Yarmouth’s volleyball team traveled to Windham High School Saturday afternoon expecting a coronation.
After all, the Clippers had handled 14 of their 15 foes to date, with only a loss to Class A power Cape Elizabeth serving as a blemish.
If that wasn’t enough, Yarmouth was the top seed for the Class B playoffs and had already dispatched state match foe Washington Academy, 3-1, back on Sept. 28.
But the Clippers’ best laid plans were about to fade away when they dropped the first set to the Raiders, 25-20, and promptly fell just short in the second, 25-23.
Suddenly, Yarmouth wasn’t just one game from defeat, but this senior-laden squad was mere minutes away from the end of their high school careers.
The story would have a happy ending, however, as the Clippers gained some confidence with a 25-13 win in game three. Momentum shifted totally to their corner when they took the fourth set by the same score and with its vocal and passionate crowd exhorting it on to victory, Yarmouth wouldn’t be denied in the fifth set, winning, 15-9, to cap a storied comeback and take the championship match, 3 games to 2.
The Clippers finished the season 15-1, ended Washington Academy’s season at 12-5 and added a second Gold Ball to the school’s trophy case.
“It was probably the most exciting match I’ve ever played in,” said senior setter Grace Mallett, the squad’s emotional leader. “It was intense. We’re all seniors. It stuck with us that this was the last match we’d ever play in, so the last three sets we played our hearts out.”
Yarmouth beat Bucksport to win the 2011 Class B championship in its first year at that level, but last fall, the Clippers lost to Machias in the quarterfinals.
This season, considering its talent and experience, Yarmouth wasn’t about to settle for anything shy of the pinnacle.
Yarmouth began its season with a 3-0 win at rival North Yarmouth Academy, which would evolve into a very good team by year’s end. A 3-0 victory at Lake Region was followed by a 3-1 home loss to Cape Elizabeth. That match turned in the third game, when the Capers eked out a 26-24 decision before taking the fourth set, 25-14. By the end of the year, Cape Elizabeth found itself two points away from beating eventual Class A champion Falmouth in the semifinals before dropping a five-set decision, further illustrating how good Yarmouth was this fall.
The Clippers wouldn’t lose again.
A 13-match win streak began with a 3-0 win at Cheverus and continued with perhaps the most difficult match of the regular season, a five-set thriller at Kennebunk, which saw Yarmouth down 2 games to 1 before winning game four, 25-15, and the fifth set, 15-8.
Two of the best teams from Down East paid a visit to Yarmouth’s gym on Sept. 28 and the Clippers managed to avenge last year’s playoff loss with a 3-1 victory over Machias and shortly thereafter, they beat Washington Academy by the same margin to improve to 6-1.
Next up was a 3-1 home win over Cony, a 3-0 home decision over South Portland, 3-0 victories at Bucksport and Sumner and 3-0 home decisions over Windham and Jonesport-Beals, sandwiched around a 3-0 victory at Thornton Academy, to bring the curtain down on a 13-1 regular season.
Yarmouth earned the top seed in Class B and with it, a bye into the semifinals Wednesday, where it hosted No. 4 Calais. After eking out a 25-21 decision in the first game, the Clippers made quick work of the Blue Devils, 25-13 and 25-8.
Saturday’s match against Washington Academy then proved to be a wakeup call as Yarmouth learned it has to earn a state title, not be given one on merit.
Dropping the first set, 25-20, wasn’t necessarily a big deal, but when the second went the Raiders’ favor as well, 25-23, suddenly doubt crept in.
“I was very worried, almost to the point where I started thinking what I was going to say to the kids because it wasn’t what we expected,” said Clippers coach Jim Senecal. “We’d already beaten them once and we expected to come out and be successful. To their credit, they came out really, really hot. It wasn’t as much us struggling, but their power game that they brought to us. We talked about being the aggressor and if we weren’t, we’d probably lose.”
Momentum is a funny thing in sports and it just took a few things going Yarmouth’s way in the third game to spell at 25-13 win and a renewed sense of purpose and confidence.
“We started hitting better and passed and killed it better,” said senior Hannah Elrick.
“I just put my mind into it,” said senior hitter Kristina Borderia. “I just pretended it was the first game.”
“We started flat, then we started swinging better,” Senecal added. We were connecting.”
Another relatively easy 25-13 win in the fourth set evened the match and put all the pressure on the Raiders.
“We got game three, then got game four easily with the momentum,” said Senecal. “Then, it was the crowd being into it. The excitement was there. The kids were into it. We knew at that point we probably had it.”
Destiny would indeed by on Yarmouth’s side and the Clippers gradually opened up a lead in the first-team-to-15-points fifth game.
Yarmouth’s cheering section kept the players inspired.
“The fans were awesome,” Mallett said. “At one point, they did the ‘I Believe That We Will Win!’ chant and at that point, I think we were so pumped up by it. They did it before the fifth game and in the middle of the fifth game and at that point, I really thought we could win.”
After riding a roller-coaster of emotions, the Clippers took game five, 15-9, and could celebrate their championship.
“It was just perfect,” said senior Maddy Maierhofer. “Even though it went five games, that made it more special. It felt even greater.”
“It was a tough match, but we fought through it,” said Elrick. “Once it got to around 10, we knew there were five more points to go and we knew we could do it. After we got up, cheering after every point helped.”
“It felt really well-earned,” Mallett said. “We felt like we deserved the win. We were so down at 2-0, but there must have been a turning point moment where we flipped a switch.”
“We felt like we had the first (championship),” added Senecal. “This one wasn’t that way. It’s completely different. A lot of relief. I personally felt with nine seniors that we had a really good opportunity. I’m really proud of the girls.”
Statistically, Borderia finished with 11 kills. Elrick added nine kills and 14 service points, including five aces. Mairhofer was all over the court, finishing with 28 digs and adding 13 service points and Mallett had 26 assists and 17 service points, including six aces.
“Grace is tremendous,” Senecal said. “She’s such an inspirational leader of our team. She’s something special. She was the key to our success.”
The seniors etched their name in school lore by leading the Clippers to the pinnacle.
The players won’t soon forget this experience.
“It’s even more exciting and rewarding for everyone because of all the seniors,” Borderia said. “We worked really hard during practices. We never gave up. Even though we worked hard, we still had a lot of fun. Everyone worked well with each other.”
“It’s so nice to be on a team where everyone’s so close,” Maierhofer said. “It’s weird that it’s over. I don’t think we’ll ever forget it.”
Yarmouth’s graduation losses will likely prevent it from being viewed as the 2014 favorite, but you can’t rule out the Clippers.
“The sophomore class will be a strength,” said Senecal. “We had underclassmen play this year. We have one of the top JV teams in the state. We’re looking forward to next year.”
The new Class B volleyball state champions, the Yarmouth Clippers.