Falmouth caps fabulous season with state match sweep of Gorham

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Falmouth junior Rose Riversmith (27) jumps for joy and senior Summer Spiegel (36) and sophomore Katie Phillips exult as the Yachtsmen beat Gorham, 3-0, in Saturday’s Class A volleyball state final.

Brianna Soukup / Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

SOUTH BERWICK—Falmouth’s volleyball team entered the 2018 season full of promise and question marks.

The Yachtsmen ended the campaign with all of the answers and with a Gold Ball to show for their trouble.

Saturday afternoon at Marshwood High School, top-ranked Falmouth, the team believed by many back in August to be a year away, capped arguably the finest season in program history with a decisive, straight-set victory over undefeated second-ranked Gorham in the Class A state final.

The Yachtsmen, who have stewed for a year over a 3-0 loss to Cape Elizabeth in last year’s Class B state match, didn’t take long to prove that they are the gold standard in Class A this fall.

Falmouth began the match in dreamlike fashion, riding the pinpoint serving of senior captain Summer Spiegel to a 9-0 lead to stagger the Rams. Gorham eventually settled down and cut a 15-3 deficit to 23-18, but kills from sophomore standouts Katie Phillips and Annika Hester allowed the Yachtsmen to get the jump with a 25-18 triumph.

In the second game, Falmouth’s dynamic trio got the job done, as Spiegel’s setting, Hester’s unrivaled power as a hitter and Phillips’ ability to serve, pass and hit allowed the Yachtsmen to gradually pull away and prevail, 25-17.

The Rams hung tough in the third set, as they desperately tried to extend the match, but with the score tied, 13-13, kills from Hester and Phillips sparked a 5-0 run and when junior Rose Riversmith soared over the net for successive blocks, the Yachtsmen had the third game, 25-16, and the state title, 3-0.

Falmouth ended the season 16-1, handed Gorham its lone loss in 17 matches and won the state championship for the second time overall and the first since 2013.

“It means a lot,” said Yachtsmen first-year coach Larry Nichols. “There was a lot of competition this  year, so I’m glad we could showcase our level of volleyball today when it mattered most.” 

Final act

Falmouth lost in last year’s Class B state match in straight sets to Cape Elizabeth on the Capers’ court and after that match, the program parted with several top players and coach Molly Northway stepped down and was replaced by Nichols. 

The Yachtsmen didn’t miss a beat this fall, moving up to Class A and winning 13 of 14 matches (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories), losing only at Cape Elizabeth (a setback Falmouth later avenged) and earning the top seed for the tournament before sweeping No. 9 Thornton Academy in the quarterfinals and holding off No. 4 Biddeford in four games in the semifinals.

Gorham, meanwhile, put together the best season in program history, winning all 14 of its matches. As the No. 2 seed in the region, the Rams advanced with wins over No. 7 Cheverus in three games and third-seeded, reigning state champion Scarborough in four sets.

Gorham was making its first state match appearance, while Falmouth was taking part for the sixth time in 10 years (see sidebar, below).

The Yachtsmen and Rams didn’t play this year.

They had met twice previously in the postseason, each winning once, but the most recent came in the 2009 state quarterfinals, a 3-0 Falmouth win.

Saturday, in front of a large and boisterous crowd., the Yachtsmen took care of business and won a title for the second time.

Falmouth came out confident and was rewarded, as it opened up a healthy lead before many fans were even in their seats.

Hester, fittingly, set the tone with a kill and Spiegel then stepped to the service line, where she delivered eight straight points, including an ace. Hester had two more kills, Gorham coach Emma Tirrell took timeout at 7-0 to no avail and the Yachtsmen were well on their way.

“We needed to come out strong,” Spiegel said. “That lead we got really helped us and gave us motivation to keep going.”

“We all just knew we had to bring energy to start because we knew Gorham was a strong team,” Phillips said. “We knew if we didn’t have the energy up from the start, it would be hard to get back.”

“We knew we had to start out stronger this time and not fall behind,” Hester said. “We got up with strong serves and put the ball in good spots where they couldn’t get it.”

“That start was amazing,” Riversmith said. “It was so important to get that lead and tell us we could do it. That run made it all possible.” 

“I didn’t have a vision of a start like that,” Nichols added. “We changed our serving rotation because Summer has been as steady as they come and she did her job. I’ve had Summer do things outside her comfort zone this year, but she’s stepped up. She’s a great leader.”

The Rams finally got on the board, but a Hester block sparked three more Yachtsmen points for a 12-1 advantage. Gorham got a kill from senior Evelyn Kitchen, but two more Hester kills opened up a commanding 15-3 lead. The Rams gained some confidence behind a kill from senior Lily Barden and an ace from junior Haley Burns, but a Riversmith kill, followed by a Hester ace and a Hester kill made it 18-6. Gorham then got an ace from senior Katherine O’Donnell and a kill from Kitchen to close within 18-10.

Nichols called timeout and after the Rams got one more point on a kill from senior Sara Slager, a kill from Kitchen and an ace by Kolb made it 19-13. The next three points went to Falmouth and after a Kitchen block, Phillips’ kill pushed the lead to 23-14. The Rams pulled within five on a kill from senior Colette Romanis and consecutive aces from junior Talia Catoggio, but that’s as close as they would get. A Phillips kill, followed by a Hester kill after a long point, gave the Yachtsmen the first game by a 25-18 margin.

In that first set, Spiegel led the way with 10 service points and eight assists, while Hester, who is so powerful you almost feel sorry for the ball at times, added seven kills.

“I knew I had to hit it in good spots because they had a good blocker,” Hester said.

Hester’s teammates continue to marvel over her play.

“Sometimes I forget to cover because I’m watching (Annika) hit,” Spiegel said. “She’s amazing.”

“It’s so awesome to play with Annika,” Phillips said. “She’s my best friend. When I set her and she has those swings, it’s incredible.”

“It’s amazing seeing Annika hit and seeing her level of skill,” said Riversmith. “It’s also great to have her as a teammate. Her spirit is so bright. It makes you smile, being on the court with her.”

When Spiegel began the second game with an ace, Gorham had to be thinking, “Here we go again,” but the Rams got the next two points to lead for the first time in the match. Falmouth shot to a 6-3 lead behind an ace from sophomore Hillary Bouchard and made it 10-6 on a Riversmith kill, but Gorham got the next three points, punctuated by a Kitchen block and a Kolb ace. Hester, senior Katie Burton and Phillips followed with kills to make it 13-9, but the Rams hung tough and made it 15-12.

After Hester and Riversmith had kills, Phillips extended the lead to 19-12 at the service line with successive aces. Consecutive aces from junior Haley Burns pulled Gorham back to 19-15, but a service fault, a Hester ace and a Spiegel block set up set point. The Rams stayed alive on a kill from Slager, but a Bouchard kill ended it and gave Falmouth the second game, 25-16, and a 2-0 lead in the match.

In that second set, Phillips dazzled with four aces, three kills and three service points.

“I think that was my strongest game,” Phillips said. “I wanted to get it done and everyone supported me.”

“I don’t think Katie gets enough credit,” Riversmith said. “She’s a rock star out there for us.”

“Katie’s so good at setting and hitting,” Spiegel said. “She’s just so good at volleyball.”

“Katie did her job and had hits that ended rallies,” Nichols added. “She executed.”

Spiegel added six assists, Hester had four kills and a block and Bouchard contributed three service points and a kill to help the Yachtsmen gain a stranglehold.

The third game began like the first, as Falmouth got the first point, then Spiegel served an ace and added two more points for a quick 4-0 lead, but after a timeout, Gorham answered, getting kills from senior Maiya Carlson and Kolb to cut the deficit to 4-3. Three kills from Hester made it 8-3 Yachtsmen, but the Rams pulled within 8-6 on a kill and an ace from Carlson. Falmouth went up, 11-7, on another Hester kill, but kills from Perry, Kitchen and Kolb forged a tie. A Kitchen kill tied the score again, 13-13, but that’s as good as it would get for the Rams.

A Hester kill put the Yachtsmen on top for good. Phillips added a kill, the Yachtsmen got another point, then Phillips had another kill and Spiegel served an ace to make it 18-13, forcing Tirrell to call timeout again. Gorham tried to rally, pulling as close as 20-16, but Phillips had a kill, Riversmith had a kill, the Rams were called for a carrying violation and that set the stage for Riversmith to play the role of closer.

With the score 23-16, Riversmith had a block to set up match point. Then, Riversmith did it again and when the ball hit the floor at 2:24 p.m., Falmouth had a 25-16 win in the third set and the Class A state championship by virtue of a 3-0 match victory.

“One of my biggest goals was following (Gorham’s) powerful middles,” said Riversmith, who had six blocks in the third set alone. “They see everything, so it was so important for me to follow them. It took a second when I saw the ball drop because I wasn’t sure which side it dropped on, then Annika engulfed me. It was so awesome.”

Riversmith wasn’t just engulfed by Hester, the whole Falmouth team burst on to the court and formed a celebratory mass as the Yachtsmen reached the pinnacle for the second time in the program’s 12-year history as a varsity program.

“It was bliss, but I wasn’t quite sure we really won in three (sets),” Spiegel said. “It feels really good. Last year during states, we fell apart as a team, but this year, it was totally different. We’ve worked so well together. After we beat Cape, we knew we could go all the way. Gorham’s a good team, but they’re just another high school team, not a D1 team.”

“I think this year, we worked together so well,” said Riversmith. “We just connected and we wanted to win so much.”

“It feels amazing,” Hester said. “We finally got it. We knew we had to focus in the third set and finish it off. It’s the best feeling ever to win.”

“Last year, we lost in three (sets) and we didn’t expect to win in three, but it makes it even better that we did,” Phillips said. “It didn’t really hit me at first. Everyone ran at us and we fell down, we were so excited. It was awesome. It feels a lot better this year. We had so many people supporting us and we really wanted it. Our schedule helped us a lot. We faced so many good teams and it gave us good practice and better stamina to face Gorham. We lost so many seniors, but we worked hard and proved to everyone that we could do it.”

“Gorham was undefeated for a reason and if they’d gotten their balance back, it would have been a problem,” Nichols added. “They were a wounded animal in the third set with nothing to lose and they played like it.

“It’s been an interesting journey. Each week, the girls were different, which from a coach’s perspective, was terrifying and really great at the same time. 

“There was some pressure to do well. There’s a volleyball tradition in Falmouth and they were in states last year. We graduated seven, but the kids bought into the system, did their job and worked hard. Having my daughter (freshman Mackenzie Nichols) on the team was like icing on the cake, us getting to spend time together.”

Spiegel bowed out with 18 assists and 18 service points, including four aces.

“I love serving,” said Spiegel, who is undecided on her college plans. “It’s one of my favorite things. I know I can help my team just by getting a serve in. It was the best season. I started playing volleyball freshman year. The upperclassmen then were so nice. It’s been a great sport to be a part of. I’m excited to see what next year’s team can do.”

“Summer’s serving runs were so helpful and critical,” said Riversmith. “She’s been such a big help getting everyone motivated and keeping us loud and energetic.”

“Summer works so hard,” Hester said. “She has a high volleyball IQ. That helps us.”

“Summer is a great leader and she’s a great friend of mine,” said Phillips. “She always gets us excited. She works so hard. We’re going to miss her.”

Hester brought the power, producing 17 kills, two blocks and a pair of aces.

“I can’t say enough about Annika’s hitting and her volleyball IQ, but she mixed it up today and hit smart shots,” Nichols said. “Her passing was great. When she hits the ball, I haven’t seen anyone hit it harder in high school.”

Phillips had a match to remember, finishing with eight kills, eight assists and a couple aces.

Riversmith saved her best for last, finishing with seven blocks and four kills.

Bouchard had nine service points, including three aces, junior Holly Barney added three service points and junior Gretchen Barney wound up with three service points.

Burton added a pair of kills.

“Everyone played so well today,” Spiegel said. “Usually all eyes are on Annika, but today, everyone on the court played their best game.”

“What I was most impressed with was the kids were given jobs to do outside of what they were used to and they did it,” Nichols said. “Today was a perfect example. Rose had to block and she had a couple blocks to stem rallies. Our servers had to put the ball in play and did their job. Summer and Katie went to the next level intuitively knowing what play made sense where the ball was positioned. Across the board, everyone did what they were supposed to and that’s the only way to beat a team like Gorham.”

For the Rams, Kitchen (three blocks) and Perry each had five kills, Slager had nine assists, Kolb had six assists and six service points, Burns served three aces and Carlson had four kills.

Gorham graduates nine seniors.

Back for more

Falmouth, meanwhile, will say goodbye to Spiegel, Burton, Kiera O’Brien, who missed the match because she was sick, and Abbie Farmer.

Gretchen Barney, Holly Barney, Bouchard, Hester, Phillips and Riversmith all return, meaning the Yachtsmen will likely be the favorite to repeat in 2019.

Falmouth embraces that possibility.

“It’s going to be tough without our four seniors, who put so much in the program, but we have a lot coming back and some great players in the JV program,” said Phillips.

“We just need to be humble and bring good energy again next year,” said Hester.

“We have to keep up our energy and welcome the new kids,” Riversmith said. “They’re so vital to the team. We just need to have that good chemistry, like we had this year.”

“There will be no under the radar next year,” Nichols added. “It’s a good problem to have. The kids want to work at winning again.”

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

Falmouth sophomore Annika Hester, best known for her hitting process, handles a Gorham shot.

Falmouth senior Summer Spiegel, who had 18 assists, sets the ball for junior Rose Riversmith. 

Gorham senior Maiya Carlson goes up for a kill as Falmouth sophomores Hillary Bouchard, left, and Katie Phillips defend.

Falmouth’s volleyball team turns into a celebratory mass of humanity after the final point.

Previous Famouth stories

Season Preview

Falmouth 3 Scarborough 1

Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 0

Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 1

Falmouth 3 Biddeford 1

Previous Falmouth state match results

2017 Class B
Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 0

2014 Class A
Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 2

2013 Class A
Falmouth 3 Scarborough 1

2010 Class A
Biddeford 3 Falmouth 0

2009 Class A
Greely 3 Falmouth 0

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.