FALMOUTH—A year ago, for the first time since 2002, the Greely volleyball team fell short of a state championship.
This fall, the Rangers are bound and determined to get back to the pinnacle and if the past month-and-a-half has been any indication, good luck to the rest of the state trying to stop them.
Friday evening, Greely capped a perfect regular season by doing what it does best, be fundamentally stronger than the opposition and never buckling in critical situations.
The rival and host Falmouth Yachtsmen gave the Rangers a scare in all three games, but Greely found a way to win each one, 25-17, 25-20, 25-19, to improve to 14-0, while dropping the Yachtsmen to 9-5.
On Falmouth’s Senior Night, Rangers seniors Maggie Bradley, Emily Sampson and Ellie Weickert led the way and hinted that they won’t be content until they restore Greely to the volleyball mountaintop.
“We really wanted to win this one,” said Bradley, who was almost unstoppable with her powerful kills. “We were 13-0 and 13’s an unlucky number. Everyone was really nervous.”
Since becoming a varsity program in 2002, through the 2009 season, Greely had won seven championships, every year from 2003 to 2009, and had lost only two matches in that span.
Last year, however, the Rangers, behind several younger players receiving trial by fire, went just 10-6, losing a 3-2 heartbreaker to eventual champion Biddeford in the Class A semifinals.
This regular season, Greely has restored order and had dropped only four games against a schedule which featured a pair of games with Biddeford, Falmouth and Scarborough and a showdown with traditional power Mt. Desert Island.
Falmouth erupted on the scene in 2009, getting to the state final, but it dropped a 3-0 decision to the Rangers, in a match closer than the final score. Last year, the Yachtsmen returned to the final match, but again lost, 3-0, this time to Biddeford.
Falmouth was hit hard by graduation, but has remained competitive in 2011, losing only to Biddeford twice and Greely and Scarborough once prior to Friday. The Yachtsmen are hampered by the loss of senior Jenna Serunian, who suffered a knee injury in a school football game last week, but Falmouth has persevered.
The Yachtsmen entered the match having beaten the Rangers in three of the past five regular season meetings (Greely took the first meeting this fall, 3-1, on Sept. 24), but this time the Rangers had all the answers.
After the Falmouth seniors were honored in their final home game, the hosts won three of the first four points, capped by a kill from senior Laney Evers, but Greely went on a 5-0 run to take control. The Rangers pushed the lead to 15-8 before the Yachtsmen took successive points for the first time since it was 3-1. While Falmouth hung tough and got as close as 22-17 on a kill from senior Nicole Rogers, Greely closed out the opening game as Sampson had successive kills to end it, 25-17.
The second game was even tighter as the teams were tied at 1-1, 4-4 and 5-5 before the Rangers scored five straight points, highlighted by a left-handed kill from Weickert. The Yachtsmen rallied behind a 7-2 run, forcing a Greely timeout. A Rogers kill tied the score at 15-15 and an ace from junior Natalie Kuhn gave Falmouth a 16-15 advantage, but that would be the Yachtsmen’s high water mark.
After taking a quick breather, Bradley returned to the court and delivered a kill to tie the score. The Rangers got the next two points as well as a kill from sophomore Jordynne Copp made it 18-16. Falmouth got the next point, but Greely ran off three more forcing a Yachtsmen timeout. The hosts crawled back to 22-20, but after scoring a point, Bradley delivered an unreturnable ace before a Falmouth mishit gave the Rangers the 25-20 victory.
“Usually we get behind and that’s when we pull through,” Sampson said. “We do better under pressure. When we have to buckle down, we pull through and get the job done.”
The Yachtsmen could have rolled over in the third game, but hung tough again. The final game would feature eight ties and eight lead changes. The game was tied at 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 9-9, 10-10, 12-12 and 13-13 before Greely took the lead for good when Copp had a block, followed by a kill. A kill from junior Haleigh Roach made it 17-14 Rangers. Kills from Copp and Bradley were followed by a Sampson ace. A kill from junior Danielle Cimino then made it a 22-15. forcing Falmouth to take a last-ditch timeout, but despite getting back to 23-19, it wasn’t to be as a Bradley kill was followed by a Yachtsmen player hitting the net and the game and match were over, 25-19.
“(Falmouth’s) really great defensively,” said Sampson. “We know the rallies last really long, so we have to have great endurance. We did really well passing today. We were a really young team last year. We had to get more experience and that’s what we got last year. We played a lot in the offseason and the preseason. We got a lot of touches on the ball which definitely helped our chemistry a lot.”
“It was pretty exciting,” added Greely coach Kelvin Hasch. “When we were down in the second game, I thought things were falling apart, but I knew we had spark on the bench and that was the time to put it in.
“We set out the goal for the season to play together and play well at it. Now, our goal, obviously, is to get better yet. We can still get better. That’s what we’ll focus on the next two weeks.”
Bradley, who’s having a sensational season, finished with a whopping 24 kills, 18 digs and two aces.
Sampson had 16 kills and 26 digs. Weickert finished with 12 kills and Cimino had a pair of aces.
“We were nervous because (Falmouth coach Gary Powers is) a really good coach,” Bradley said. “I was on his team in (Junior Olympics). He’s good at getting younger players to have the essentials down. We were nervous about their defensive capabilities. In the end, when we got down, our main goal was to push and getting it past their strong line of defense and it worked out well.
“We took our team from last year, which wasn’t as successful as we wanted it to be. We turned it around and used the team mentality. We know each other so well. We put it together so we have a strong defense. We have strong offense. We love to hit. Even our setters love to hit. It came together when everyone knew their role to fill. “
Falmouth put the loss in perspective.
“We battled back, but we made a few mistakes and against Greely, you can’t do that,” said Powers. “(Losing Jenna is) huge. Not just her support, but she’s a strong player.
“We let some (wins) slip away. We lost to Scarborough and Biddeford in five (games). If we won those two, it would have been a different story. I lost seven seniors last year. The young kids held their own. It’s a learning experience. We’ll move on and see how it goes.”
Falmouth wound up fifth in the Class A Heal Points standings and will have a state final rematch in the quarterfinals Wednesday when it goes to reigning champion Biddeford (9-5).
“We owe them,” Powers said. “It’ll be interesting. We’re battling. We’re working on staying positive on the court and it shows. We have a few things we need to fix. I think we’ll be OK.”
If the Yachtsmen can win that match, they’ll play at Greely in the semifinals Saturday.
The Rangers earned the top ranking and have a bye into the semifinals, where they’ll meet the Biddeford-Falmouth survivor.
At this point, Greely expects to win another title and is very confident on the eve of the postseason.
“We have a lot of fun on this team,” Sampson said. “We’re pretty confident. There are good teams out there. I think we’ll do really well. We have to play with a lot of intensity.”
“(A championship is) definitely our number one focus,” Bradley said. “We want in some sense to get redemption. We’ve always had a strong program. We’ve always had people to look up to. Our drive is a result of last year’s finish, but more a determination to finish well this year. We know we deserve it and that we work really hard. We’ve got great coaches. We’ve got a great cause with ALS (longtime assistant coach Bruce Churchill has Lou Gehrig’s Disease).
“Homefield is an advantage. It’s really fun to have the playoffs at home. I’m hoping it’s not a distraction. Right now, it’s an advantage. Hopefully we’ll keep playing strong.”
“I think (the seniors are) driven,” added Hasch. “They found out what it is to lose and that it isn’t very fun. I think that’s making them work hard. We have a good bond on the team. Everybody’s working together and helping each other. Practice is just as hard as matches, if not harder. We want to get to the ultimate goal, to get the trophy back. Homecourt advantage is huge.”
Falmouth sophomore Katrina Meserve meets no opposition as she delivers a kill.
Greely senior Catherine Fellows rises to meet Falmouth senior Nicole Rogers at the net.
Greely’s unrivaled senior Maggie Bradley delivers one of her 24 kills during the Rangers’ victory.
Greely junior Danielle Cimino soars above the net during Friday’s match at Falmouth. The Rangers completed an undefeated regular season with a 3-0 victory over the Yachtsmen.
More photos below.