback in five matches.

"We have a great team this year," said Rangers senior standout Maggie Bradley, who was her usual superb self on the night. "We have a lot of people back. We have two great setters. We have our hitters. We're all together. We know each other's attitudes, when we're down and when we're up. Being so in tune with each other allowed us to push through even after the substantial loss in the third game. We were able to rally and pump each other up. That's the best thing about a team that's been together for awhile."

Flagship program

Greely didn't start playing varsity volleyball until 2002 and immediately shot to greatness. That fall, the Rangers reached the state final match, but dropped a 3-2 thriller to Woodland.

Greely then put a stranglehold on the hardware, winning it all every year from 2003 through 2009, while losing just two matches in the process. From the opener in 2003 through their opening match in 2007, the Rangers didn't lose at all, setting a new state record with 66 straight victories.

Last season, Greely came back to earth a bit, falling six times, the last a 3-2 heartbreaker to eventual champion Biddeford in the Class A semifinals.

This autumn, the Rangers, playing with a chip on their shoulder, have returned to form. Greely opened with a 3-0 win over Yarmouth, then downed Gorham,(3-1), Kennebunk (3-0) and Biddeford (3-0).

"Last year, we had a tough year because we lost 10 players and only had four returning varsity members," Bradley said. "This year, we only lost four players and came back with nine. We already know each other. We were definitely disappointed last year. This year, we have high hopes and we're keeping our fingers crossed. So far, we've done really well and we surprise ourselves sometimes. We work hard in practice."

Scarborough, meanwhile, has been competitive in its short varsity history.

The Red Storm began in 2004 and have been in the playoffs every year but that initial campaign.

One thing Scarborough has not been able to do, however, is beat Greely in any of the schools' prior 15 encounters (which included a semifinal round playoff loss in 2009). The first 10 meetings all ended 3-0 in favor of the Rangers, but last year, at home, the Red Storm extended Greely to five games before falling just short.

So far in 2011, Scarborough enjoyed 3-0 wins over Lake Region, Cape Elizabeth and Kennebunk and a confidence-building 3-1 triumph over Falmouth.

Thursday, the Red Storm had its opportunities to get off the schneid against the Rangers, but when the contest was on the line, Greely turned to its experience, skill and balance to prevail.

In the first game, the score was tied at 2-2, 3-3, 5-5, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9 and 10-10 before the Rangers built a lead by capturing eight of 10 points to go up, 18-12. Scarborough did pull within 24-20, but the hosts hit the ball into the net on the next point and Greely had the first game in hand.

The second game is the one that the hosts will lament letting slip away.

The Rangers were up 12-9 after an ace from Emily Sampson, but the Red Storm went on an 8-4 run to make it 17-13 after an ace from senior standout Brittany Bona. Scarborough was up 19-15 before Greely scored five in a row to go ahead, 20-19. After Bona kept a winning point alive with a great diving effort, the hosts were up 21-20. A kill from Mary Cleary made it 22-20 and forced Rangers coach Kelvin Hasch to call timeout.

The Red Storm then appeared in control after going up 23-20, but after a great save, Greely got a point back. Catherine Fellows followed with an ace and the visitors then tied the score. Scarborough moved to the brink of winning the game at 24-23, but the Rangers answered, tied the score, then went up 25-24 (a team has to win by two if the score is tied at 24) after a nice dig from Bradley.

The Red Storm tied the score at 25-25 on a Bona kill, but a bad serve put Greely up, 26-25. A kill from Cleary tied the game, but the Rangers got a kill from Haleigh Roach and a block from Jordynne Copp gave Greely the 28-26 win.

"We definitely came together as a team," said Copp, who, in her first varsity season, has emerged as a top player. "With a team like this, there's absolutely no way we can't win. I feel very comfortable. I love my team. The coaches taught me well and I love the game."

To Scarborough's credit, it didn't throw in the towel and instead, dominated the third game, trailing only once, 3-2. A block by Emily Robbins put the Red Storm ahead to stay and three kills in four points from Bona put the Rangers on their heels. A winner from Meghan Bickmore brought the curtain down on the 25-13 win.

The fourth game would be closely contested and while the hosts hoped to prevail and force a winner-take-all fifth game, in the end, poised Greely got the job done.

As was the case in the first game, little separated the squads in the early going as the teams found themselves tied at 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 7-7, 8-8, 10-10, 11-11, 12-12, 14-14 and 15-15 before the Rangers finally went ahead to stay after a timely block from Copp. A Copp kill capped a 5-0 run and made it 20-15. An ace from Bradley pushed the lead to 22-16.

The Red Storm got three points back and made it 22-19 after Amber Bowen's ace, but that was the last hurrah. A bad serve gave Greely a 23-19 advantage. An ace from Lexi Foster put the visitors on the brink and when a Scarborough player double hit on the next point, the Rangers wrapped up the 3-1 match win with the 25-19 triumph.

"It was a tough match, but we came out with a win," Copp said.

"That was pretty sweet," said Hasch. "I think experience set in a little bit. We've worked a lot on being in close matches, because I feel we'll be in a lot of close matches this year. You have to be able to play from behind and steal them. I thought after the third game that we had to wake up and see how good our conditioning was. We started bending our knees and jumping up again. We just didn't execute anything that third set."

Bradley and Copp led the way statistically.

Bradley had 10 kills, two assists and 16 digs.

"I was looking for Maggie to take over the game tonight," Hasch said. "She didn't really do that, but she played solid defense and hit the ball. What I like most about what she did tonight was she played smart. She looked for an opening and put the ball in there."

Copp also wound up with 10 kills and five blocks.

"Jordynne has been slowly eased into her (middle blocker) role," Hasch said. "She keeps improving every single night. She can handle the role. She has confidence in her abilities. For a small kid, she can jump. She's very sensitive at the net. She knows what will happen. She gets the little tips. She's a huge asset when she's in there."

Ellie Weickert finished with seven blocks.

For Scarborough, Robbins had a whopping 22 assists and Cleary finished with eight kills, but the Red Storm player of which Greely was most aware was the imposing Bona, who stands over 6-feet, has superb athleticism and a blistering kill shot. She finished with 13 kills and an equal number of digs.

"As a middle blocker, that's my job, to follow (Brittany) the entire game," Copp said. "She's a great person to have blocking against you and it makes you better. "

"I played beach volleyball with Brittany," Bradley said. "She was my partner in women's league. We know she's a tremendous player. Every time she goes up, your heart stops a little bit and you get nervous. In the end, a lot of it's instinct and you cross your fingers. It worked really well this time. We know Scarborough had a lot of good players. The key is to not focus on a single player, but focusing on getting the basics down."

The Red Storm had hoped to get over the Greely hump, but looked at the setback as another step toward becoming a championship-caliber squad.

"(The Rangers) were definitely the better team tonight," coach Jon Roberts said. "They're strong and their level of experience came into play, but it was a great match. I think we learned a lot from it. We know what we need to work on and we'll move forward. Obviously, you want to put a game away when you have a chance. I was proud we came back and got game three. It would have been nice to force it to five. They came out in game four and attacked and we sort of played like we didn't want to lose instead of going out and being aggressive, which is our normal way of playing.

"I think we're right where we need to be. I'm very happy with our play. Our defense and passing have improved from last year. I think we have all the pieces, we just need to put it together. We had a great win against a great Falmouth team the other day."

Big matches to come

Both teams will take part in the Maine Games, a fundraiser for ALS, Saturday.

Scarborough is at Biddeford Monday and hosts Falmouth next Thursday.

"This gives us a good blueprint of what we need to work on," Roberts said. "We'll go forward from here. We'll see (Greely) again Saturday. We've got a big match with Biddeford Monday, then Falmouth comes to our gym. We're in the midst of a tough stretch. The next couple weeks will define our season. We know what we need to do, we just have to go out and do it."

Greely is at first-year program Lake Region Monday. Look for the Rangers to keep the good times rolling as they appear to have returned to championship form.

"We've got things to work on," Hasch said. "Our passing failed a few times tonight. We have to get confidence around that. I think it's going to be a fun year. We have five teams who could beat us on a given night. I think the girls are driven, especially the seniors. They know what it's about. We have a lot of games to play."

"We're taking it one step at a time, but a championship is definitely what we're striving for this year," Copp added.

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Scarborough's Emily Robbins prepares to set the ball as a teammate looks on.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely's Lexi Foster prepares a serve.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Scarborough's Mary Cleary goes for a kill while Greely's Maggie Bradley and Ellie Weickert try and stop her.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Greely standout Maggie Bradley contorts herself as she prepares a kill.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Scarborough senior standout Brittany Bona sends the ball back over the net. Bona was her usual dominant self Thursday.

Photo: R. Steven Sharp / For The Forecaster

Scarborough's Mary Cleary (23) and Brittany Bona rise to meet the shot of Greely's Haleigh Roach.