Falmouth’s volleyball team celebrates its 3-1 win over Biddeford in Wednesday’s Class A state semifinal.

FALMOUTH—A year after a painful loss in the state final, Falmouth’s volleyball team has positioned itself for redemption.

Wednesday evening, the top-ranked Yachtsmen hosted No. 4 Biddeford in a Class A state semifinal and while they got pushed by the talented Tigers, led by senior standout Grace Martin, they took some hits, but hit back.

And no one delivered blows quite like Falmouth sophomore hitting sensation Annika Hester, whose 33 kills helped the Yachtsmen advance.

Falmouth won the first set, 25-17, largely on the strength of its serving game, as junior Holly Barney had a pair of aces and sophomore Hillary Bouchard produced seven service points.

The Yachtsmen then scored the final eight points of the second game for another 25-17 victory.

Biddeford refused to roll over, however, and in the third set, with Martin producing four kills, the Tigers never trailed and stayed alive with a 25-17 win.

But Falmouth had come too far to simply come this far and gradually pulled away in the fourth game for a 25-16 victory to take the match, three sets to one.

The Yachtsmen won their 11th straight match, improved to 15-1, ended Biddeford’s season at 11-5 and in the process, advanced to battle No. 2 Gorham (16-0) in the state final, Saturday at 1 p.m., at Marshwood High School in South Berwick.

“(The Tigers) were everything they were supposed to be,” said Falmouth first-year coach Larry Nichols. “They have tradition and they brought it. They didn’t quit. A lot of teams after losing the first two sets would have been done, but they came out and punched us in the mouth, then came out strong in the fourth set. I think it must have been a great match to watch.” 

Unfinished business

After a frustrating and disappointing 3-0 loss to Cape Elizabeth, on the Capers’ court, in last year’s Class B state match, Falmouth has longed to finish the job this fall and under Nichols, the Yachtsmen have been arguably the state’s best team after moving up in class.

Falmouth dropped an early decision to Cape Elizabeth, a loss it later avenged, and won its other 13 matches to finish first in Class A (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories). Saturday, the Yachtsmen beat No. 9 Thornton Academy in straight-sets to advance.

Biddeford, a perennial power, lost to Cape Elizabeth, Gorham, Falmouth and defending Class A champion Scarborough during the regular season and as the No. 4 seed, advanced with a 3-0 win over No.5  Deering in Saturday’s quarterfinals.

On Sept. 27, the host Yachtsmen swept the Tigers in three close sets (25-21, 26-24, 25-22).

Falmouth had taken three of the previous five playoff meetings (see sidebar, below). The most recent was a 3-1 Yachtsmen win in the 2014 Class A quarterfinals.

Wednesday, Hester and Martin engaged in a battle of sluggers, but ultimately, Falmouth had just a little too much and managed to extend its season to the final day.

Biddeford got the first point of the match, but the next six went to the hosts, as Barney had a pair of aces and Hester delivered a couple of kills. Two more Hester kills extended the lead to 10-3. The Tigers crept back as close as 15-12 behind a Martin kill and again within three at 18-15 when Martin produced another kill, but a kill from junior Rose Riversmith, a Bouchard ace and a Riversmith block made it 23-15. Martin answered with a kill and Biddeford got another point, but a Hester kill, followed by a Riversmith kill gave the Yachtsmen the first game, 25-17.

In that set, Bouchard had seven service points, Barney added five, Hester had five kills and Riversmith was solid at the net as well with three kills and three blocks.

The Tigers were paced by Martin’s five kills and senior Brooke Reissfelder’s five assists.

Falmouth would win the second game by the same score, but not as easily.

Again, Biddeford scored first, but Hester had a kill, senior Summer Spiegel served two aces and Hester had another kill, forcing Tigers coach Ruth Shaw to call timeout. It didn’t help initially, as a kill from sophomore Katie Phillips and a Bouchard ace made it 8-3. Biddeford then settled down, as senior Grace Boisvert had a pair of kills to produce a 10-9 lead. A block from sophomore Rachel Brask put the Tigers ahead by a 12-11 score, but a Hester kill helped put Falmouth up, 15-13.  Biddeford managed to draw even at 15-15 (on an ace from Reissfelder), 16-16 and 17-17 (on a Martin kill), but a service fault put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay and Phillips served out the set with seven straight points. Hester had three kills, Riversmith came up with a timely block and Phillips finished it off with an ace for another 25-17 set victory.

Phillips led the way in that game with seven service points and seven assists. Hester had eight more kills and that was enough to overcome Martin’s four kills, six assists from Reissfelder and five service points from senior Chantel Perreault.

Proud Biddeford refused to be swept out of the playoffs and came back with a vengeance in the third game.

A kill by Martin and an ace from Reissfelder set the tone. A kill from Boisvert, an ace from senior Sydney Gagne and three more points made it 8-2 Tigers, forcing Nichols to call timeout. It didn’t help, as Boisvert had a kill and Reissfelder added another to make it 11-3. Falmouth tried to make a run, but Biddeford didn’t let it happen and a kill from Boisvert pushed the lead to 17-7. Two kills from Hester and another from Phillips forced Shaw to call timeout and the Tigers didn’t let the Yachtsmen get any closer than 23-17 on a Hester kill. Falmouth then hit the ball out and on set point, Martin delivered her fourth kill of the game to extend the match and Biddeford’s season, 25-17.

Boisvert also had four kills and Reissfelder added six assists in that set to neutralize Hester’s nine kills.

The Yachtsmen came out strong in the fourth set and made sure it ended any lingering drama.

A kill from Hester set the tone. Martin had three straight kills to give the Tigers some hope, but with the score 6-4 Biddeford, Phillips had a block, then served an ace to tie it. With the score 7-7, Hester banged home a set by Spiegel and Falmouth was on top for good.

“I feel like no matter where (Annika) is on the court, if I get it high enough, she’ll finish,” Spiegel said. “When I have that perfect set and Annika beams it down, it’s amazing.”

After Hester served successive aces, Shaw called timeout, but the Yachtsmen began to open it up. With the score 15-13, Falmouth won a long point and Hester added successive kills. After a Martin kill, Hester had a kill, a block and a kill and Phillips added a kill that barely landed in bounds for a 22-14 advantage. Biddeford got a point back on a service fault, but Hester had another kill. After the Yachtsmen hit the ball into the net, Riversmith had a kill to set up match point. Hester then served the ball and the Tigers couldn’t return it and after 85 intense minutes, Falmouth had the match, 3-1, by virtue of its 25-16 fourth set win.

“When we went to the other side of the court (after the third set) and we were in our huddle, we had that energy and knew we were going to finish it off,” Spiegel said. “It was a team effort.”

“(The Tigers) were still down 2-1 and had to keep the ball in play,” Nichols said. “We had been giving them unforced error points. We just got smarter with the ball and finally got the lead again. That changed the dynamics.” 

Hester put on a show with 33 kills. She also had four aces and two blocks.

“(Annika’s) starting to add shots to her repertoire,” Nichols said. “The challenge now is for her to do it at the right time. Every week, she’s a better player than the week before.” 

Phillips (13 service points) and Spiegel (six service points) each demonstrated their passing acumen with 18 assists apiece. 

“Between Summer and Katie, they’re really good at setting me up,” Hester said. “I was a little tired, so I couldn’t jump as high, but the sets were really good.”

“The setters did a great job,” Nichols said. “They recognized the right moments. It got loud and crazy, but they did a good job settling things down.”

Riversmith produced five kills and four blocks.

Bouchard finished with 13 service points, Barney added eight service points and junior Gretchen Barney had five service points.

Valiant effort

Martin, who will play basketball at Harvard University next year, finished her high school volleyball career with 21 kills and five service points.

“Grace means a lot to our program,” Shaw said. “She’s an all-around athlete. She’s come so far in volleyball. She’s a pleasure to coach. Very humble and team-oriented, an all-around great kid. She does so much for the school and not just in sports.”

Falmouth was certainly impressed by Martin’s play.

“It’s fun playing against Grace,” Hester said. “She’s a good hitter. She gives us good practice for blocking and digging.”

“I told Grace how much I enjoy watching her play,” Nichols said. “She takes the shot that makes sense. It was a treat tonight to see two top-level hitters.” 

Reissfelder had 23 assists (and five service points) and Boisvert added seven kills (and five service points.

Perreault finished with seven service points and five assists. Senior Lexi Matteau contributed seven service points. Brask added three kills and three blocks.

“We had a run there and we took a game, but I think we started slow,” Shaw said. “If we hadn’t started so slowly, it probably would have gone five (sets). I think the girls left a lot on the court and have come a long way since day one. Falmouth has a fantastic hitter who is tough to stop. We did our best to make sure we didn’t make mistakes and that we recovered when we did.”

Biddeford will have a dramatically different look in 2019.

“We lose seven seniors,” Shaw said. “I had a couple underclassmen out there tonight. I think we’ll build for a couple years and see how it goes. We’re an intense program, so we won’t be down for long.”

Back to states

Falmouth will have its hands full Saturday with a Gorham squad that ended No. 3 Scarborough’s title reign Wednesday in four sets in the semifinals.

The Yachtsmen and Rams didn’t play this year. They’ve split two previous playoff meetings with a 3-0 Falmouth win in the 2009 Class A quarterfinals the most recent. 

“It feels so good to go back (to states),” Spiegel said. “Now that we’re in Class A, we want to prove ourselves worthy of it.”

“It’s so exciting,” Hester said. “I’m really hyped. We just need to keep our energy up and stay focused and positive.”

“The girls have bought into where they’re supposed to be, they adjust accordingly and every week, they get better and it’s been great to see them improve that way,” Nichols added.

“It’ll come down to defense. When we play defense, it’s a better scenario for us. You can’t rely on hitters all the time. Gorham plays great defense. They have some good offensive players and they protect the ball. They do not quit.”

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

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Season Preview

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Previous Falmouth-Biddeford playoff results

2014 Class A quarterfinal
Falmouth 3 Biddeford 1

2013 Class A quarterfinal 
Falmouth 3 Biddeford 0

2011 Class A quarterfinal
Falmouth 3 Biddeford 1

2010 Class A Final
Biddeford 3 Falmouth 0

2008 West Region semifinal
Falmouth 3 Biddeford 1