Yarmouth has played volleyball for many years, but was never a championship program.
It is now.
Saturday afternoon, at Ellsworth High School, the Clippers reached the pinnacle for the first time, downing Bucksport to win Class B in their first year at that level.
Yarmouth held off the Golden Bucks in three close games, 25-19, 25-21, 25-17, to complete a 13-4 season, make history and ensure that the long bus ride home would be a jubilant one.
“It’s definitely exciting,”said Clippers senior captain Bailey Sheehan. “We always thought we had a chance, but it didn’t seem real until the final point. They were very close games.”
Yarmouth went 7-8 in 2010, losing to perennial powerhouse Greely in the Class A quarterfinals.
A move to Class B provided some uncertainty, but also gave Yarmouth an opportunity to win immediately.
“It’s different being in Class B this year, so we didn’t know exactly what we were going into,” said Clippers senior captain Suzanne Driscoll. “We hadn’t seen the teams before. It helped playing them in the preseason.”
This fall, the Clippers not only were shifted in class, but they got a huge boost when senior Morgan Cahill returned to the program. Cahill played her freshman and sophomore years, but spent her junior year at Cheverus. Cahill’s return immediately elevated Yarmouth into the upper echelon.
“It helped a lot getting Morgan back,” said Driscoll. “We definitely needed some height for blocking. We’re not the tallest team.”
Cahill could tell immediately that her team had the potential to do something special.
“I thought we could go all the way,” Cahill said. “We had good chemistry and a lot of talent. I think who we really have to thank is the girls who came before us. They really helped us get here. The leadership last year from Emily Clark and Mary Sansone got us to this point.”
The season began inauspiciously with 3-0 losses at defending Class A champion Biddeford and Greely. After wins over visiting Cape Elizabeth (3-0) and Gorham (3-2), Yarmouth dropped a 3-1 decision at Falmouth.
Then, everything changed.
After blanking visiting Kennebunk, the Clippers traveled Down East and downed Jonesport-Beals in a five-game thriller, Machias (3-0) and Sumner (3-0). After winning 3-0 at both North Yarmouth Academy and Lake Region and 3-0 at home over Cony, Yarmouth had a seven-match win streak. The run ended with a 3-0 home loss to eventual Class A runner-up Scarborough, but the team wound up 10-4 after blanking visiting NYA in the finale.
The Clippers finished third in the Heal Points standings and began their playoff run with a 3-0 home win over No. 6 Machias. Yarmouth then had to travel all the way up to No. 2 Calais, but it was worth the trip as the Clippers prevailed, 3-0. That set a date with a Bucksport squad that Yarmouth knew little about.
The Clippers quickly learned that the Golden Bucks would be a very difficult out.
In the first of a possible five games, Bucksport jumped to an early 5-3 lead, but junior Gina Robertson delivered four successive service points, two of which were punctuated by Cahill kills to put Yarmouth on top. Successive aces from sophomore Grace Mallett and a Cahill kill (assisted by Mallett) pushed the lead to 18-12. Junior Lindsay Tyler then served out the game and the Clippers prevailed, 25-19.
In the second game, Yarmouth fell behind early and was down 14-11 before Driscoll had four successive service points to get the Clippers back in it. Yarmouth then went up 23-15 before senior Lydia Ruetty served out the final point for a 25-21 triumph.
That set the stage for the third game. Again, Bucksport jumped out early, up 10-6, but Tyler came through again, delivering seven successive service points (including three aces) to put the Clippers on top to stay, 13-10.
“Bucksport’s defense was outstanding,” said Yarmouth coach Jim Senecal. “Our girls experienced some of the longest rallies of the year in that game. Unless we executed our offense and stayed aggressive with them, they seemed to get to everything. Their strategy was to push deep into our corners and our back defenders needed to be ready. They didn’t attempt that many kills as they preferred a strategy waiting for us to make mistakes.”
The Golden Bucks were still within 19-17 late, but Robertson served out the final six points of the match, helped by a pair of Ruetty kills.
The winning point provided an anxious moment.
“Ruetty collected the final kill, which hit the top of the net and seemed to hover there for awhile before it calmly dropped onto the Bucksport side and sealed the match,” said Senecal.
“Everyone was kind of nervous, but we were still confident,” Driscoll said. “The final point was kind of scary. We had to wait for the ball to drop on the floor, then everyone went crazy.”
At last, the Clippers were number one.
“I was really impressed with how Bucksport played,” Cahill said. “They had one of the best defenses we played against, even Class A teams. Grace’s aces gave us some energy. Lydia had some hits that helped us out too. We knew their style of play was defensive so we kept that mindset. We just played our game.”
“(The Golden Bucks) played a lot of defense and tried to get the ball back so we tried not to make mistakes,” Sheehan said. “Lindsey had some good low serves. It was exciting because it’s the first time for Yarmouth volleyball.”
“We wanted to keep everything the same and not change the way we play,” Driscoll added. “We practiced really hard all week.”
Senecal, in his fifth season, had plenty of praise to go around.
“Morgan proved why she’s an all-star with a dominant performance,” Senecal said. “Her 12 kills, consistant serves and solid back row play helped lead the way for us. Suzanne (six kills) would tell you that she didn’t have her best offensive game, but she more than made up for it with her defense. As tough as Bucksport was defensively, Suzanne made sure that we were just as tough. Her ability to read hitters is and to get to the spot is second to none. I think Lydia (four kills) saved her best game for when we needed her the most as she played outstanding today. Our libero, Lindsay, consistently delivered great passes to our setter and got our offense going for us. She also had her best serving day of the year.
“Since our loss to Falmouth dropped us to 2-3, we really pulled things together winning 33 out of a total of 38 games. We got strong consistent play from everyone all year.”
When the Clippers got back to Yarmouth, they were honored.
“It was cool to have the parade down Main Street,” Cahill said. “We had a good time.”
Yarmouth will have a very different look next year after losing Cahill, Driscoll, Ruetty and Sheehan, along with Sarah Crommett, Amelia Gallay and Megan Haley, but after tasting a title, look for next year’s team to make another deep run.
“We will really miss our seven terrific seniors who brought much more than just skill to help us achieve this goal,” Senecal said. “They believed that they could be champions and helped the others believe it as well. Whether they were starters on the court, or pushing those starters every day in practice, they were terrific.
“We return three starters from this year’s squad, along with a couple of other juniors who saw quite a lot of playing time this season. Our JV team had an excellent season with several players ready for the next step. I believe that girls really enjoyed the experience of getting their first ever state title. With a strong core group of returning players and an excellent pool of newcomers, we’ll be looking forward to more success in 2012.”
The Yarmouth volleyball team celebrates its first state championship Saturday.