CAPE ELIZABETH—When the Cape Elizabeth volleyball program attained varsity status back in 2008, it could only dreams of hosting showdowns like this one.
In the penultimate match of the regular season Thursday evening, the Capers welcomed the state’s gold standard, the two-time defending Class A champion Greely Rangers, in a pivotal encounter.
And the Rangers showed Cape Elizabeth that while it’s having the best season in program annals, it’s close, but not quite at an elite level yet.
The Capers, who coming in had lost all previous eight encounters against the Rangers without winning a single game, took the first set, 25-22, and after Greely won the second game, 25-21, took command with a 25-20 victory in the third set.
But with a landmark victory just 25 points away, Cape Elizabeth wasn’t as poised in the fourth game and the Rangers, behind steady play from seniors Jordynne Copp, Lexi Foster and Emily Warnock, junior Lauren Weickert and sophomore Alex Tebbs, took advantage, prevailing, 25-16, to set up a winner-take-all, first-to-15 fifth set.
The Capers enjoyed leads of 2-1, 5-3, 6-5, 8-6, 9-7, 10-8 and even 11-10, but couldn’t finish it out as Greely rallied to go on top for good at 14-13, before putting it away on a kill from freshman Kayley Cimino, 15-13, taking the palpitating match, 3-2.
The Rangers bounced back from a five-set loss to Falmouth Tuesday night, improved to 9-4, likely guaranteed themselves at least one home playoff match and dropped Cape Elizabeth to 11-2 in the process.
“Everyone’s a good team,” said Foster, who made too many clutch plays to count. “Cape’s a good team compared what we’ve seen before. We wanted it. That’s what it came down to. Who had the fight to push through. We’d rather have a good match. I’d rather go to five games with a really good team.”
Greely opened the 2013 season and its quest for a three-peat with a thrilling five-set victory over Biddeford (in a state final rematch), then lost at Scarborough (for the first time in 21 all-time meetings), 3-1. The Rangers rebounded with wins over visiting Windham (3-0), host Kennebunk (3-1), host Lake Region (3-0), visiting Gorham (3-0). visiting Mt. Desert Island (3-0) and visiting Ellsworth (3-0) before losing again to Scarborough, this time on their home court, 3-0. After losing at Falmouth, 3-2, Greely bounced back with a 3-0 win at Biddeford, but Tuesday, after winning the first two sets, was stunned by visiting Falmouth, 3-2.
Cape Elizabeth, which made the playoffs last fall for the first time (beating Windham in the preliminary round before falling to Biddeford in the quarterfinals to wind up 6-10), welcomed Sarah Boeckel as its new coach this season and made her look like a savant, handling every foe but one prior to Thursday. Cape Elizabeth opened with 3-1 home wins over Gorham and South Portland, downed host Windham (3-0) and Yarmouth (3-1), then defeated visiting Cony (3-0). A hard-fought four-set home loss to Falmouth followed, but the Capers responded with 3-0 victories at Biddeford and Thornton Academy, a 3-0 home win over Cheverus, a 3-0 victory at Lake Region, a 3-1 win at Kennebunk and a 3-0 home victory over North Yarmouth Academy Tuesday.
Greely had won all eight prior matches by 3-0 scores (please see sidebar, below), but this time around, it took a lot longer for the Rangers to dispatch a Capers’ squad that has now firmly established themselves as a serious contender.
The first set was close throughout, although the hosts set the tone on a kill from senior Audrey Grey to earn the first point. The game was tied, 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 7-7, 10-10, 11-11, 12-12 and 14-14. The hosts then went ahead, 20-16, but back roared Greely to take a 22-21 lead. It would have been no surprise to see the Rangers close out the set, but no one told Cape Elizabeth is was supposed to roll over and after tying the score, a Grey kill put the Capers on top, 23-22. An ace from senior Emma O’Rourke followed and after Greely coach Kelvin Hasch called timeout in an attempt to stem the tide, the Rangers hit the ball into the net and the Capers had won a set against Greely for the first time, 25-22.
The Rangers quickly seized control of the second game, going up by as much as 8-2 after an ace from Copp, but after a timeout by Boeckel, the Capers calmed down and chipped away at their deficit. A kill from senior Anna Goldstein made it 9-8 Greely. Cape Elizabeth drew within a point at 11-10 and again at 12-11 after a kill from junior Monica Dell’Aquila. Three straight points, punctuated by a kill from sophomore Hannah Butland, gave the Rangers a 15-11 advantage and a Warnock kill made it 17-12. Kills from Goldstein and sophomore Tess Haller, a block from senior Sarah Stacki and another Haller kill cut the deficit to a single point, 17-16, but again Greely responded, scoring the next two points. The Capers got back within 19-18, finally pulled even at 20-20 and even took a momentary 21-20 advantage, but they didn’t have enough to steal the set, as the Rangers got the final five points, thanks in large part to a pair of aces from Warnock, the second of which won the game, 25-21, and evened the match at a set apiece.
When Greely went up, 5-2, early in the third game, it looked like it might take control, but Cape Elizabeth hung tough. The Rangers continued to lead until a block from Stacki tied the score, 15-15. After blocking the ball to keep play alive, Stacki had a kill to make it 17-15 Capers. An ace from sophomore libero Lydia Brenneman, who had a strong outing, pushed the lead to 20-16, but in the blink of an eye, Greely got a kill from Warnock, another point, then an ace from Warnock to cut the deficit to 20-19. A kill from O’Rourke, an ace from senior Sophie Moore and another point pushed the lead back to four, but after a timeout, the Rangers earned a point and threatened to pull it out. Instead, Dell’Aquila deilvered a kill and O’Rourke closed out the game with an ace and Cape Elizabeth had a 25-20 victory and stood just one set win away from finally vanquishing the mighty Rangers.
It wasn’t to be.
Greely again started strong in the fourth game, going up, 7-2 and 9-3 before the hosts came to life, rattling off five straight points to pull even at 14-14. After the Rangers got four successive points, capped by a Warnock kill, the Capers got back to 19-16 on a kill from Haller, but Greely closed strong on a 6-0 run, as Butland had an ace, Weickert registered a pair of kills and Warnock ended it with a kill on a long point for a 25-16 victory, pushing the match to the brink.
“I told them to go out and win this set,” Hasch said. “They needed to show they could do it. They did. They played hard.”
Vitually every point in the fifth set was hotly contested and it could have ended up going either way, but the seasoned Rangers exerted their will with the match on the line.
An ace by Cimino gave Greely the first point for the fourth straight game, but Cape Elizabeth got the next two. The Rangers went back on top, 3-2, but a kill from Stacki, a Goldstein ace and another point gave the Capers a 5-3 advantage. Back came Greely to tie it at 5-5, but a kill from Stacki put Cape Elizabeth back on top. A service point tied the score, but successive O’Rourke kills made it 8-6 Capers. Hasch then called timeout and not surprisingly, his team responded, as a Cimino block led to a point.
“We called timeout and I told my hitters they had to hit the ball,” Hasch said. “I told my setter to mix it up. I told Jordynne and Lexi to take control.”
A block from Dell’Aquila got the next point for the hosts, but the Rangers got a kill from Tebbs to make it 9-8. Greely then suffered from a miscommunication and the point gave Cape Elizabeth a 10-8 lead. Successive Copp kills tied the score, 10-10, but a kill from Haller, following a mind-boggling save from O’Rourke, who somehow got the ball over the net from near her end line, gave the Capers an 11-10 advantage, putting them just four points from victory.
“When we got that, I thought for sure it was our night,” Boeckel said.
Instead, it would be the last lead the hosts would enjoy.
Copp answered with back-to-back kills, forcing Boeckel to call timeout. Cape Elizabeth got the next point to make it 12-12, but Greely went ahead, 13-12. A block from Stacki tied the score for what proved to be the final time, but a service fault put the Rangers one point away. Then, after a rally, Cimino got the ball over the net, the Capers weren’t able to return it and Greely had a 15-13 set win and a 3-2 match victory.
“That was a last-minute decision, but it worked out,” Cimino said, of her final shot. “It felt good. We just kept our energy up and kept in it. No one got down. We wanted it.”
“When Coach started volleyball, he knew in 10 years it would be awesome,” Foster said. “This is the year everybody’s gotten so good. You can’t underestimate anyone. Cape came out tonight like they’ve won state championships. I have friends on other teams who warned us how good Cape is, so I’m not surprised. They have very good hitters and a very, very good defense.”
“I’m ecstatic,” added Hasch. “There are five teams that are right up there in talent. Falmouth and Scarborough have proved that. Cape proved that tonight. If Cape played Falmouth or Scarborough, I’m not sure they wouldn’t beat them. They have great defense and their setter’s incredible. Their libero, there was nothing she couldn’t get. She was in every rally. My hats off to them. They did an awesome job.”
Greely got 14 kills and three aces from Warnock, 11 kills, three blocks and an ace from Copp, 10 key kills from Tebbs, five kills, two blocks and an ace from Weickert and five kills and three aces from Cimino.
“It’s been fun to play with the upperclassmen,” Cimino said. “They’ve been welcoming. Lexi’s been great.”
Foster had a pair of aces and countless digs.
“Alex had a great match and Kayley set a great game,” said Hasch. “She was able to shake off her serving problems in the fifth and came back and put them in.”
After committing 21 service errors in the loss to Falmouth Tuesday, the Rangers only faulted six times Thursday.
“We worked on serving,” Hasch said. “Some kids came in an hour before practice to serve. We talked about what to do when you go behind the line.”
The Capers, who hurt their own cause with a dozen faults, saw O’Rourke finish with 11 kills and five aces, Stacki have six kills and five blocks, Haller register six kills and Grey post five kills.
Cape Elizabeth wanted the win, but couldn’t be disappointed with its effort.
“If we’re going to take a loss, that’s not a bad way to go down,” said Boeckel. “Five games against a really good team. They’ve been winning a lot for a long time. We’re not usually in that position. Years past, we went down in three games and we went down quick. Tonight, we came out and took the first game and kept on fighting. That’s a testament to how far these girls have come. We got a little tight at one point. We stopped communicating and poked at balls. The pressure got to us, but it could have gone either way. I’ve got a ton of seniors who have been with this program since they were freshmen. Many of them have started since they were sophomores. It’s just growth. They want it. They’re finally believing in themselves.”
The Capers (now fourth in the Class A Heal Points standings behind Falmouth, Scarborough and Greely) finish the regular season Saturday at South Portland. This team is no longer satisfied with moral victories and has high hopes for the postseason to come.
“We’re in this,” Boeckel said. “We lost a tough one to Falmouth in four and this one in five. We’ll probably see these guys again and I think we’ll take it to them. We’ll end in fourth or fifth. We’re not just happy to be here. We expect to make a run and do big things. I expect to be (at states) November 2. I’m crossing my fingers. You’ve got to dream, right?”
Greely goes to Gorham Monday for its finale. The Rangers (now third in Class A) appear to be rounding into form just when it matters most.
“We just have to keep playing like we have,” said Cimino. “I think we still have more.”
“Playoffs will be awesome,” Foster said. “This year we’ve realized the game is much more mental. We’re taking the next step. We need our teammates. It’s not just offense, or defense. It’s everybody.”
“At this point, I don’t want to go Down East,” Hasch added. “It would be nice to host a couple matches. I think we’re rounding into form. We’ll get our heads wrapped around the real season and start playing.”
Greely senior Lexi Foster, who had an outstanding match, goes all out for a dig.
Greely freshman Kayley Cimino sets the ball for junior Lauren Weickert.
Cape Elizabeth senior Anna Goldstein plays a shot.
Cape Elizabeth junior Monica Dell’Aquila blocks a shot.
Cape Elizabeth senior Sarah Stacki soars for a kill.
Cape Elizabeth sophomore libero Lydia Brenneman shows her form.
Greely sophomore Alex Tebbs registers a kill.
Cape Elizabeth senior Sophie Moore exults after winning a point.
Greely sophomores Alex Tebbs (21) and Hannah Butland celebrate a point.
Greely 3 @ Cape Elizabeth 0
@ Greely 3 Cape Elizabeth 0
@ Greely 3 Cape Elizabeth 0
Greely 3 @ Cape Elizabeth 0
@ Greely 3 Cape Elizabeth 0
Greely 3 @ Cape Elizabeth 0
@ Greely 3 Cape Elizabeth 0
Greely senior Lexi Foster (white shirt) and her teammates celebrate a point during Thursday’s hard-fought battle at up-and-coming Cape Elizabeth. The Rangers were down two games to one, but rallied to prevail, 3-2.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.