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SOUTH PORTLAND—The Riots cruised to victory over the visiting Eagles on Saturday morning, Oct. 7. South Portland won in straight sets, taking the first and third set with comparative ease, but losing focus in the second set for a long stretch.
“I don’t think the match should’ve ended up the way that it did,” said Windham head coach Chris Cloutier. “I thought it would’ve been a little bit tighter – at least a five-set match. I think, skill-wise, we would compete with [South Portland] any day, as long as were there mentally. And that’s kind of been our challenge all season; we’ve kind of been on a bit of a mental rollercoaster.”
The first set went against the Eagles from the get-go; South Portland jumped out to an early, 13-5 lead, after which Windham battled ferociously back to tie things up at 15-15. The Riots picked up steam again after that however, moving to 19-15 and 21-16 before winning at 25-17.
“Set one, we wanted to get all of our seniors in,” said South Portland head coach Nicole Kane. “This is senior night, and I’ve been coaching them for the past three years, so I wanted to be able to honor them. And they played hard with a totally different lineup. I was impressed with how hard they worked for every ball.”
“Our energy in the first [set] was pretty low,” Cloutier said. “We weren’t quite ready to come out and start playing, it seemed like. Takes a little a bit. Saturday matches, they’re wonderful; you never get what you want on a Saturday, seems like.”
The second set proved much tighter than the first. The Eagles grabbed a small advantage to begin things, establishing the tone at 3-1, then chugging along to 5-2, 7-4 and 8-5. South Portland then balanced the scoreboard at 9-9, after which the action see-sawed back and forth, the teams achieving ties at 12-12, 13-13, 14-14, 15-15 and 16-16. They met again at 18-18, but then the Eagles appeared to seize the momentum, hashing the next three points. The Riots, however, recovered to 21-21 and 23-23 before winning on two consecutive tallies.
“We got few more of our serves over, played with a little bit more energy, and we were right there with them,” Cloutier said of the second set.
Windham might’ve found some vim for the second set, but South Portland rested on their laurels – and it nearly cost them. “We went back to our starters in the second game, and I think we just lost our fire,” Kane said, “which has been one of our issues all season. We play hard on the tight matches, but when it’s a big difference, we tend to step back. We need to find a way to stay aggressive no matter what the score is. Luckily, once it got close, they were able to fight and they got that win.”
The third set looked more like the first than the second: South Portland rolled to a 6-3 lead, then a 12-6 lead. Again Windham scrapped and gained ground, coming within one at 15-14 before watching their hosts dash out front yet again. The Riots built to 20-15, 24-16 and, finally, 25-19.
“Definitely in the third set, we had our serving woes,” Cloutier said. “It’s halfway through the [set] and we already had six serving errors; that’s certainly not going to get it done for you. You can’t win a match when you get the ball back and you’re giving them the ball back right after that. All it takes is running a couple points together for [South Portland] and you get the 14-7 lead.”
“Game three just carried over that momentum,” Kane said, referring to the fresh life her girls dug up at the end of the second set.
South Portland advanced to 7-5 on the result. The Riots, ranked sixth at present, travel to Thornton (seventh at 6-5) on Tuesday the 10th, then close their schedule hosting Scarborough (No. 3 at 9-2) a week later.
Kane applauded a handful of her girls: “Molly Mawhinney’s definitely our go-to player; she’s been consistent with us all season. She’s our most consistent passer, our strongest hitter up in the front row. Kaleisha Towle, our middle, she’s a force at the net. She’s putting up a big block that forces everyone to hit around, and it helps our defense set up in a really good spot. Maria Degifico, Katie Whitmore, they both stepped up big, played great defense; same with Skye McCann – her defense has been phenomenal this season. She came from being a strictly front-row player, and now she’s a strictly back-row player.”
Windham, meanwhile, slips to 4-8. The Eagles sit in 10th currently – one slot back from playoffs contention. If they hope to overtake No. 9 Bonny Eagle and earn a tournament berth, they’ll need to win one or both of their remaining contests. Those, however, will both prove towering challenges: Windham welcomes Cape Elizabeth (No. 1 in B South) on the 10th and travels to Yarmouth (No. 2 in B South) two days afterward.
“It’s tough,” Cloutier said. “We’ve got a young team: We’ve got four starting sophomores, starting freshman, a junior and a senior. It’s hopeful for the next couple years – we should come out pretty strong with some players that have some floor experience and are ready to play. But it takes a little bit of time to get that mental game there, especially at the high school level when you’re playing a team with four or five seniors on their starting roster who’ve been doing it already for three or four years. They play for a little bit of a different reason, too; when you’re a senior, you’re playing for, ‘This is it.’ This is your last year.”
Cloutier took a moment to verbally pat one of his girls on the back, despite the team’s loss: “Kaitlyn Gedicks had a couple of good swings in there,” he said.
Adam Birt can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter: @CurrentSportsME
Skye McCann has turned into a critical part of South Portland’s game.
Ashley Aceto turned in a lot of good contact for the Riots on Saturday.
Grace Rende defends at the net for South Portland.
Kaleisha Towle lays into a ball for South Portland vs. Windham.