After staving off defeat five different times, Falmouth’s volleyball team celebrates its first set victory in Tuesday’s hotly contested match at Yarmouth. The Yachtsmen went on to prevail in the match, 3-0.

Mike Strout photos.

More photos below.

YARMOUTH—Falmouth’s volleyball team got an opportunity to display its mental toughness Tuesday night and came through with flying colors.

Visiting Yarmouth in a pivotal late season showdown, the Yachtsmen somehow rose off the deck five different times in a fabulous first set before rallying to prevail, 31-29.

Falmouth continued to make the big plays and the small ones too down the stretch of the second set, erasing a 20-17 deficit and scoring the final three points to win, 25-22.

The Yachtsmen weren’t about to give the Clippers any life in the third game as they never trailed and closed out the match, 3-0, with a 25-18 triumph.

Falmouth produced its biggest win of the season to date, improved to 10-3 and dropped valiant Yarmouth to 9-3 in the process.

“I think this was our best match,” said Yachtsmen coach Molly Northway. “This will help us for the rest of the season. We’ve had an up-and-down season, but hopefully this is our momentum shift to move forward and take it to the next level.” 

Little separation

Yarmouth started with 3-0 wins at home over Kennebunk, at Gardiner, at home over Wells and at Massabesic and Windham. After falling at home to Scarborough in four sets, Yarmouth blanked visiting Gorham. A 3-0 setback at undefeated Greely followed, but the Clippers beat host Cony in three games, then swept South Portland to give longtime coach Jim Senecal his 100th career win. Thursday, Yarmouth downed host Cape Elizabeth, 3-1.

Falmouth opened with 3-0 wins over Cape Elizabeth, Cheverus and Gorham, then lost in three sets at Biddeford and at home to Greely.  Straight set wins at Brunswick and at home over Thornton Academy were followed by four set victories over visiting Mt. Desert Island and host Windham. After a 3-1 loss at Scarborough, the Yachtsmen swept visiting Bonny Eagle and Cony.

Prior to Tuesday, Falmouth and Yarmouth had only met 10 times since the Yachtsmen started their varsity program in 2007, with Falmouth winning on eight occasions (see sidebar, below), including last year’s 3-1 home decision.

This time around, the Clippers were seeking their first victory over the Yachtsmen since a 3-2 home victory Oct. 9, 2010, but Falmouth won its fourth in a row in the series thanks to some mindboggling plays.

The first set was filled with amazing plays and it went on and on and on, needing 30 amazing minutes to complete.

While Yarmouth was the home team, its gym ceiling wasn’t kind, costing it the first two points of the match. A kill from senior Rachel Chillé got the Clippers on the board and there would be little separation from there. The teams were tied, 3-3, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10 and 11-11 before the hosts appeared to take control.

A kill from senior Sydney St. Pierre put Yarmouth on top and her twin sister, Andrea St. Pierre, served three straight points, including two aces, to make it 15-11. Two kills from senior Alison Clark extended the advantage to 17-12. After the teams traded service faults, Falmouth junior Alston Armstrong had a kill, but the Clippers went up, 19-14. A kill from senior Madi Tait and a block from junior Alison Noyes cut the deficit to three before Clark answered with a kill. Tait had a kill to cut the deficit to 20-17, but Yarmouth got the next point. Kills from senior Malia White, senior Victoria Burton and Armstrong pulled the Yachtsmen within 22-21, but after a timeout, the Clippers got the next point. Back roared Falmouth to tie the score, 23-23, but a kill from Clark put the hosts on the brink of victory.

It never came.

Trailing, 24-23, the Yachtsmen got highlight reel saves from Armstrong and senior Alaina Birkel to stay alive and a kill from senior Amanda Watson kept the set going. After a Falmouth net violation gave Yarmouth match point again, a kill from Armstrong made it 25-25. Chillé then produced a kill that barely landed inbounds, but again, the Clippers couldn’t close it out as out of a timeout, the Yachtsmen got the tying point.

A Falmouth service fault again put Yarmouth on the brink, but a kill from Noyes tied it again, 27-27.

When an apparent Clippers’ point was reversed, the Yachtsmen had a chance to end the set, but Falmouth faulted again, making it 28-28. When Yarmouth won the next point, it had its fifth set point, but the Clippers hit the ball into the net. The ceiling doomed Yarmouth again on the next point, as another bad bounce gave the visitors a chance to end the set and this time, the Yachtsmen did so, as senior Malia White soared for a kill to give Falmouth a palpitating 31-29 triumph. 

“We had the mentality to never give up and we played our hearts out,” Tait said. “It definitely paid off and that skyrocketed our confidence. We’ve worked on our mental toughness and this showed that we’re a mentally tough team.”

“We do a good job not thinking about the score much,” Watson said. “It didn’t get to us that we were down. It was exciting. We had lots of energy. I’m proud of us for not getting down.”

“One thing we’ve really focused on is being calm and collected,” Northway added. “We took a moment to collect ourselves during those points. We took timeouts when we had to, but we kept the momentum. That set the tone for the rest of the night.” 

Yarmouth, which got seven kills from Clark, was staggered.

“My captains (Alison and Rachel) said that the first set was key,” said Senecal. “That gave Falmouth momentum and their confidence level went up.”

The second set would be taut as well, but didn’t last quite as long.

The Clippers went up early, 5-1, thanks to a pair of kills from Clark and strong services from Andrea St. Pierre. Falmouth again fought back and tied the score, 8-8, after a Tait kill. Yarmouth stretched the lead back out to 13-9, as Clark had a pair of kills. The Yachtsmen roared back once more, as Tait had a kill, then went to the service line and produced four successive aces for a 14-13 lead. After a Tait service fault tied the score, Clark had a kill and Andrea St. Pierre’s ace put the Clippers ahead, 16-14, but Falmouth rallied to tie, 17-17.

After another Yachtsmen fault, Clark had an ace and Yarmouth won the next point as well to go up, 20-17. Again, the Clippers couldn’t stand prosperity, and after Falmouth got the next point, Burton served up successive aces to make it 20-20. Armstrong put the Yachtsmen ahead with a kill, but Chillé tied things again. A Yarmouth service fault was countered by a Chillé kill to make it 22-22, but a kill from Noyes, another from Tait and a ball that the Clippers hit out gave the second game to Falmouth, 25-22.

While the margin between the rivals was razor thin in the first two sets, the Yachtsmen took the third one with a little more ease, never trailing.

A kill from Birkel got things started and Falmouth got the first three points. A block from sophomore Ceanne Lyon and two Clark kills helped Yarmouth pull even, 4-4, but a kill from Noyes put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay. Falmouth went up, 8-4, but the Clippers got back to within 8-7 before a service fault helped the visitors take an 11-7 lead, forcing Senecal to call timeout.

It helped initially, as Clark had a kill, then an ace, but the next four points went to the Yachtsmen. A Chillé kill pulled Yarmouth within 17-15, but Noyes countered with a kill. The Clippers twice more drew within two at 19-17 and 20-18, but Watson had a kill and Falmouth got the next point as well, forcing Senecal to call timeout for the final time. After Yarmouth twice hit the ball into the net, the Yachtsmen slammed the door as Burton served up an ace to close it out, 25-18.

“It was super exciting,” Tait said. “We worked really hard as a team to bring it to the next level. Tonight showed what we can do as a team and I’m really proud of how we played. It was so important to win in three (sets). That’s always the goal.”

“We really wanted this one,” Watson said. “It’s a good win to take into playoffs.”

“Yarmouth has a very strong team,” Northway added. “This is huge.”

Statistically, Falmouth was paced by 22 assists (15 in the first set alone) from Birkel. Watson finished with nine service points .Tait had seven kills and four aces. Noyes finished with six kills and four blocks. Burton had nine service points, including four aces. Armstrong added seven kills and a pair of blocks.

For Yarmouth, Clark produced 19 kills, but on several other points, she was stymied either by Yachtsmen blockers at the net or defenders sacrificing their bodies going to the floor to keep play alive.

“(Alison) moved her shots around a lot tonight, but we had good defense from Victoria and Madi,” Watson said. “We take a lot of pride getting to balls on the floor. Coach calls us one of the scrappiest teams and we try to live up to that.”

“It was really nice that after I told the girls what they needed to block, they were able to execute it,” Northway said.

“We’ve got to look to move our hitters around a little bit,” Senecal said. “You can’t be one dimensional all the time. We have to work harder on creating other options than just that outside hit. Falmouth kept the ball off the floor. That’s their reputation. They’re not a power team, but they’re really hard to put the ball down against.” 

Sophomore setter Dominique Moran had 21 assists, Chillé finished with eight kills and Andrea St. Pierre had 13 service points, including five aces.

“This match was a lot of fun,” Senecal said. “I enjoyed it. It was what we expected, but we didn’t get them at the end. We feel like we were Falmouth’s equal even if the score didn’t reflect it. Every ounce of credit goes to them. They did a great job. Our strength is power and if teams take that away, we have a tough time. That was evident tonight. We had some tough breaks when I thought we had them, but the girls fought hard and I’m proud of them.”

Playoff tuneups

Yarmouth (now seventh in the Class A Heal Points standings) has its final home match Thursday versus Brunswick on Senior Night, then closes with a key test at Biddeford Tuesday.

“Tonight was tense, but Thursday won’t be,” Senecal said. “I want the girls to have fun. We know where we are. You’ve got Greely and Scarborough, then we’re right there. It’s all about positioning now. I don’t know where we’ll end up. There are teams ahead of us we know we can beat and teams behind us who are playing really well. We’ll play whoever. We know we’re in. It doesn’t matter where.”

Falmouth (third behind Greely and Scarborough in Class A) closes at South Portland Saturday.

“If we do what we’re capable of, we’ll be right there with everyone,” Watson said.

“This helps us in the Heal Points and helps us set a good tone for playoffs,” Tait said. “I think we’re peaking at the right time.”

“There’s really solid teams all around so we have to bring this intensity to the court on practice days,” Northway added.

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

Yarmouth senior Rachel Chillé blocks the shot of Falmouth senior Alaina Birkel.

Falmouth senior Madi Tait tips the ball over the net as Yarmouth sophomore Dominique Moran defends.

Yarmouth senior Alison Clark wins this battle at the net against Falmouth senior Alaina Birkel.

Yarmouth sophomore Dominique Moran sets the ball.

Falmouth junior Alison Noyes kills the ball over Yarmouth senior Rachel Chillé.

Falmouth senior Victoria Burton goes up for a kill as Yarmouth senior Sydney St. Pierre defends.

Yarmouth senior Andrea St. Pierre exults after the Clippers win a point.

Falmouth seniors Madi Tait, left, Alaina Birkel and Victoria Burton celebrate a point during the Yachtsmen’s victory.

Previous Falmouth-Yarmouth results

@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 1 

@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 2 

@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 1 

@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 0
@ Yarmouth 3 Falmouth 2 

@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 0 

@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 1
West Region quarterfinals
@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 0 

@ Falmouth 3 Yarmouth 0
@ Yarmouth 3 Falmouth 1 

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