The fervently-hoped-for Falmouth-Greely state volleyball championship match will come to fruition later this week.
The six-time defending state champion Rangers and the Yachtsmen, this year’s headline-stealers, will do battle either Thursday evening or Saturday morning (the schools and the Maine Principals’ Association were still working out the details at press time), at Windham High School, hoping the third time’s the charm after splitting in the regular season.
Top-ranked Falmouth advanced by virtue of a 3-0 (25-17, 25-14, 25-21) home semifinal round win over No. 5 Biddeford Monday night. Second-ranked Greely was a 3-0 (25-18, 25-15, 18) home victor over No. 6 Scarborough in its semifinal.
Yarmouth, seeded fourth, was upset by No. 5 Biddeford 3-1 (16-25, 25-13, 20-25, 20-25) in the first round last Wednesday night and finished its year at 11-4.
NYA (2-12) did not qualify for the postseason
Two for the show
Falmouth has lived a fairy tale season in 2009. In just its third varsity year, the Yachtsmen dominated from the get-go, winning their first 13 matches, including a historic 3-1 (25-18, 13-25, 25-15, 25-18) home victory over Greely Oct. 5. Eleven days later, in the regular season finale at the Rangers, Falmouth suffered its first loss, 3-2 (23-25, 27-25, 12-25, 26-24, 7-15).
The Yachtsmen wound up 13-1, earned the top seed for the inaugural Class A playoffs and had a bye into the semifinal round. After Saturday’s match was postponed to Monday due to a lack of officials, Falmouth had its way with No. 4 Biddeford (a team the Yachtsmen beat twice by 3-0 margins in the regular season), rolling in three sets to avenge last year’s semifinal round loss to the Tigers and advancing to a first-ever state final.
“It was a good match for us,” said Falmouth coach Gary Powers. “We were a little off since we hadn’t played a match in 10 days, but we got into sync and started rolling. Biddeford is a tough team and they were chasing down everything. They gave us some long volleys, which is just what we needed. It was great to get back on the court and play, rather then practice.
“For this match, we had some kids step up and make some big plays and really contribute to the overall game. Juniors Laura Fay and Alana Becker had some kills that really threw off the defense. Our setter, Emma Wilberg, can really run the court and had plenty of options for offense, so we were able to distribute the ball evenly. Biddeford is a scrappy team and got a lot of digs to keep the volley going, which we anticipate for the state final.”
Greely, meanwhile, went 13-1 this year, bouncing back from just the fourth loss in program history to earn the No. 2 seed. The Rangers dispatched No. 6 Scarborough 3-1 and 3-0 in the regular season. The teams had no prior playoff history. Monday, Greely took care of business by winning three straight games and advanced.
“The first set was close at the start due to the Red Storm’s great defense, then, behind (senior) Erin Cadigan’s serving, we pulled away,” said Greely coach Kelvin Hasch. “Erin also had nine kills in first set. The second set was tight and back-and-forth to 15-15, then (senior) Abby Rivers came to serve and broke the set open with five great serves. We finished them off by Erin serving. The third set saw (senior) Holly Bannister attacking the ball in the middle with four kills.”
It’s been clear all season that the two best teams in the state are Greely and Falmouth. Now, the squads will get to determine once and for all who truly is No. 1. Will it be the upstart or the longtime champion? Whatever happens, it figures to be a can’t-miss affair.
“Greely is the premier team of the state and the program that every team measures itself against,” Powers said. “They play every aspect of the game well and have no real weak spots. To be on the court with them in the finals is a huge accomplishment for us. I expect the match to be a battle and a great match for both teams. I am very proud of these kids, how hard they have worked, and how much they have accomplished in such a short time.”
“I’m excited to be playing Falmouth in this match of the two best teams in Maine,” said Hasch. “They have come up very quickly in just three years. If our passing game is with us when we meet, it will be very close. Look for it to go five sets.”
Great season ends
Yarmouth almost dropped volleyball three years ago, but has slowly returned to prominence the past couple seasons. This year, the Clippers surprised even themselves with a stellar 11-3 campaign, which included wins over Gorham, Scarborough and perennial contender Mt. Desert Island. Yarmouth earned the No. 4 seed and faced a Biddeford team it lost to, 3-1 (23-25, 25-18, 17-25, 21-25) back on Sept. 11.
The rematch didn’t go much better. The Tigers took the first game 25-16 before the Clippers answered with a 25-13 triumph. Biddeford then won two straight close 25-20 decisions to take the match, 3-1.
“Biddeford outplayed us for sure,” said Yarmouth coach Jim Senecal. “They came in having won their last five matches and with the confidence of knowing that they’d beaten us earlier in the season. Our girls seemed a little more nervous. We handed Biddeford way too many points on missed serves and unforced errors from our offense. (Keila) Grigware really took the match into her own hands and dominated play with her strong hitting from the outside. She also served very well and collected a half dozen or more aces for her team. She was the difference in the match for sure.
“That said, it’s hard to find the words to accurately describe just how proud I am of our girls. This whole turnaround started back in June when we started getting 18 to 24 girls at our evening summer sessions. As the summer went along, the numbers stayed strong and the desire to improve was evident in how hard they were working. There were several teams ahead of us that were already where we felt we needed to be. The only way we were ever going to get there ourselves was to try to outwork those teams in the offseason. Our seniors certainly led the way. We’ll miss all of them.”
The Clippers graduate seven seniors, but return many strong underclassmen and should remain a contender in 2010.
“Our future looks bright,” Senecal said. “In the quarterfinal match, four of our six starters were underclassmen. We’ve had a very successful season at the JV level as well. We need to find that big hitter that the teams ahead of us all seem to have. If we can develop that person, we should be right back in the thick of things next year as well. I’m already looking forward to it.”
Greely senior Erin Cadigan nearly crashed into a photographer while saving the ball Tuesday night. Cadigan and her teammates beat Scarborough 3-0 to advance to the state final match.