In the past four years four Class A schools started varsity volleyball programs, all in southern Maine, growing that pool to 15 teams. That compares to just 10 Class B teams statewide, nearly all of which are Down East. In the next few years four more Class A schools are expected to start varsity volleyball teams, all in southern Maine.

The disproportionate growth of high school volleyball in Maine has coaches wondering what’s the next step for the sport. The Maine Principals’ Association is studying the disparity in the classes this year, said Gerry Durgin, the association’s assistant executive director. Recommendations from that study will be made next spring.

“You can see the problem. When you look at the Class B schools, they are mostly Down East,” Durgin said. “Then you look at Class A schools, they are all pretty much in the Greater Portland area. Those smaller Class A schools don’t want to make the trip Down East. Let’s be honest, it’s the travel they don’t like.”

Many coaches applaud the growth in Class A, but admit it’s an imperfect way to grow a young sport.

“I don’t know if balancing the pools by school size is going to be the answer,” said Greely Coach Kelvin Hasch, who has won nine Class A state titles.

At Biddeford, one of Maine’s original volleyball programs, Coach Ruth Shaw doesn’t know the solution.

“I don’t know how it will work itself out as all these Class A teams are coming into the system,” Shaw said. “We need a solution. There needs to be a different dividing line.”

In the past four years, South Portland, Cheverus, Thornton Academy and Windham started Class A varsity teams. Brunswick, Deering, Gardiner and Portland are expected to be next, Durgin said.

Meanwhile volleyball’s growth in Class B appears stagnant. While Yarmouth and North Yarmouth Academy travel Down East to play schools in their class, no small schools in southern Maine are starting programs.

At the same time, in Class A many coaches do not want to move down a class.

With an enrollment of 700, Hasch said Greely could reasonably be moved down to Class B, but that would be detrimental to his program.

“I would be really upset if Greely got bumped,” Hasch said. “I have a problem with it when the MPA takes these schools based on lower enrollment and puts them in B.”

At Cape Elizabeth, another small Class A school, second-year coach Sarah Boeckel does not want to drop down. Boeckel built a program from one with a losing record to a possible contender. Cape finished 12-2 last year and made the playoffs.

“I’d rather struggle in Class A then play in Class B. I feel badly saying that,” Boeckel said. “But it used to be when teams played Cape they’d call it a win, but we are not that team anymore.”

Boeckel recommended the MPA divide teams by regions – Eastern and Western.

Durgin said that is unlikely, given the inherent unfairness in having a school with an enrollment of 600 play a school with one of 50 just because they both are in the same part of the state.

But then there is the situation Yarmouth and North Yarmouth face. They are the only two Class B teams in southern Maine and both must travel Down East to face the competition they will see in the playoffs.

Yarmouth Coach Jim Senecal said his team, which plays some Class A schools in the regular season, has made the long-haul trips work for them.

“In the playoffs there can be significant travel. This year we will take a trip Down East on Oct. 4. We’ll play at East Machias (Washington Academy) at 12:30 then go to Machias and play at 3 p.m., then drive home,” Senecal said. “That’s a big challenge for high school girls.”

Senecal said the lopsided growth of the sport is a concern.

“Class B has not grown in the manner it should if it’s going to remain viable. There have to be more Class B teams in southern Maine,” Senecal said.


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