CUMBERLAND—Legendary football coach Vince Lombardi once told his Green Bay Packers to chase perfection and chase it relentlessly, “knowing full well that we can never attain it, but along the way, we can catch excellence.”
Greely’s volleyball team is no longer perfect, but the Rangers remain excellent and their chase for an elusive state title remains very much alive.
Top-ranked Greely hosted No. 9 Gorham Saturday night in a Class A quarterfinal and after winning every set during an undefeated regular season, the Rangers learned that nothing is going to come easily in the postseason.
Greely did manage to win the first set, 25-16, thanks to seven service points and four kills from senior Molly Chapin, then won the second as well, 25-17, as senior Kayley Cimino had five kills and two aces, but the Rams made every point a challenge.
Then, in the third game, Gorham never trailed, opened up a big lead and held on for a 25-21 victory, ending the Rangers’ remarkable 44-set win streak.
That awakened Greely, which rode a remarkable 10-point service run from junior Sara Agren to open up a 16-2 lead in the fourth game. The Rangers never let up from there and closed out the match with a 25-9 win.
Greely improved to 15-0 on the season, ended the Rams’ year at 10-6 and advanced to Wednesday’s Class A state semifinal, where the Rangers will host No. 4 Falmouth (13-3) at a time to be announced.
“I didn’t care about losing a set,” said longtime Rangers coach Kelvin Hasch. “To run the season that way was a feat in itself. I never thought we’d do that in the tournament. The teams you face in the tournament are tough teams. I thought we controlled most of this match.”
Greely lost to Scarborough in last year’s Class A state match and has been on a mission ever since, to return to the big stage and win the program’s first championship in four years.
The Rangers beat the Red Storm in the opener, 3-0, then beat their next 13 foes by the same margin to earn the top seed in Class A and with it, a preliminary round bye.
Gorham, meanwhile, was a solid 9-5 in the regular season, then swept No. 8 Cheverus in Thursday’s preliminary round, 3-0.
On Oct. 4, Greely won in three sets at Gorham, 25-18, 25-9, 25-19.
The Rangers had won all six prior playoff meetings (see sidebar, below), including a 3-0 victory in the 2014 quarterfinals, the most recent encounter.
Greely would prevail again, but it lost its veneer of invincibility in the process.
The Rams announced that they had come to play by taking a quick 4-1 lead in the first set, but a Cimino kill, a Cimino block, an Agren kill, an ace from Chapin, another point and a Cimino kill put the Rangers on top to stay, 7-4. Gorham crept back within one at 8-7, 9-8 and 10-9 (on a kill from senior Diana Kolb), but Chapin countered with an ace, junior Coco Petrone served up consecutive aces and after Rams coach Nicole Rizzo called timeout, Greely added another point to take a 14-9 lead. The Rangers gradually stretched out the lead from there, as Chapin dominated at the net. An ace from junior Olivia Murley and a Murley block pushed the lead to 22-14. A Kolb kill and a Kolb block cut the deficit to six, but Greely closed it out with the next three points and Chapin’s kill was the exclamation point on the 25-16 win.
Cimino began to take over in the second set and Greely again pulled away late.
Gorham led three different times early before the Rangers went on top to stay on a Chapin kill. Greely got a pair of aces from sophomore Morgan Selby and a Cimino kill for a 12-6 lead. The Rams got back to 15-14, but faulted and Cimino served a pair of aces for an 18-14 advantage. An overturned point gave Greely a 20-16 lead and Petrone’s ensuing serve hit the top of the net and dropped in for an ace. Rizzo called timeout, but it didn’t help as a kill from Chapin pushed the lead to 24-16. Gorham got a point back on a fault, but the Rams returned the favor with a fault of their own and the Rangers prevailed, 25-17.
Then, in the third game, with its season on the line, Gorham managed to do something to Greely which hadn’t been done all year, capture a set.
An ace from Kolb set the tone. The Rangers rallied to tie at 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7 and 8-8 (on a Cimino kill), but Rams senior Kristen Curley’s kill put her team on top for good. The visitors got the next three points, punctuated by an ace from sophomore Katherine O’Donnell, forcing Hasch to call timeout.
It worked momentarily, as Murley somehow managed to tip a ball which had hit the ceiling over for a point and Cimino followed with a kill, but Curley had a kill, sophomore Miaya Carlson served an ace, sophomore Isabelle Kolb blocked a Cimino kill, Carlson served another ace and Gorham got the next point as well to go up, 17-10, forcing Hasch to again call timeout.
“I probably messed us up a little bit because I switched setters around,” Hasch said. “I hadn’t done that this year. Then they got too far out in front to catch.”
The Rams, who moved their top blockers outside to neutralize Cimino, fought off the expected Greely rally, as after Agren’s kill made it 19-16, Diana Kolb’s block and a kill from O’Donnell pushed the lead back to 22-17. Back roared the Rangers, as Agren sandwiched a pair of kills around a Petrone ace, making a one-point game, but out of a timeout, Gorham held on, getting successive points and after a great Gorham defensive save kept play alive, Greely hit the ball out and the Rams had a 25-21 win, handing the Rangers their first loss in a set since last year’s state final.
Not only did Gorham erupt with joy, but so did its fans and many players from other teams in the area who were watching the match.
Greely suddenly faced a gut check.
“We were a little upset, but I told the girls, ‘They haven’t won anything and go out and pound them,'” Hasch said.
The Rangers obliged.
Greely got the first three points, capped by an Agren kill. After Diana Kolb’s block got the Rams on the board, the Rangers got the next point and that brought Agren to the service line.
By the time she was done, the score was 14-1 and the match was all but over.
Agren got things started with successive aces. Chapin then had a kill which made it 7-1 and forced a Gorham timeout. Greely kept the pressure on and two more Agren aces and a Chapin kill extended the lead to 13.
“I saw we really needed to get some energy back on the court,” Agren said. “I get anxious when we don’t have a lead because we have the majority of the season. Having lost a set, I thought we needed to get momentum back with some type of a run. I wanted to get it rolling a little bit.”
“Sara’s serves were hard to believe,” Hasch said. “She did an awesome job. She missed a few earlier, but she sure made up for it there.”
The Rangers went up by as many as 14 points at 16-2 and 19-5, but the Rams tried to rally, getting as close as 20-8 before Cimino had a kill. Leading 22-9, Greely got a point, junior Stephanie Johnson served an ace and Chapin brought the curtain down on the match with a kill, giving the Rangers a 25-9 win and a 3-1 match victory.
“Our back line picked it up this game and offense did really well,” said Agren. “We got balls in. Overall, we were swinging hard.”
“I think it was good to get that pressure off our backs,” Cimino said. “We’re all a little disappointed, but we came out with a ‘W’ and that’s what we really needed. It’s good for us to learn how to come back from losing a set and play just as hard.”
“I’m very happy with the way the girls played in the fourth set,” Hasch added. “They recovered nicely and worked hard.”
Cimino had her usual strong stat line of 15 kills, 14 assists and 10 service points, but Gorham’s approach did slow her down at times.
“They moved their middles to the outside, so they had their biggest blocker on me, which was great for Sara and Molly, but I didn’t get very many kills,” Cimino said. “We knew coming in they were going to do that and that it wasn’t going to be easy.”
“We know teams will focus on Kayley and we have plays for that, but we haven’t showed them,” Hasch said.
Chapin had 10 kills and nine service points. Agren finished with 10 service points, including four aces, and added seven kills. Sophomore Morgan Selby had a dozen assists. Petrone had 10 service points, including three aces.
For Gorham, Curley had 11 kills and four blocks, Diana Kolb added eight kills and four blocks and Isabelle Kolb had 18 assists.
The Falmouth and Greely programs are closely linked, not only because they’ve played a lot of close and exciting matches over the years, but because Hasch’s coaching tree has given the Yachtsmen both coaches in their history, Gary Powers and Molly Northway.
Falmouth advanced to the semifinals with a 3-0 win over No. 13 Kennebunk and four set victory over No. 5 Mt. Desert Island.
In the lone regular season meeting, Sept. 15, Greely won at Falmouth in three sets (25-16, 25-23, 25-23).
The Rangers have won all four prior playoff meetings, including last year’s semifinal, when they improbably rallied from two sets down for a 3-2 victory.
Greely is bound and determined to clear the Yachtsmen hurdle and play either No. 2 Scarborough or No. 6 Yarmouth in the state match Friday evening in Gorham.
“I’m excited about it,” Agren said. “Falmouth has a strong offensive line. They’ll be a test for our defense. They’ll swing hard.”
“We know this is it,” Cimino said. “After four years, I need a state championship. My sister (Danielle Cimino) won two. We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing. This match was eye opening. We have to work hard in practice and keep pushing.”
“I think the girls want to win, but they’re handling the pressure,” Hasch added. “We’ve worked a lot this season on playing with confidence. They can go out and have fun and play. The seniors are very determined.
“Molly played for me and she’s going to bring it Wednesday. She knows exactly what we do and how I coach. We’re looking forward to it. They have to come beat us on our court. I’m pretty sure we’re tough to beat on this court.”
2014 Class A quarterfinals
Greely 3 Gorham 0
2008 West Region semifinal
Greely 3 Gorham 0
2007 West Region semifinal
Greely 3 Gorham 0
2006 regional semifinal
Greely 3 Gorham 0
2005 regional final
Greely 3 Gorham 0
2004 state semifinal
Greely 3 Gorham 0