GORHAM—The Rams advanced to 5-1 when Windham dropped by on Thursday evening, Sept. 26: The teams took one set each to begin the contest, but then Gorham dialed in and secured a 3-1 W over the Eagles.

“Taking care of the ball,” Windham head coach Chris Cloutier said, “for us is our big thing right now. The unforced errors – hitting errors, serving errors – those are the things we’ve got to clean up a little. You take two, three, four of those away from the other team, suddenly it’s an eight-point shift.”

The Rams opened the first set on a 3-0 run, thanks to a trio of missed return attempts by the Eagles. Gorham moved to 5-3 on a Maddy Berry smash before Windham battled back, pushing the score to 6-6 on a Meghan Harmon block.

Ursula Steiner sets for the Rams. Adam Birt / American Journal

“We’ve been working really hard, and we’re not taking any team lightly this year,” said Gorham head coach Emma Tirrell. “We just saw [the Eagles] beat a team that we went to five with, and they beat them in four, so looking on paper we know they’re a great team. We wanted to protect our court at home and try to grab every win we can.” (Windham defeated South Portland in four sets at home on Sept. 24; the Rams edged the Riots out 3-2 back on Sept. 10.)

The Eagles surged out front 11-6 after that. The stretch included a couple Gorham errors, but the Rams refused to fall impossibly far behind. Gorham fought to within one at 12-11, and balanced the board at 15-15 when a Windham block attempt went OB.

A hit into the net by Gorham’s Ellie Perry put Windham on top 16-15, but fellow Ram Meg Perry immediately recovered the point with a nice tip. 16-16.

Gorham slid ahead after that – and remained there: A pair of Rams errors ushered Windham within one, 20-19, but Ellie Perry had her teammates’ backs and smashed home the 21-19 notch. Talia Catoggio added a similarly explosive point at 23-19, and Gorham soon claimed the set 25-20 on a long Windham serve.

“We’re scrappy; we’ve got great servers,” Cloutier said. “We’ve just got to get that first one in so we can keep that momentum going…There’s some key moments in the game where we get the ball back on a great play, and the next serve goes in the net or goes long. And that was a chance to grab the momentum and push some points, and we let them go.”

The Eagles flexed their muscles in the second set. After dropping the first two points, Windham barreled out front 7-3; they reached 10-5 on long point that featured two deep, determined digs by Morgan Proulx and culminated in a slick Harmon tip. A pair of bad Gorham returns moved the Eagles to 13-6.

Megan Fleck gets beneath a ball for the Eagles. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

The Rams fought: They pulled within three on a block. 15-12. But Windham dug in their talons and claimed the set on a surge that included a pair of Sierra Guite spikes. 25-15, and one set to one.

“We made too many unforced errors,” Tirrell said of the second set. “That being said, Windham did a nice job of keeping the ball in play. They also had a few really nice hits when they had good passes. Either way, they beat us or we beat ourselves; it was not our greatest set.”

“We took care of the ball,” Cloutier said of the second set. “Our unforced errors were much lower in that game. We were able to put the ball on their side, make them play, give them a chance to make their errors. We were scrappy on our defense, getting a lot of stuff up – a lot of tough hits.”

Gorham won big in the third: The sides stayed tight, each with the other, all the way through 6-6, but then the Rams sprinted ahead, making it 15-9 and 16-9 on a back-to-back blocks and 17-9 on an Ellie Perry ace. Likewise, Mills aced at 21-10. Gorham went up two sets to one on a Harmon serve into the net.

The next set – the last of the match – proved a nailbiter. The Rams led to begin, thanks in part to the hitting of Maddy Berry; Berry even aced to push put her girls on top 9-6. Windham powered to 9-9 on a Harmon tally before falling behind again 13-9.

“I don’t think our serving was our best tonight,” Tirrell said, “but we were doing a really nice job fighting for every point, and moving the ball around on offense, and trying to get over their blocks instead of into their blocks – because they’re a really strong blocking team.”

Sierra Guite turned in a strong day at the net for the Eagles.

The Eagles recovered to within one, 14-13, on a Lydia Budroe ace, then built a small lead, 19-16. The squads tussled for supremacy through the remainder of the set, but the night ultimately belonged to Gorham: The Rams retook the upper-hand at 21-20 and fended off Windham for the 25-23 victory.

Cloutier applauded a handful of his players: “Sierra played really well at the net; she had some pretty good blocks and some really nice swings, some quicks out of the middle there. Megan Fleck does a good job of getting the ball to our hitters and giving them a chance. We have a really deep, talented team; they all had some really good plays throughout the game.”

Tirrell also offered praise for some of her girls: “Caralin Mills, she did a really nice job tonight. And Meg Perry, even though she had her errors, she did a nice job. Ursula Steiner rocked running a five-one. We have people out to injury, so we’ve had to take our other setter and have her become a hitter, so Ursa has really stepped up setting by herself.”

Both the Rams and the Eagles have developed into top-flight programs in recent years. “Five of our starting seven are seniors,” Cloutier said. “They have it in their head, ‘This is the year. If we’re going to make a push, this is the year to do it.’”

No. 3 Gorham travels to Cheverus (No. 8 at 3-3) on Tuesday, Oct. 1. Fourth-ranked Windham (who slip to 5-2) host Deering (16th, 0-5) that same day.

Windhamite Meghan Harmon returns. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

Sarah Elder unwinds into a hit. Adam Birt / Lakes Region Weekly

Ellie Perry lofts up a ball for the Rams Adam Birt / American Journal

Caralin Mills connects with the ball. Adam Birt / American Journal

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