A year ago, the Falmouth volleyball team was a feel-good story, happy to battle perennial champion Greely in the state final.
This autumn, the Yachtsmen are bound and determined to finish the job.
Falmouth, which lost, 3-0, to Greely in last year’s exciting state final, made it back to the ultimate match after playoff wins last week over No. 6 Scarborough (3-0) and second-seeded Mt. Desert Island (3-0).
The Yachtsmen, ranked third, will meet top-ranked Biddeford (14-1) Saturday at 1 p.m. at Windham High School for Class A honors.
Greely, fourth in Class A, passed its first playoff test, 3-1, over No. 5 Yarmouth, but saw its seven-year domination of the sport come to an end Saturday with a thrilling five-game loss at Biddeford.
Falmouth stole the show a year ago and even beat Greely in the regular season, but despite coming close in the first two games at states, eventually fell short.
This year’s squad won 12 of 14 regular season matches, losing only at Biddeford and Yarmouth in five games. As the No. 3 seed, the Yachtsmen got to host Scarborough in the quarterfinals and moved on with a 25-19, 25-17, 25-20 victory.
Saturday, Falmouth had to make the three-hour trip north to MDI, but made it worthwhile with a 25-19, 25-23, 25-15 triumph.
“It was a good match,” said Yachtsmen coach Gary Powers. “The kids were a little sluggish from the bus ride up, but we got up there a little early and got to spend some time outside. The first two sets were a battle, with no team going up by more than a couple of points. The third set, the team found its grove and started playing like we have been playing the last couple of weeks.
“(Senior) Kate Sparks had spent the morning taking the ACTs, so she was not really at the top of her game, but the other players stepped up and really pulled it together. (Junior) Nicole Rogers had several key hits in all three sets that really made a difference. (Senior) Alana Becker is back in form after suffering a sprained thumb towards the end of the season. She missed our second match against Biddeford and is now ready to play. (Senior) Laura Fay, one of our middles, was fantastic at the net and had a great run with her serves and while I thought setting was going to be our weakness this year, both (junior) Laney Evers and (senior) Sarah Collmus have stepped up and are running the court.”
Falmouth and Biddeford split in the regular season, with the Yachtsmen rolling, 3-1 (20-25, 26-24, 25-20, 25-18), at home, Sept. 10 and the Tigers holding on for a 3-2 (25-17, 25-20, 23-25, 26-28, 18-16) decision Oct. 6.
Round three could be a classic.
“It’s great to be going back to the finals this year,” Powers said. “The league is a lot stronger than it has been in the past and I believe that this year any one of the seeded teams could have made it to the finals. Greely has had a great run, but it’s nice to see other teams playing in the finals. This is the first year where everyone is competing for the top and not just for second place as in past years. The team is excited to be going back to the finals and the core of the team that played in the finals last year knows what to expect.
“I expect a battle with Biddeford. (Coach) Ruth Shaw does a fantastic job with her program and they are a very good team with talent at every position. They have no weaknesses, so we are going to have to battle for every point. Keila Grigware and Alyssa Drapeau do a great job running the team and we will have to key on them to control the match. I think it will be another great match for both teams.”
Last year, in the semifinals, Falmouth enjoyed a 3-0 victory.
Greely finally came back to Earth this year after another round of graduation hits. The Rangers started with a 3-1 loss to Biddeford, then won seven straight matches, but they dropped four of their final six (including two in a row to Falmouth) to wind up 9-5 and fourth in Class A.
Despite losing the first set to visiting Yarmouth last week in the quarterfinals, Greely roared back to advance with a four-set victory (20-25, 25-18, 25-15, 25-15).
That sent the Rangers to Biddeford to face a Tigers team which beat them twice in the regular season. When Greely lost the first two sets, 20-25, 19-25, it appeared its run was done, but befitting the champion they are, the Rangers rallied to win games three and four by 25-17, 25-21 margins, setting up a winner-take-all game five, where teams play to 15. Biddeford raced to a 9-4 lead in that one, but again Greely came back, pulling within 10-9.
The Rangers weren’t able to cap a dramatic comeback, however, and the Tigers held on to win the decisive game, 15-11, ending the Rangers season at 10-6.
“I believe it was the preseason quote that I said we were young in players and team experience and that there would be bumps along the way, but that in the end we would be there,” said Greely coach Kelvin Hasch. “I believe we did that. We have been struggling all season to jell and play as a team, plus play at the intensity that we needed to compete with this year.
“Late in the season, I started to see pieces of great teamwork, but we were having trouble putting it together for a whole match. This was evident in the Yarmouth match where we totally came out flat in first set which Yarmouth took. Then, we started to play and as the match went on we played better and better.
“Saturday, we started a little slow in set one, but got into the set with great defense, however, Biddeford was also displaying great defense. A few plays that could have gone either way was the difference.
“Set two saw us more determined with longer rallies, more hitting, even better defense, but Biddeford was out for blood. Their defense was awesome and again, Biddeford prevailed. We went to the bench changing nothing except for working harder and hitting the ball more, for offense was how we built the past teams and we needed more offense.
“Set three was all Greely. Set four saw us start out very strong having all the momentum with Biddeford chasing our tails. Set five caught us off guard, as the officials had started the set without me even getting a chance to talk to my team. Biddeford’s tough servers had given us some trouble during the day and this happened again with us falling behind by four early. We were never able to recover. It was a great match with the girls leaving everything on the court.
“The streak of state championships could not go on forever and we congratulate the Tigers who started the same year we did on their journey to the top.”
Don’t expect Greely to be down for long. This program figures to be celebrating again in the not too distant future.
“We only graduate four players of which three were starters, so the underclassmen have now gotten a taste of what it is going to take to get the title back,” Hasch said. “I believe the girls will be playing everywhere during the offseason. Some of our height will be gone, but we will be able to make that up by learning to jump higher.”
Yarmouth had an exciting season, going 7-7, highlighted by a first-ever 3-2 win over Falmouth. The Clippers got off to a great start in their quarterfinal versus Greely, but couldn’t finish the job and wound up 7-8.
“I believe our program took another step forward in 2010,” said Yarmouth coach Jim Senecal. “Our numbers stayed very strong. Our kids worked extremely hard and have improved dramatically this year. Few of our kids who enter our program are considered to be the natural athletes. Many of these girls are proving to themselves that by it’s not the label you have coming in, but how hard you work and the passion you have for a sport that makes you a good player. This in turn helps build their overall confidence and self esteem which helps that girl in all aspects of her life. Personally as a coach, I find nothing to be more rewarding than that.
“Our Seniors provided great leadership this year and we’re going to miss all three of them. They set a great example for our younger kids all year with the level of their play and leadership at practice and off the court. Abbie Hutchinson led us in service points, aces, assists and kills. Emily Clark was a great blocker who also was an effective hitter in the middle for us. Mary Sansone was a great libero who kept us in so many games by keeping play alive against teams more powerful than us.
“Our overall record and a fifth seed in the playoffs met our preseason expectations this year based on the strength of our schedule and the quality of volleyball being played in southern Maine. Highlights for our season were a dramatic loss on the road in five games to Biddeford and our win against a powerful Falmouth team. Those games proved to us that we could play with two of the best in the state.”
The Clippers hope to be even stronger in 2011.
“Prospects for 2011 look good for us, but not without challenges,” said Senecal. “We’re returning 11 players from last year’s team which is great, but we’re well aware of the holes left by our seniors. Since we’re the smallest school in Class A, there’s a strong possibility that the league will realign and we’ll be asked to move to Class B for 2011. That move will effect our 2011 schedule slightly and certainly change the landscape of things come playoff time next year. We’re excited about that opportunities that such a move offers to us.”
NYA (4-10) didn’t qualify for the postseason in 2010.
Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at email@example.com
The high-flying skills of Falmouth junior Jenna Serunian helped the Yachtsmen defeat Mt. Desert Island Saturday and advance to a second straight Class A Final.
Greely’s Maggie Bradley and Yarmouth’s Abbie Hutchinson meet at the net during last week’s quarterfinal round playoff match. The Rangers moved on with a 3-1 win, but saw their seven-year dynasty end Saturday with a semifinal round loss at Biddeford.