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FALMOUTH—Time after time Wednesday evening, the Falmouth volleyball team dug a hole.
And time after time, the Yachtsmen dug themselves out.
Hosting Cape Elizabeth in what proved to be an epic Class A semifinal round match, Falmouth fell behind in every game, but somehow found a way to survive.
The tone was set in the first game when the sixth-ranked Capers shot to a quick lead and the second-seeded Yachtsmen came back, but the visitors held on, 25-23.
Cape Elizabeth then led, 17-12, in the second set and was on the verge of taking a stranglehold on the match, but Falmouth rallied behind strong net play from senior standout Riley Burfeind to prevail, 25-20.
Before they knew what hit them, the Yachtsmen were down, 7-1, in the third game. They managed to go ahead, 17-16, but the Capers reasserted control and led, 24-21. Falmouth again got off the deck, scoring four points to get the brink of what could have been a backbreaking win, but Cape Elizabeth showed its fortitude, capturing three points in a row to win, 27-25, and move to within a game of victory.
When the Capers won the first five points of the fourth game, things looked dire for the Yachtsmen, but back they roared again, finally pulling even at 18-18 and after Cape Elizabeth got close enough to taste a trip to the state match, leading, 23-22, Falmouth dug deep and a pair of kills from senior Katrina Meserve, who was dominant on this night, stretched the match to the limit.
Naturally, the Capers won the first two points of the first-to-15 fifth set, but the Yachtsmen caught up by 4-4 and went ahead to stay, 7-6, on a kill from sophomore Julia Treadwell. They gradually stretched it out from there and a kill from Meserve brought the curtain down on a 15-9 victory and a 3-2 match win.
Falmouth improved to 14-2, ended Cape Elizabeth’s stellar campaign at 13-3 and advanced to face 16-0 Scarborough in the Class A Final Saturday at 10 a.m., at Windham High School.
“We like to make sure people get their money’s worth,” joked Yachtsmen coach Gary Powers. “I don’t know what it was. It was a mental thing. Cape’s come so far in a short time that people think they’re an easy team, but they were all over the place. We dug many holes and had to battle back. We’ve been in this situation a lot this year. We’ve gone to a lot of fifth games. I think experience was with us.”
While Falmouth has been among the state’s volleyball elite since 2009, Cape Elizabeth’s program took longer to get to competitive status. The Capers made the playoffs for the first time a year ago and got to the quarterfinals, but few expected them to be so good this fall.
Other than a close four-set home loss to Falmouth and a painful five-game setback to visiting two-time defending champion Greely, Cape Elizabeth passed every other test to post the best record in program history. The Capers then went to No. 3 Mt. Desert Island Saturday and advanced with a 3-1 decision.
The Yachtsmen, meanwhile, only dropped a pair of 3-2 decisions to Scarborough in the regular season, handled everyone else and made quick work of No. 7 Biddeford in Saturday’s quarterfinals, 3-0. Falmouth did have five five-set matches in its first six regular season outings, something that certainly had it battle tested for what was to come Wednesday evening.
In the regular season meeting, Sept. 20 at Cape Elizabeth, the Capers won the first game, 25-22 and Falmouth won next three by close margins (25-21, 27-25, 25-20).
The teams came into the semifinal match with no postseason history, but quickly penned a compelling first chapter.
Cape Elizabeth wasn’t overwhelmed at all in the first game and led most of the way, finally putting it away, 25-23.
The Capers then shot to a lead again in the second set. A block from senior Audrey Grey made it 15-10. Cape Elizabeth eventually held a 17-12 lead, but the hosts ran off a five-point streak, including a kill and a block from junior Megan Tammaro and a block from junior Ally Hickey. After a service fault, Falmouth tied the game again, 18-18, on a kill from Meserve. The Capers went back on top, but a kill from Burfeind and another point, highlighted by a gorgeous dig from junior Leigh Bernardy, put the Yachtsmen ahead, 20-19, and forced Cape Elizabeth first-year coach Sarah Boeckel to call timeout.
It didn’t help, as Burfeind had a kill and after another point, a Burfeind block made it 23-19. The Capers got a point back on a kill from junior Monica Dell’Aquila, but a service fault pushed Falmouth to the brink of victory and a Burfeind ace closed out the second game, 25-20, evening the match.
A block from senior Sarah Stacki, an ace from senior Anna Goldstein and kills from Stacki and Grey gave Cape Elizabeth an early 7-1 lead in the third set, but the Yachtsmen answered with four straight points, highlighted by a Meserve kill and a Meserve block. A pair of Stacki kills pushed the lead back to 11-5, but a Treadwell kill and Hickey ace pulled Falmouth within 13-11.
Burfeind tied the score, 14-14, with a kill and after a fault, another Burfeind kill made it 15-15. A Meserve kill put the Yachtsmen on top for the first time, 16-15, but the Capers tied the game up again. A Cape Elizabeth service fault gave Falmouth its final lead, but Stacki had successive kills, a block and after two more points, a Stacki kill made it 22-17, forcing Powers to call timeout.
The Yachtsmen crept back to 22-20 behind a Hickey block and a Bernardy ace and Boeckel called timeout to stem the tide. Instead, Falmouth got the next point, but the Yachtsmen faulted on their next serve and it was 24-21 Capers.
“Our serving was way off,” Powers said. “We had so many missed serves.”
Falmouth refused to surrender, however, getting four straight points, including successive Hickey aces, to get to the brink of a momentum-turning victory, but a kill from Dell’Aquila tied the score, a kill from Grey put Cape Elizabeth on top and an ace from senior Emma O’Rourke ended game three in the Capers’ favor, 27-25.
Now on the ropes, the Yachtsmen hoped for a strong start in the fourth set, but instead found themselves down, 5-0, quickly. Falmouth got back to 7-5, but a Stacki kill, Grey ace and O’Rourke kill made it 10-5 Capers. A kill from O’Rourke made it 12-6 and a Goldstein kill gave Cape Elizabeth a 14-8 advantage. A Burfeind kill, Treadwell kill and Treadwell block cut the lead to three, forcing Boeckel to call timeout, and the Capers answered by winning three points in a row to go up, 17-11.
Falmouth continued to press and drew even at 18-18 on a Burfeind ace, but a block by Grey put Cape Elizabeth back on top. Stacki added a kill, senior setter Sophie Moore’s well placed shot ended a marathon point and a kill from Stacki put the Capers up, 22-18, just three points from the state meet.
Powers called timeout and his veteran team responded.
First, Meserve had a kill. Bernardy did the same and after the Yachtsmen won another point, Cape Elizabeth called timeout. Treadwell came out of the break serving an ace to tie the score, but faulted on her next attempt and suddenly, the Capers were a mere two points away.
They would never come.
A block by Hickey gave Falmouth life.
A kill by Meserve suddenly gave the Yachtsmen their first lead of the game.
Then, Meserve soared again for one final kill and Falmouth had rallied for a 25-23 victory.
“We got in a hole the first five points and it kept building,” said Meserve. “We needed to get our passes from Megan and go from there. It was really nervewracking, but we realized we had to do it for each other and for Coach. We all have a reason we’re playing, for someone or something. We realized we just needed to get those points.”
The match would be decided by a first-team-to-15-point fifth set.
Not surprisingly, the first two points went to the Capers, the second on a shot from Goldstein that barely landed inbounds.
A Treadwell block got the Yachtsmen on the board, but Stacki answered with a block to make it 3-1. Cape Elizabeth then faulted before winning the next point, but Falmouth got the next two to tie it, 4-4.
After trading points, the Capers went ahead for the final time, 6-5, on a Dell’Aquila kill. After tying it, the Yachtsmen went on top to stay on a Treadwell kill. Burfeind added a kill for an 8-6 lead and Boeckel called timeout.
It worked momentarily as a Goldstein kill pulled Cape Elizabeth within a point, but Burfeind had a kill, Tammaro delivered an ace, Bernardy had a kill, Burfeind did the same and another Tammaro ace pushed the lead to 13-7, forcing Boeckel to call her final timeout and try desperately to rally her charges.
Tammaro faulted coming out of the break and Stacki soared for a block, cutting the deficit to 13-9, but Falmouth had come this far and wasn’t about to be denied, getting an ace from Burfeind, then clinching the match as Meserve, fittingly, went way up high before slamming the ball over the net, onto the court to close out the match.
“We’ve been going to five games all season,” Meserve said. “We just know when we’re down, we have to play our hardest and come through. You never know because it could go either way. We talked about keeping our heads in the game, playing hard and playing how we could. We knew we could do it. (That last kill) felt amazing. There’s always nerves going up to hit it. I thought maybe I shouldn’t do it because I might not get the point, but it was the most rewarding feeling in the world.”
Two tests passed. One to go.
“It was a tough bracket, to have Biddeford first and now Cape,” said Powers. “Anybody in the top seven could have taken it. There was no easy ride to the finals. This is the first year that Greely or Biddeford won’t win it.”
After the sting of this defeat fades, Cape Elizabeth will be able to appreciate just how special its season was.
The Capers ultimately fell just a couple of plays and a couple of points short.
The Yachtsmen were certainly impressed by Cape Elizabeth’s effort.
“They have great hitters,” said Meserve. “Their setter has improved so much. They’re just a scrappy team.”
“Cape did an awesome job,” Powers said. “They were all over the place. They’re a good team. We had some amazing hits, but Cape was there to dig them up and it led to long, long volleys.”
Boeckel was left to lament what-if.
“We couldn’t finish it,” she said. “I think we got nervous. It’s hard when you haven’t been in those tough positions before. Falmouth has. It plays into it. When you play a little tight, you make mistakes. Falmouth’s good. They have good hitters. I knew it wouldn’t be an easy match. I was shocked and psyched when we got big leads, but we got a little relaxed and let them back in. We didn’t get beat by a team that didn’t play well. They played really well.
“Going into the fifth game, I just talked about playing loose, smart, good, tough volleyball. We wanted to go out swinging. The fact that we’re here and went five games in the semifinals, I’m really happy. My girls fought for every point, we just came up a little short.”
The Capers will bid adieu to some key seniors, including Goldstein, Gray, Moore and Stacki. Amanda Barnett, Allie Bowe and Maddie Bowe also depart.
“I have a lot of seniors who have been with the program and have worked hard,” said Boeckel. “I’m losing my setter, Sophie, which will be a massive loss. She’s amazing. She gets to every ball. I lose a middle and two outside hitters. I’m losing a good core, but we’ll put the puzzle together again. Kids see now that we’re a solid program and people will want to be a part of it. We’ve been noticed.”
Falmouth got to the state final in 2009 and 2010, but dropped 3-0 decisions in both instances, to Greely the first time and Biddeford the second.
Saturday, the Yachtsmen will be underdogs again, as Scarborough has passed every test, including two against Falmouth, when the Red Storm did just enough to eke out victories.
The teams have met just once before in the postseason, a 3-0 Falmouth win in the 2010 quarterfinals.
This time around, the Yachtsmen believe destiny is on their side.
“Scarborough has a great team, but I have faith we can pull through and hold up that Gold Ball for the first time,” Meserve said. “We have to keep our heads in the game and play our hardest. We’re just a family. We play for each other and we’re in it together.”
“We’ve come together as a team and mentally we’ve gotten tougher,” Powers said. “We don’t give up. We battle back. That will be key Saturday. Being one of the last two teams standing is an accomplishment.”
Cape Elizabeth senior Emma O’Rourke blocks a shot by Falmouth senior Riley Burfeind.
Cape Elizabeth senior Audrey Grey goes up for a kill.
Falmouth junior Megan Tammaro looks to block the shot of Cape Elizabeth senior Emma O’Rourke.
Cape Elizabeth senior setter Sophie Moore, who made countless big plays Wednesday, prepares to serve the ball.
Cape Elizabeth senior Anna Goldstein keeps her eye on the ball.
Falmouth junior Ally Hickey blocks a shot.
Falmouth senior standout Katrina Meserve, who had a superb match, tries to get the ball past Cape Elizabeth junior Monica Dell’Aquila.
Cape Elizabeth junior Monica Dell’Aquila celebrates a point during the match. The Capers completed what was easily the best season in program annals at 13-3.
Falmouth’s volleyball team celebrates a point during Wednesday evening’s epic five-set Class A semifinal round match against Cape Elizabeth. The Yachtsmen rallied from down 2 games to 1 and down 23-22 in the fourth set to prevail and advance to Saturday’s state final.
Mike Strout photos
More photos below.