Yarmouth stuns Cape in five-set state match epic

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Tears and screams of joy are the prevailing theme after Yarmouth’s volleyball team outlasts defending champion Cape Elizabeth in five sets in Friday’s thrilling Class B state final.

Brianna Soukup / Press Herald photos.

More photos below.

SOUTH PORTLAND—It was a match for the ages.

A match which saw the defending champions refuse to give up their crown without a valiant fight and ultimately a match where a new, worthy champion emerged.

In absolutely memorable fashion.

Friday evening at Beal Gymnasium, on the campus of South Portland High School, defending state champion Cape Elizabeth, the top seed, squared off against No. 2 Yarmouth in the Class B state volleyball final and both teams put on a show.

A show that no one wanted to see end.

The Clippers, who lost in three close games to the visiting Capers last month, came out poised, looking like they were the defending champs, scoring 10 straight points late in the first set to win, 25-17.

In the second set, Yarmouth gradually pulled away and took a 25-18 decision to go up, 2-0.

When the Clippers grabbed a 15-10 lead in the third game, it appeared the match would come to a sudden and stunning conclusion, but Cape Elizabeth awakened, took 12 out of 13 points and stayed alive in the match with a 25-18 victory.

Yarmouth had an even better chance to lock up the title in the fourth set, leading, 16-9, and later, 20-17, but the Capers refused to give up, went ahead on a kill from senior Megan Connelly, then eked out a 25-23 decision to send the match to a decisive, winner-take-all, first-team-to-15-points fifth game.

Where most on hand expected Cape Elizabeth to complete its stirring comeback, but the Clippers refused to let that happen.

The Capers got the first point, but the next four went to Yarmouth and behind strong serving from senior Marie LeBlanc, the passing of senior Dominique Moran and the hitting of sophomores Kaitlyn Bennett, Evelyn Lukis and Maggie Murray, the Clippers gradually opened it up before one fine kill from Lukis delivered the set, 15-11, and the match, 3-2.

Yarmouth finished the year 15-2, ended Cape Elizabeth’s fine season at 15-2 and in the process, won a Class B state title for the fourth time overall and the first time since 2014.

“I would be lying to you if I said this wasn’t a very special win for us,” said Clippers coach Jim Senecal. “We know we’re playing the highest caliber teams in the state regardless of class and we’re proud of our girls. We know we’re at the same level as anyone in the state of Maine.”

To the brink and then some

Cape Elizabeth won Class B in emphatic fashion a year ago, capping a perfect season with a 3-0 state match win over Falmouth.

This fall, the Capers were favored to repeat and they won their first 11 matches, all by 3-0 scores (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories), before their 28-match win streak ended with a 3-1 loss at Falmouth.

Cape Elizabeth wound up 13-1, good for the top spot in the region and had no trouble sweeping No. 8 Kennebunk or No. 4 York in the quarterfinals and semifinals, respectively.

Yarmouth just missed out on playing Cape Elizabeth in last year’s state final, as it let a 2-0 lead slip away in an agonizing 3-2 setback to Falmouth in the state semifinals.

The Clippers channeled that heartbreak into a terrific campaign this autumn, as they lost just twice, at home to Cape Elizabeth and at Falmouth.

After the loss to the Yachtsmen, Yarmouth mixed some things up.

“We pulled the kids together and made some position changes,” Senecal said. “The kids struggled with it, but we felt it was the right thing and we knew right away it made us a better team. We pushed Evelyn to outside hitter. We pushed Marie LeBlanc to the right side. They adjusted to it and once they did, we became a lot stronger.”

As the No. 2 seed in Class B, Yarmouth opened the playoffs by blanking traditional powerhouse Greely, the No. 7 seed, in the quarterfinals, then Wednesday, swept No. 3 Brewer to set up the state final so many aficionados of the sport were longing for.

Each team entered the state final undefeated on that stage, as Cape Elizabeth won a Class A crown in 2014 and Class B a year ago, while Yarmouth took Class B in 2011, 2013 and 2014 (see sidebar, below).

On Sept. 14, the Capers won the teams’ lone regular season meeting in three close sets (25-22, 26-24, 25-17) at Yarmouth.

The teams had met only once before in the postseason, a 3-0 Cape Elizabeth victory in the 2015 Class A quarterfinals.

Friday, in front of a large and energized crowd, three sets weren’t enough to determine a champion.

Nor were four.

The match would go the distance before Yarmouth held on by a thread for the right to call itself the new champion.

Quick start

Lukis set the tone in the match with a kill on the first two points. After Connelly got Cape Elizabeth going with a kill and an ace, Bennett and LeBlanc countered with kills for the Clippers. The Capers drew even at 5-5 on an ace from senior Kalie Manning and the set would be tied again at 6-6, 7-7 (on a kill by Cape Elizabeth senior Brooke Harvey), 9-9 (on a Lukis kill), 11-11 (on a block from Yarmouth senior Ceanne Lyon), 12-12 and one final time at 15-15, on a Lukis ace. That would be the first of nine straight service points from Lukis, who served two more aces in the run. The Capers committed several unforced errors and soon found themselves down, 23-15. A kill from senior Jaya McClure ended the run and McClure added another kill before Cape Elizabeth hit the ball out and the Capers failed to return the ball again, giving the Clippers the first game, 25-17.

In that first set, which featured eight ties and six lead changes, the difference was Yarmouth’s serving, as Lukis had 10 service points (and five kills). Moran added nine assists.

“We made some changes midway through the season, so Cape hadn’t seen our new lineup and I was confident we’d be strong and we were,” Moran said. “I thought we could outplay them.”

“We started out well and we were aggressive,” said Senecal. “It’s not a complicated game, it starts with how well you’re passing. If we pass well, we spread the ball around the front of the net better than a lot of teams. Maggie got red-hot when she needed to. Evelyn started strong. Even before the match started, we were looser and more relaxed than these young kids should have been in a state final. I wasn’t sure if they were focused or not, but you play your best volleyball when you’re relaxed.”

Cape Elizabeth looked to bounce back in the second set, but the Clippers built on their early momentum.

A kill from Connelly started the new game, but a Capers’ service fault, a Bennett kill and another point made it 3-1 Yarmouth. Cape Elizabeth pulled even at 4-4 on a kill from senior Jessie Robicheaw. Another Robicheaw kill made it 5-5 and after the Clippers got a point, the next five went to the top seed, as a kill from Harvey made it 10-6. Yarmouth quickly battled back, as a kill from Lukis and successive aces from Murray tied the score, 11-11. Murray served up another ace and a Lyon kill made it 14-11 Clippers. After the Capers closed within one, successive Moran aces (with the second hanging on the net and dropping) and a block from Lyon made it 19-13. Cape Elizabeth got as close as 20-16, on a kill from senior Bridget Heggie, but the Capers hit the ball out and Bennett had a kill to force Cape Elizabeth coach Sarah Boeckel to call timeout. It helped momentarily, as the Capers got a point and Torre served up an ace, but after a fault, Cape Elizabeth hit the ball out and a Bennett kill gave Yarmouth the second game, 25-18, and seemingly, a stranglehold on the match.

In the second set, Murray had five service points, Moran five assists and Bennett four kills.

The Capers would return to form in the third game, but not until they fell behind and saw elimination staring them in the face.

Comeback Capers

A kill from Heggie started matters, but two Lukis kills made it 3-1 Yarmouth. Cape Elizabeth rallied to go up, 7-5, but the Clippers countered and after tying it on a block by Murray, Murray had a block for the lead and Bennett served up a pair of aces for a 13-8 advantage. When Moran faked out the Capers by hitting the ball over the net instead of setting, Yarmouth had a 15-10 lead and was 10 points from the championship.

And then, Cape Elizabeth roared back.

A kill from Heggie started the comeback and a kill from Connelly and an ace from Robicheaw tied the score, 15-15. After a Senecal timeout, the Clippers retook the lead on a service fault, but Connelly had a kill and an ace from Torre put the Capers ahead for good. Connelly followed with a kill and three straight Torre aces made it 22-16. A fault and another point pulled Yarmouth back within four, but a Clippers’ service fault, an ace from Manning and a kill by Connelly gave Cape Elizabeth the third game, 25-18, and restored confidence and momentum.

“When Cape got the first one, their assistant coach came over to me and said to me, ‘We’re in a match now,'” Senecal said. “We knew they wouldn’t quit.”

In the third set, junior setter Corina Page had 10 assists, Torre served six points, Manning had five, sophomore Aerin Manning served four points, Connelly had five kills and Heggie added three kills.

Yarmouth had a great chance to put it away in the fourth set, but again, the Capers said, “Not so fast.”

When Moran started the game with an ace, then served two more points, the Clippers were off to a good start, but the next four points went to Cape Elizabeth, as Torre had another ace. The Capers won a long point and Robicheaw had a block for a 6-4 lead, but Yarmouth rattled off the next four points, capped by a Murray block. With the score 11-8 Clippers, Murray had a kill, Lukis did the same and Murray added two more kills to make it 15-8. Yarmouth’s lead was still seven at 18-11, but Cape Elizabeth responded.

A block from Harvey got the rally started and after another point, Connelly had a kill and Torre served an ace to cut the deficit to 18-16. Lukis got a point back with a kill, but Heggie countered with a kill of her own. A Capers’ service fault put the Clippers five points from the win, but after a Cape Elizabeth point, Connelly delivered a kill that barely landed inbounds and Aerin Manning served an ace to tie it, 20-20.

Connelly put her team on top with a kill and the Capers got another point, but Murray and Bennett answered with kills to tie it, 22-22. After a poor set led to a non-return for Yarmouth, Cape Elizabeth senior Tess Dolan served an ace and after a fault, on the second set point, the Clippers couldn’t serve the ball over and the Capers had evened the match with a 25-23 win.

In the fourth game, Torre had seven more service points, Page had four assists and Connelly contributed four kills. That was enough to counter Moran’s nine assists and four kills apiece from Lukis and Murray.

The state title would come down to the final set and while Cape Elizabeth appeared to have all the momentum, in reality, Yarmouth remained relaxed, poised and confident during the break.

“(Letting a 2-0 lead slip away) happened to us against Falmouth last year and I didn’t want that to affect us this year,” Murray said. “We were dancing to the music (between sets) to loosen up. (Senior) Skyler (Bennett) had us all take a deep breath to calm our nerves and get the jitters out.”

“There wasn’t anything great that was said by me,” Senecal said. “It was said by our seniors. Skyler Bennett rallied the team in the three minutes between sets. She did a fantastic job.”

First to 15

When Heggie opened the fifth game with a kill, the Capers were feeling good, but Kaitlyn Bennett had successive kills and Cape Elizabeth twice couldn’t get the ball over. The Clippers gave a point back with a fault, then hit the ball into the net to make it 4-3, but a LeBlanc kill, another point, a Murray kill and after a Capers’ timeout, another Murray kill made it 8-3 Yarmouth.

“We felt really good (after the fourth set),” Boeckel said. “We were super-happy to come back. We talked about how important those first five points (of the fifth set) were and we got sloppy and made far too many unforced errors.”

The Clippers faulted, but Bennett had a kill and after a long point, with nice saves on both sides, Bennett hit the ball backwards, over her head, and found the floor for a kill to make it 10-4. After Cape Elizabeth twice couldn’t get the ball over, Yarmouth was just three points from glory, but again, the Clippers would find that closing out the champions would be daunting.

A fault, followed by a pair of errant returns and a Kalie Manning ace, pulled the Capers back within four. A Murray kill momentarily restored order, but when Connelly had a kill, then served an ace, the Capers were only down three, 13-10.

And that’s as close as they would get.

After the teams traded faults, Yarmouth served the ball over, Cape Elizabeth sent it back and Moran set it for Lukis, who at 8:01 p.m., delivered arguably the biggest kill in program history, giving the Clippers the game, 15-11, and the state title in a five-set instant classic.

“I knew what I had to do and (Dominique) put it right there,” Lukis said. “I was speechless, so happy.”

“I was hoping they’d go to (Evelyn) and I was hoping she was in rhythm, because when she is, she’s unstoppable,” Senecal said. “She’s a strong girl.”

Yarmouth then rushed the floor to celebrate.

“I’m so happy,” Lukis said. “Our team worked so hard for this. This was our goal and I’m so excited right now. We were a little nervous (after the fourth set), but we had to collect ourselves. We love each other so much. We were able to do it and keep our heads clear.”

“This is such an amazing thing to happen,” said Murray. “I started playing in seventh grade and I never expected to win a state championship in four years. We came in with a different lineup and we came in giving 110 percent. Cape is a phenomenal team, but all of our seniors really wanted it.”

“It was more emotional than I thought it would be,” Moran said. “It’s an awesome feeling. This game was eerily similar to our Falmouth match last year, but I knew if everyone did what they can do, we’d get it done and we did.

“We had a lot of seniors out there and we all got in the mental state that we had to give it everything we had and we left everything out there. This program is so incredible. Our team is so close. Evelyn goes to Maine Coast Waldorf, but the sense of community she feels and how close we all are, we’re such a family. A lot of teams say that, but we really are.”

“Cape pushed us to the end,” Senecal added. “No lead is safe against them. They can extend rallies like no one else. We can have the most potent offense anywhere and they’ll hit the ball back. They had some ebbs and flows too and we took advantage.”

Many contributions

Yarmouth got some huge stat-stuffing performances it its victory.

Moran had 36 assists in her swan song, to go with 12 service points, and she did so at less than 100 percent.

“My knee popped out a little bit in the fourth set, but I wasn’t coming out,” Moran said. “I had enough adrenaline going, but I’ll probably have to ice it later.”

“Dominique is phenomenal,” said Murray. “She’s gotten hurt and you wouldn’t even know it.”

“I love Dominique,” Lukis said. “I can always count on her. Her sets are always perfect.”

“Dominique was limping around in the fifth set after she tweaked her knee and I wasn’t sure if she’d make it through, but it worked out great,” Senecal added.

Lukis had 19 kills, including the unforgettable final one of the match. She also served 15 points.

“Evelyn is phenomenal,” Murray said. “She’s such a power for us. She finished it off.”

Bennett wound up with 13 kills and nine service points.

Murray stole the show at times, adding nine kills and nine blocks, as well as four aces.

LeBlanc had seven service points.

“Marie stepped up and did a really nice job serving in the fifth set,” Senecal said.

Lyon bowed out with eight service points and four blocks.

Skyler Bennett played terrific defense and served as the squad’s emotional leader when it needed motivation.

“Our defense was strong when it had to be and (Skyler) was part of that,” Senecal said.

Not this time

Cape Elizabeth’s effort was led by Page’s 27 assists. She also had five service points.

Connelly delivered 13 kills in her final match in a Capers’ uniform.

“Megan has been with me since freshman year,” Boeckel said. “I love that they (mistakenly) announced her (before the match) as a junior. I’d love to have her one more year.”

Torre had 17 service points, including eight aces.

Kalie Manning served 14 points, including five aces, and Aerin Manning had 11 service points.

Harvie bowed out with six kills and two blocks, Heggie had six kills, while McClure finished with three and Robicheaw had two kills and one block.

“We fight and we fight and we fight and win or lose, we make sure to leave everything on the court,” Boeckel said. “Yarmouth played a great match and they came and did what they needed to do. We dug ourselves into too many holes. You can’t do that against a team that plays really well.

“Kudos to Yarmouth. We saw them in September and we knew we wouldn’t beat them 3-0 again. We got a little tight. The rallies were so long and we had to keep digging to get tied or ahead was mentally and physically exhausting. You can see how the team that’s up stays loose.

“I told the girls that we made it to the finals and that we’re a very good team and we fought and there’s nothing to be ashamed of finishing second.”

In addition to Connelly, Cape Elizabeth also says goodbye to Dolan, Harvey, Heggie, Robicheaw, Kalie Manning, Erin Foley, Meghan Gerety, Ellie Hilse, Celeste Kilgore, Ellie McAnuff and Saylor Wood.

“I was hoping the seniors would pull one more out,” Boeckel said. “The seniors are Cape Elizabeth volleyball. That’s why we’re where we are. We wouldn’t be here without them.”

The Capers will look to return to the top spot in 2019 behind McClure, Aerin Manning, Page and Torre.

Don’t be surprised if Cape Elizabeth is back celebrating a title soon.

“I hope the younger kids are hungry for next year,” Boeckel said. “They got some experience. We’re going to be OK.”

Encore?

The only bittersweet element of this title is that Yarmouth has to part with Skyler Bennett, LeBlanc, Lyon, Moran, Alex Manthorne and Gillian Porter.

“I’m really proud of all of our seniors,” Senecal said. “They’ve shown so much intensity and strength. Marie and Dominique especially. Ceanne is a old-school three-sport athlete you don’t see a lot of anymore. The sport in-season is her favorite sport and you love a kid like that. Gillian Porter came to practice every day and worked hard and you appreciate those kinds of kids.”

The 2019 Clippers will be led by Kaitlyn Bennett, Lukis and Murray and don’t be surprised if that squad finds its way back to the big stage.

“This is something I want to experience again,” Murray said. “I’m hoping to play on the right side next year because I think I’m more powerful there. We’ll have a strong team.”

“I really hope we can do it again,” Lukis said. “We have to keep our same mindset and positivity and confidence and I think we’ll have a chance.”

“We have a very strong team coming back, a lot of great sophomores and a freshman (Sophie Dickson) we thought was going to set, but she was injured,” Senecal added.

“Hopefully we’ll have this conversation again next year.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Yarmouth sophomore Maggie Murray and Cape Elizabeth senior Brooke Harvey meet at the net as Capers senior Megan Connelly looks on.

Yarmouth sophomore Kaitlyn Bennett punches at the ball.

Cape Elizabeth sophomore Julia Torre serves the ball.

Yarmouth sophomore Maggie Murray blocks the shot of Cape Elizabeth senior Jessie Robicheaw as Clippers sophomore Kaitlyn Bennett also defends.

Cape Elizabeth sophomore Aerin Manning dives in an attempt to save the ball as sophomore Julia Torre looks on.

Cape Elizabeth seniors Megan Connelly (6) and Brooke Harvey keep an eye on the ball.

Yarmouth sophomore Maggie Murray goes up for one of her nine kills as Cape Elizabeth senior Brooke Harvey defends.

Cape Elizabeth celebrates after winning the third set and staying alive in the match.

Yarmouth celebrates after championship point.

Previous Cape Elizabeth stories

Season Preview

Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 0

Cape Elizabeth 3 Scarborough 0

Cape Elizabeth 3 Kennebunk 0

Previous Yarmouth stories

Season Preview

Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 1

Yarmouth 3 Greely 0

Previous Cape Elizabeth state match results

2017 Class B
Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 0

2014 Class A
Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 2

Previous Yarmouth state match results

2014 Class B
Yarmouth 3 Machias 0

2013 Class B
Yarmouth 3 Washington Academy 2

2011 Class B 
Yarmouth 3 Bucksport 0

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Sports Editor of The Forecaster since 2001. Find detailed game stories at theforecaster.net. I tweet prodigiously at @foresports.