Yarmouth volleyball coach Jim Senecal, joined by senior Alison Clark, receives the ball that commemorates his 100th victory after the Clippers beat South Portland, 3-0, Tuesday night.
Mike Strout photos.
More photos below.
YARMOUTH—Yarmouth’s volleyball program has had a lot to celebrate in recent years and the man most responsible for that triumph, longtime coach Jim Senecal, got to enjoy his moment in the limelight Tuesday evening.
Senecal, who inherited a Clippers’ team a decade ago that barely had enough numbers to compete, then led them to unthinkable glory, reached a milestone as the 2016 version continues to be among the best teams in Class A.
Hosting up-and-coming South Portland, Yarmouth rolled to a 25-11 first set victory thanks to the passing of sophomore Dominique Moran, the dominance at the net of senior Alison Clark and the serving and power of senior Rachel Chillé.
When Chillé started the second game with 12 straight service points, including five aces, the Clippers built an insurmountable lead and they went on to a 25-9 win.
The Red Riots hung tough for awhile in the third set, but Yarmouth, which got excellent service from senior Andrea St. Pierre, gradually pulled away and when Chillé produced a final kill, closed out the game, 25-14, and the match, 3-0.
The Clippers improved to 8-2 on the season, dropped South Portland to 5-5 and best of all, gave Senecal his 100th victory as Yarmouth’s head coach.
“There’s no better place to coach than Yarmouth High School,” Senecal said. “I’m just proud to be associated with this program and be with these kids.”
Senecal took over the Yarmouth volleyball program in 2007 when the Clippers were at best, also-rans (they were just 4-11 his first season and had losing records in three of his first four).
Everything changed in the fall of 2011, when Yarmouth roared to its first Class B state championship. The Clippers did it again in 2013 and 2014, then made the move up to Class A last season, winning 11 more games.
“Not a lot of people remember where we came from,” Senecal said. “When I started, we had eight kids. It’s turned around.”
This fall, Yarmouth has again been one of the best teams in the state regardless of class. The Clippers started with 3-0 wins at home over Kennebunk, at Gardiner, at home over Wells and at Massabesic and Windham. After falling at home to Scarborough in four sets, Yarmouth blanked visiting Gorham. A 3-0 setback at undefeated Greely followed, but Thursday, the Clippers beat host Cony in three games.
South Portland’s program is in its fourth varsity season and is still seeking its first playoff berth (which appears likely). After just missing out on the postseason a year ago, the Red Riots have been very competitive in 2016.
South Portland opened with a 3-2 home win over Cheverus, then lost at Scarborough (3-1), at home to Cape Elizabeth (3-0) and at Gorham (3-1). The Red Riots then beat visiting Thornton Academy in three sets, downed host Portland and visiting Deering in four sets and swept host Brunswick before their four-match win streak ended last Thursday with a 3-0 loss at Biddeford.
The teams had met just once prior, a 3-0 home win for Yarmouth in 2013.
Tuesday night’s match, which took just 52 minutes, produced the same result as well as Senecal’s landmark victory.
South Portland got the match’s first point, as senior Kaitlyn Bouchard dropped an ace over the net, but the next six points went to the Clippers, thanks to five service points from Chillé which set the tone. After the Red Riots crept within 6-3 on an ace from senior Paige Leary, Yarmouth went ahead, 10-3 and stretched that to 16-6 behind an ace from Clark and a kill from Chillé. After a block from freshman Kaliesha Towle and an ace from junior Hannah Crozier cut the deficit to 16-8, Chillé had a kill and LeBlanc served an ace to make it 19-8. Another Chillé kill and an ace from Moran made the score 21-9. After a South Portland point, the Clippers got two in a row for a 23-10 lead. The Red Riots got the next point, but consecutive Clark kills closed out the 25-11 set victory.
In that game, Moran had seven assists, Clark produced five kills and Chillé had six service points and three kills.
Yarmouth made quick work of South Portland in the second set.
Chillé set the tone with an ace on the first point. She served up three more as the Clippers opened up an 8-0 lead, forcing Red Riots coach Nicole Kane to call timeout. It didn’t help, as Chillé served up four more points, punctuated by an ace, for a commanding 12-0 advantage.
“I just got in a rhythm,” Chillé said. “I’ve been practicing that. I’m not the strongest server, I’m more placement over power.”
“Rachel has a unique ability to see where the gaps and the holes are when she serves,” Senecal said. “She’s not our most powerful server, but I’m happy she’s our first server because of the intelligence she has and the way she uses that.”
South Portland crept back to 13-3, but Clark had a kill and later an ace for a 16-5 lead. The Red Riots weren’t able to seriously cut into the lead and with the score 23-9, Clark had a kill and South Portland hit the ball into the net to close out the 25-9 set.
The Red Riots went up 4-1 in the third set, thanks to a block from junior Shannon Murphy and an ace from junior Molly Mawhinney, but a kill from Clark and an ace from senior Sydney St. Pierre tied it, 5-5. South Portland retook the lead, 8-6, but a kill from LeBlanc sparked a 6-0 run to put Yarmouth ahead to stay. A kill from Moran gave the Clippers the lead for good and LeBlanc’s ace made it 12-8. After the teams traded points until it was 15-11, Clark had successive kills, Yarmouth got another point, then Andrea St. Pierre served consecutive aces for a 20-11 lead. The Red Riots got as close as 23-15, but a Chillé kill put Yarmouth on the brink. Then, after a Clark dig, sophomore Skylar Bennett set up Chillé, whose kill brought the curtain down on the 25-15 victory, which gave the Clippers the match, 3-0.
“Our communication was really on tonight,” said Chillé. “Our setters, Dominique and Skylar, changed the whole game for us.”
“We had to focus tonight,” Senecal said. “We knew South Portland was a strong team. We had to take them out of their system and we did that with our serving. We stayed aggressive. We didn’t give a lot of free balls back to them.”
Following the win, Senecal was given a game ball signed by his players, as well as a cake, before reflecting on just how far the program has come.
“I think about how much I’ve enjoyed the last 10 years,” Senecal said. “I’ve had great kids and good fortune and support from (athletic director) Susan (Robbins) and the athletic department here. One of the key things that happened to the program was adding (assistant) Michael Reutty in 2008. His skill set development has been fantastic. An assistant doesn’t get the accolades of a head coach, but I know how important he’s been.”
Chillé, who came to the program as a sophomore, credited Senecal’s ability to know just what the players need for his success.
“(Coach) knows how to work with the team,” Chillé said. “He knows we have to have days to focus on bonding and communication and we need days that are more intense and skill focused. He can make drills more fun, so it’s loose and not stressful all the time. That’s contributed to our success.
“We knew about (his 100th win) last week and tried to keep it a secret because we wanted it to make it more special, but he knew about it. Still, it was a great day. It’s been so awesome.”
Chillé finished with 18 service points, including seven aces, and eight kills. Clark added 13 kills and Moran had 17 assists. Andrea St. Pierre finished with 11 service points, including four aces, and Bennett had five assists.
“We’ve developed Skylar and Dominique,” Senecal said. “Right now, Dominique is working a little stronger with our two outside hitters. She moves well, she’s athletic and she has good instincts.”
South Portland (now 12th in the Class A Heal Points standings) has some work to do to secure a good playoff spot. After going to Windham Thursday, the Red Riots host Bonny Eagle and go to Kennebunk next week, then close at home versus Falmouth Oct. 18.
Yarmouth (fifth in Class A at press time) gets a chance to avenge last year’s playoff ouster when it goes to Cape Elizabeth Thursday. A pivotal home showdown versus Falmouth looms next Tuesday before the Clippers close with a home match against Brunswick and a trip to Biddeford.
“We have to stay bonded as a team,” said Chillé. “We’re all so close. We’re young, but we feel like we have nothing to lose.”
“I do think Greely has the strongest team and Scarborough’s probably right there with them and the rest of the league is wide open,” Senecal said. “I think the 3 through 6 teams, that I think we’re a part of, can compete. We have some big matches coming up. We all know that when you get to the playoffs, you never know. I think this team has a shot.”
Yarmouth senior Rachel Chillé goes up for a kill over South Portland senior Kayla Brown. Chillé finished with six kills and also had 18 service points.
Yarmouth sophomore Marie LeBlanc prepares a serve.
South Portland junior Shannon Murphy blocks a shot.
Yarmouth sophomore Skylar Bennett handles a shot.
Yarmouth senior Alison Clark sends the ball flying.
South Portland senior Kayla Brown sets the ball.
Yarmouth senior Andrea St. Pierre, left, and Rachel Chillé celebrate a point.
Yarmouth coach Jim Senecal talks to his team during a timeout.