Greely volleyball edges Falmouth in thrilling quarterfinal
CUMBERLAND—Nobody walks a tightrope like the Greely volleyball team.
The Rangers have built their legend on not just winning big matches, but by claiming the critical points within those matches, when the margin between victory and defeat is razor thin.
The latest example came Saturday evening when the Rangers hosted rival Falmouth in a Class A quarterfinal.
Greely, the No. 2 seed, thrice was a point away from losing the first set, but each time held firm and eventually prevailed, 28-26. After the seventh-ranked Yachtsmen controlled the second set, 25-14, the Rangers were down, 10-5, in the third, but again did what they had to do to win, 25-21. When Falmouth was up 20-12 in the fourth game, it appeared as if the match was headed for a winner-take-all fifth, but again Greely had the answers and eked out a 25-23 victory to take the match 3-1.
The Rangers improved to 13-2 with their ninth straight victory, ended the Yachtsmen's season at 9-6 and advanced to host No. 6 Scarborough in the state semifinals Wednesday at a time to be announced (likely 6 p.m.).
"I don't know how we do it," said Greely coach/dynasty builder Kelvin Hasch. "I thought it was going to five (sets). I fully expected that kind of a match. This is a huge one."
Greely became a varsity program in 2002 and fell five points shy of a state championship in a five-set loss to Woodland. The Rangers got to the pinnacle in 2003 and didn't relinquish their crown until 2010. Last year, Greely returned to the top.
This fall, the Rangers struggled early, losing at Biddeford and at home to the Tigers, but they put it together as the regular season progressed, winning six straight matches by 3-0 scores and after escaping Falmouth in five sets, closed with a 3-0 win over Cheverus to earn the No. 2 seed.
The Yachtsmen, who lost in the state final to Greely in 2009 and Biddeford in 2010, reached the semifinals last autumn. This year, Falmouth struggled early, to the tune of a 4-3 start, then won five straight, including a thrilling five-set home win over reigning Class B champion Yarmouth, before closing with five-set home losses to Scarborough and Greely as the Yachtsmen garnered the No. 7 ranking.
Even though Falmouth has played them as tough as anyone the past few seasons, the Rangers had gotten the better of the prior two playoff encounters (also eliminating the Yachtsmen in the 2011 semifinals) and would manage to advance Saturday, but they had to dig deep for nearly two hours to do so.
The hosts raced to an 8-2 lead in the first game, but Falmouth roared back behind the blocking of senior Danielle Li and sophomore Ally Hickey and aces from sophomore Callie McMahon and junior Riley Burfeind to pull even at 11-11. The Yachtsmen also tied things up at 12-12, 19-19, 20-20 and 21-21, but each time, Greely got the next point. After tying things up at 22-22 on a kill from Li, Falmouth took its first lead on a block from senior Anna Hickey. A kill by junior Katrina Meserve put the Yachtsmen on the brink of victory, but a kill from Rangers sophomore Lauren Weickert and a foul on Falmouth retied the game, 24-24. A kill from Greely senior Haleigh Roach gave the Rangers set point, but the visitors tied it on a Meserve kill and another Meserve kill again gave the Yachtsmen a shot at victory.
It never came.
Instead, Greely tied the game on a Roach kill, went ahead on a kill from junior Jordynne Copp and finally won the marathon set, 28-26, on a Falmouth error.
The Yachtsmen could have been down after the tough result, but excelled in the second set.
Falmouth rattled off six straight points to snap a 2-2 tie and never looked back. Three aces from senior Natalie Kuhn and a pair of Ally Hickey kills sparked the run. An 8-0 surge later in the set, keyed by three Meserve aces, pushed the lead to 18-6. The Rangers made it 23-14 late, but a kill from Meserve ended it, 25-14.
Game three would be pivotal and the Yachtsmen certainly had their chances to seize control of the match.
A pair of aces from Burfeind pushed Falmouth to a 3-0 lead. After Greely drew even, the Yachtsmen went up, 10-5, but the hosts ran off seven straight, keyed by blocks from senior Danielle Cimino and Copp. Falmouth went back on top, 14-12, thanks to a Burfeind kill, but a Weickert block put the hosts ahead to stay, 17-16. The Yachtsmen got within a point at 19-18 and 20-19, but a pair of Roach kills provided some breathing room and the Rangers held on, 25-21, to send Falmouth to the brink.
Greely again pulled a rabbit from its hat in the fourth game.
The Yachtsmen snapped a 6-6 tie and went up, 10-6, but the Rangers got back to 10-8 on a kill from junior Emily Warnock.
More importantly, Meserve was injured on the point and left the match with a shoulder injury.
She wouldn't return.
Initially, Falmouth was able to overcome Meserve's absence as kills from Kuhn, Burfeind and Li made it 18-9. The lead would reach 20-12 on a Li kill, but that proved to be the Yachtsmen's highwater mark.
Four straight Rangers points made it 20-16. After Falmouth got a point back, a kill from junior Lexi Foster, an ace from senior Kristen Atwood and five more Atwood service points, capped by an ace, put Greely on top, 23-21. The Yachtsmen got off the deck to win two straight points, but a kill from Copp put the Rangers within a point of victory and after Falmouth hit the ball into the net, Greely had survived, 25-23, and won the match, 3-1.
"It was really stressful," Roach said. "There was a lot of pressure. We were able to hit around the block, instead of hitting right into it. They have one of the most powerful blocks we've seen so far. It was really important to hit around it. We're used to the stress because we kind of dig ourselves in a hole. We know how to get out of it. We don't panic."
"It was interesting," Atwood said. "Sometimes we forget to talk. Then, we remember communication and we play like a team. We might get behind, but we stop and take a breath and do what we need to do. We've have a history of getting down and crawling back. We saw the score and thought it was unacceptable and that we had to fix it and we did a good job. We were really exhilarated because we won, but there was some relief. It's hard work being down and having to come back. Falmouth brought even more than we expected. They didn't just play hard, but they played smart. Kudos to them. They made us work. They're very good."
Statistically, Roach had 14 kills, 21 assists, five digs and a pair of aces.
"We had to get Haleigh out of the opposite position and put her outside to hit the ball," said Hasch. "That seemed to be the turning point."
Atwood had six aces and eight kills. Foster added 28 digs, Cimino 20 assists, Copp had 11 kills and 11 digs, junior Krystyna Rybka had 12 digs and Warnock finished with eight kills.
"A couple timely substitutions really helped us tonight," Hasch said. "Emily came in and had three kills in a row. (Senior) Katie (Ventre) got a couple and that really helped us. Falmouth's a great blocking team. Probably the best in the state. They dig up every single ball. (Yachtsmen coach) Gary (Powers) and (assistant) Molly (Northway) have done an awesome job."
Falmouth once again came oh so close to beating Greely in the playoffs, but couldn't quite finish the job.
"The last couple matches, we just couldn't pull it off," said Powers. "Losing Katrina really hurt us. I think if Katrina had been healthy, it might have been a different story. We were playing well. There were some questionable calls and it takes the wind out of our sails. Greely's a good team. They're solid. You can't make mistakes against them."
Falmouth graduates seven seniors, but will return several key contributors when it makes another run at the top in 2013.
Two wins away
As for Greely, it has a tough task Wednesday in the semifinals against Scarborough, which downed No. 3 Ellsworth in three sets in its quarterfinal. The Rangers beat the host Red Storm, 3-0 (25-14, 25-13, 25-17) Oct. 3. Greely has won the two prior playoff meetings, including 3-1 in last year's state match.
The Rangers, who have devoted their season to late assistant coach Bruce Churchill, who passed away in the offseason after losing his battle with amyotrophic lateral schlerosis, better known as Lou Gehrig's Disease, won't settle for anything short of another championship.
"I think we can do it," Roach said. "We just have to be prepared for their scrappiness. We're on a mission, especially for (Churchill). We don't want to go home without the Gold Ball."
"I think we'll have to be ready for a tough match," said Atwood. "It's semis. Everybody will bring their all. I think it will be like this match, but probably not with us down so much. Hopefully we'll be in control. We want to get to states really bad. We really want to win it."
"We're in the toughest bracket you can be in," Hasch added. "Biddeford basically got a cakewalk. I'd rather be in the tough bracket and play tough teams, so we can get better. This is how it should be. It should be four or five sets. Scarborough has a couple great kids who can hit. They're not a great blocking team, but they can block the ball. I just think it will be a matter of who makes the least amount of errors. We hope we have two more. That's the goal."