FALMOUTH—Cape Elizabeth’s defending Class A state champion volleyball team lost its first two matches this fall.

Now, the Capers are serving notice to the rest of the league that they’ve returned to form.

Thursday evening, Cape Elizabeth had the daunting task of playing at a Falmouth squad the Capers beat in an unforgettable state match a year ago.

The somewhat surprising Yachtsmen, who hadn’t lost in any of their first four matches, were hungry for revenge, but Cape Elizabeth spoiled their party.

The Capers, who have made playing from behind an art form, actually got the jump in this one, taking a back-and-forth first set, 25-23, then rolling to a somewhat easier 25-18 victory in the second game.

Falmouth refused to go quietly, as it absolutely dominated the third set, taking a 15-1 lead en route to a 25-12 decision. The Yachtsmen then shot to an 8-2 lead in the fourth game and appeared poised to push the match the distance, but the champions hung tough and down the stretch, made the plays they had to make and when senior Katie Connolly delivered an ace and classmate Tess Haller followed with a kill, Cape Elizabeth took the set, 25-21, and the match, 3-1.

The Capers made it three wins in a row, improved to 3-2 and dropped Falmouth to 4-1 on the season.

“We needed this match,’ said Cape Elizabeth coach Sarah Boeckel. “We wanted it and I love that we wanted it. We remembered we know how to play volleyball.”

Two champions

The past two seasons have ended with an unexpected Class A champion.

In 2013, Falmouth upset previously undefeated Scarborough in the state match.

Last fall, Cape Elizabeth had to win all of its postseason matches away from home and in each of them, the Capers dug a hole. After rallying from a 2-1 deficit to beat Scarborough in the quarterfinals, Cape Elizabeth was on life support at perennial powerhouse Greely in the semifinals after losing the first two sets, but the Capers managed to rally again to prevail in five sets to advance. Then, in the state final, Falmouth, looking to join Greely as the only team to repeat in Class A, won the first set, 25-22, and the second, 25-18, but Cape Elizabeth had the Yachtsmen right where it wanted them and they completed an improbable title run by taking the final three sets by scores of 25-22, 25-22 and 15-8.

This fall, Falmouth has gotten off to a hot start, while Cape Elizabeth, as it did in 2014, has been up and down.

The Capers, despite returning most of their standouts from last year, began their title defense with a four-set loss to Scarborough, then lost a five-set classic to Greely, which was a mirror image of the schools’ playoff match, with the exception of the result. Cape Elizabeth got back on track with 3-0 victories over Mt. Desert Island and Biddeford. 

The Yachtsmen, who were hard hit by graduation and welcomed a new coach in former assistant, Molly Northway, haven’t missed a beat. Falmouth held off Greely in a five-set epic in the opener, then blanked Biddeford and beat Windham and Gorham by identical 3-1 scores.

The teams met just once last year in the regular season, which Falmouth won in three relatively easy sets (25-14, 25-22, 25-17).

While Thursday’s match in a sweltering gymnasium didn’t approach the intensity or drama of last year’s state final, there were some memorable moments as the Capers jumped to an early lead and held on for a pivotal victory.

The first set featured seven ties before Cape Elizabeth went on top, 12-11. Haller added an ace, senior Maddie Bowe scored a point on a block, Bowe had a kill and the Capers added one more point for a 16-11 advantage, forcing Northway to call timeout. It worked, as the Yachtsmen went on a 7-1 run, tying the score on a kill from senior Julia Treadwell and after a Boeckel timeout, going up, 18-17, on a Treadwell block. A service fault allowed Cape Elizabeth to tie the score, but the Capers faulted right back. Kills from Bowe and Connolly and a Haller block made it 21-19 Cape Elizabeth. After Falmouth got a point back, senior Anni Ball had a kill for the Capers and Farmer answered with one for the Yachtsmen. A Connolly kill added another point and forced a Falmouth timeout, but after a service fault pulled the hosts within 24-23, Cape Elizabeth closed it out as Bowe soared for a block to give the first set to the Capers, 25-23.

Bowe had three blocks and two kills in that first game, while Connolly had four kills. Haller delivered five service points and two blocks and sophomore Maggie Dadmun assisted on nine points.

Junior Amanda Watson had nine assists and four service points in the set for Falmouth.

The second game came a little easier to Cape Elizabeth, which never trailed.

A kill from Scheindel put the Capers ahead early. Bowe then had a block for a quick 3-1 lead. After Farmer registered a kill to tie the score, Bowe’s kill gave Cape Elizabeth the lead for good, 4-3. A Haller kill capped a four-point run and made it 7-3. Falmouth got back to 7-5, but Haller had a kill and Cape Elizabeth added another point. A 9-6 lead got extended to 14-7, thanks to a kill from Connolly, a Haller block, Bowe kill and two Haller aces. After the hosts crept back to 14-9 on a Treadwell block, the Capers opened it up with five straight points, highlighted by a Bowe block and two Scheindel kills. The Yachtsmen got as close as six points, before a Scheindel kill ended the set in Cape Elizabeth’s favor, 25-18.

Dadmun had nine more assists and four service points, Scheindel delivered four kills, Bowe had three kills and two blocks and Haller had three kills. Falmouth got five kills from Farmer and six assists and two service points from Watson.

Falmouth faced its first serious adversity of the season, trailing by two sets for the first time, but instead of buckling, it roared back in the third set.

The tone was set by Watson, who served the first seven points, including three aces. Cape Elizabeth got on the board on a kill from Scheindel, but after the Yachtsmen got a point back, junior Alaina Birkel went on a seven-point service run, sparked by Farmer’s dominance at the net, and capped with an ace to make it 15-1. The Capers tried to rally behind Haller’s play at the net, but the result was never in doubt and kills from junior Malia White and senior Emma Walsh, an ace from Farmer, a block from sophomore Alison Noyes and finally a Treadwell kill brought the curtain down on the 25-12 decision.

Watson had a spectacular set, producing 11 assists and five service points. Birkel added seven service points and Farmer had six kills.

Prior to the fourth game, Boeckel tried to get her charges refocused.

“We let them get in our heads,” Boeckel said. “We were down, 15-1. We had a little flashback to our first couple matches and letting them slip away, but I’d much rather be up two (sets) than down two. We took a breath and remembered that we just needed one pass.”

But the Yachtsmen got off to a sizzling start again and threatened to make quick work of the fourth set. 

An ace from Watson set the tone and after Treadwell registered a point with a block, Watson served up another ace to make it 3-0. Bowe responded with a pair of kills, but after a Falmouth point, Birkel returned to the service line and served two aces and her teammates got her two more points for a seemingly safe 8-2 lead.

This time, however, the Capers answered.

After a return from senior libero Lydia Brenneman just landed inbounds, Cape Elizabeth came to life, rattling off five more points to tie the score, 8-8, thanks to an ace from Scheindel, two kills from Connolly and another from Bowe. The game was tied again at 9-9 and 10-10, then the Yachtsmen went up 14-11. After a Falmouth fault, the Capers rallied to make it 14-14 on a Haller kill. 

The hosts retook the lead on a Noyes kill and added another point, but Brenneman got a point back. After a Cape Elizabeth service fault, Bowe had a kill, but Treadwell answered with a kill to make it 18-16. Boeckel called timeout and her team responded, as Bowe had a kill, Scheindel served up an ace and Bowe’s kill made it 19-18 Capers.

A Treadwell block tied the score, but a net violation on the Yachtsmen put Cape Elizabeth back in the lead. Farmer’s kill made it 20-20, but a kill from Connolly put the Capers ahead to stay. Haller added a block for a 22-20 lead. After a Falmouth timeout, Farmer had a kill, but Haller answered with a kill, Connolly served up an ace and Haller produced one more kill to end the set, 25-21, and the match, 3-1.

“We lost our minds in the third and had to pick it up in the fourth,” said Connolly. “We had to do it for each other and be a team. We figured it out.”

“We won against Biddeford and that momentum carried on,” Scheindel said. “We had our heads in it and we were really pumped up. It was a lot of fun. We got a little cocky in the third set, but we came back and played disciplined defense.”

Cape Elizabeth got contributions from several sources.

Bowe had seven kills in the final set and wound up with a dozen (to go with five blocks) in total.

“(The Yachtsmen) have strong net players,” Bowe said. “Their libero did a great job. It was hard to get kills.”

“(Maddie’s) so consistent from the start of the match,” Boeckel said. “She makes smart plays and she’ll be where she needs to be.”

Scheindel’s stat line read nine service points and six kills.

“Monika hits a great ball,” said Boeckel. “She’s smart and she passes well.”

Connolly had 10 kills and six service points.

“This was Katie’s best match this season,” said Boeckel. “It was her most consistent match. She wanted it.”

Haller had 11 kills, nine service points and six blocks.

Dadmun had 12 kills in the fourth game alone and 36 for the match.

“Maggie spread the offense and that got people involved and when we get one-on-one opportunities, that’s amazing,” Bowe said. “Maggie’s the most relaxed and reliable one of all of us. She’s very level-headed.”

For Falmouth, Watson was superb with 32 assists and 13 service points. Farmer dazzled as well with 17 kills.

“Lydia’s amazing,” Northway said. “We’ve worked on her for four years and she’s showing it.”

Birkel had 12 service points, including four aces. Treadwell added six kills, five blocks and five service points. White had six kills and six service points.

“We fought back,” Northway said. “It came down to confidence and heart. The girls definitely have the skills. We pulled back in the third game. I’m so proud of them. It just came down to endurance and fatigue. The girls never gave up hope. They pushed strong from the beginning, but it took longer than usual to get rid of the jitters.

“This is a great group. This is my fourth year here and it’s my favorite group. Not because I’m the head coach this year, but because we’re a team and we all work together. We came back with two starters, but I’m so impressed with what we have.”

More excitement to come

The teams meet again Oct. 13 in Cape Elizabeth, but both teams have several challenges to overcome in the meantime.

The Yachtsmen (first in the current Class A Heal Points standings) go to Scarborough Tuesday, then host Kennebunk Thursday. Trips to Greely (Oct. 1) and MDI (Oct. 3) and home showdowns with Biddeford (Oct. 6), Yarmouth (Oct. 8) and Scarborough (Oct. 15) also remain.

“We’re looking at consistency and confidence,” Northway said. “It’s a mental game for us. The girls have to believe in themselves.” 

The Capers (fourth in Class A) host Cony and Gorham next week, then go to Greely and host Scarborough the following week. Cape Elizabeth also has potentially tough matches remaining at home versus Biddeford and at two-time defending Class B champion Yarmouth, which is more than holding its own in Class A this fall.

The Capers are up for the challenge.

“We love having the target and the expectations,” Bowe said.

“Last year, the Biddeford match turned it around for us,” Connolly said. “This year, I think we’ll do the same. We had a slow start, but we’ve turned it around. We have to power through every game.”

“Coach always says we have the biggest target on our backs and we realize that and we know we have to push every point like it’s a state match,” said Scheindel. “Our serving could still use some work. We have to play disciplined defense. We have to stay low and play every ball.”

“I feel like we’re turning the corner, but I still think we need to get back to being mentally strong like we were last year,” Boeckel added. “You look at volleyball in Maine the past few years, it’s so fun. I’d rather win 3-1 or 3-2 than 3-0. I’d rather worry about winning or losing than knowing we’re going to win. We’re not used to being the defending champs. We need to remember it’s just volleyball and teams will get their points and their games, but we can’t let them get the match.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @foresports.

Cape Elizabeth senior Tess Haller (17) and sophomore Maggie Dadmun celebrate during the Capers’ 3-1 win at Falmouth Thursday night in a rematch of last year’s state final.

Mike Strout photos.

Cape Elizabeth senior Maddie Bowe blocks the shot of Falmouth senior Julia Treadwell.

Cape Elizabeth senior Lydia Brenneman sets the ball.

Cape Elizabeth senior Katie Connolly exults after a point.

Falmouth senior Lydia Farmer, who had a terrific match, goes up for a kill.

Cape Elizabeth senior Tess Haller sends the ball over the net as Falmouth sophomore Alison Noyes looks on.

Cape Elizabeth senior Monika Scheindel lunges to reach the ball.

Falmouth junior Madi Tait handles a shot.

Falmouth senior Emma Walsh goes up for a kill and Cape Elizabeth senior Tess Haller looks for the block.

Falmouth celebrates a point during its third set victory.

Falmouth junior Amanda Watson goes all out to reach the ball.

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