Falmouth celebrates after holding off Scarborough in four sets in Thursday’s battle of unbeaten teams. Brianna Soukup / Portland Press Herald photos. More photos below.

SCARBOROUGH—Entering the week, Falmouth’s defending Class A state champion volleyball team was highly touted, but largely untested.

Four days and three huge tests later, the Yachtsmen have lived up to their lofty billing as the team to beat.

And they had to overcome a healthy dose of adversity along the way.

After rallying to beat Cape Elizabeth Monday, then winning at Biddeford Tuesday, Thursday evening at Alumni Gymnasium, Falmouth met Scarborough in a battle of undefeated squads and the Yachtsmen once again got pushed.

But did just enough to remain perfect on the 2019 season.

Falmouth started fast, then held off a Red Storm rally to win the first game, 25-21.

The Yachtsmen then pulled away for a 25-14 victory in the second set, but Scarborough refused to go quietly and took game three, 25-22.

The Red Storm led 15-14 in the fourth set, but couldn’t extend the match, as Falmouth got a late kill and ace from junior standout Annika Hester to capture a 25-22 victory, closing it out, 3-1.

Hester had 30 kills, got plenty of help from plenty of others, especially senior Rose Riversmith and juniors Hillary Bouchard and Katie Phillips, and the Yachtsmen improved to 10-0 on the season, as they extended their two-year win streak to 22 matches and in the process, handed Scarborough its first setback in eight outings.

“It’s been a bruiser of a week,” said Falmouth coach Larry Nichols. “We looked at the schedule going into the week and on paper, it didn’t look good. It was stressful and exhausting, but the kids did it and I couldn’t be more proud of them. It speaks to how hard they’ve been working.”

Act one

Falmouth and Scarborough have long established themselves as elite programs, with each boasting a pair of state tiles to their credit.

This fall, the Yachtsmen, as expected, have had no peer, but hot on their heels has been a Red Storm squad that entering Thursday had also passed every test.

Scarborough got things started with 3-0 wins at Bonny Eagle and at home against Cheverus. After surviving host Gorham in five-games, the Red Storm downed visiting Windham in four sets, rallied from a 2-0 deficit for a five-set victory at Cape Elizabeth, then blanked visiting Portland and Marshwood.

Falmouth started with a 3-1 home win over defending Class B champion Yarmouth, then blanked host Cheverus, visiting Bonny Eagle, host Deering, visiting Greely, host Portland and visiting Marshwood. The Yachtsmen were then pushed to the brink at Cape Elizabeth Monday, trailing two sets to one before rallying to win it in five. Tuesday, Falmouth blanked Biddeford in three hard-fought games.

Last year, the Yachtsmen beat the visiting Red Storm in four sets. Thursday, in front of a large and vocal crowd, Scarborough hoped to down Falmouth for the first time in three tries, but the Yachtsmen instead kept their good times rolling.

Falmouth got the first two points of the first game and never trailed from there, but the Red Storm surged late to make things interesting.

Hester’s first kill, an ace from Riversmith and a block from senior Mia McHugh made it 6-2. Scarborough pulled within 8-5 before the Yachtsmen scored four straight points, featuring a Phillips kill and a Hester ace, to go up, 12-5. The teams then traded points until a Hester kill put Falmouth on top, 20-12. The Red Storm rallied behind a pair of kills from junior Shaelyn Thornton to make it 20-16, but Hester had a kill and an ace from senior Gretchen Barney pushed the lead to six. Scarborough then got a kill from sophomore Gwen Dorsey, another point, a kill from Thornton, then a block from sophomore Madeline Strouse and after a Nichols timeout, Dorsey served an ace to make it a one-point set, but a service fault returned momentum to the Yachtsmen, who then got an ace from Phillips and a kill from Hester to take the first game, 25-21.

In that set, Hester had six kills and four service points and Phillips added three assists and three service points.

The Red Storm got four kills from Thornton, four service points and two kills from Dorsey and three kills from Strouse, but dug a hole.

When Scarborough won the first two points of the second set, it led for the first time, but the lead wouldn’t last.

Falmouth went ahead for good at 4-3, then got three straight kills from Hester. After the Red Storm pulled within 8-5, McHugh had a kill and the visitors got the next point as well, forcing Scarborough coach Kim Stoddard to call timeout, which didn’t help, as Hester followed with a kill and Bouchard served up an ace. A Phillips kill stretched the lead to 16-8, but a pair of aces from Thornton helped the Red Storm rally within five. Scarborough never got closer than that, as with the score 19-14, a Scarborough service fault was followed by a Yachtsmen point, a pair of kills from Phillips, an ace from Hester, then another Hester ace to end it, 25-14.

Hester had eight kills and five service points in the second game, while Phillips added eight assists and three kills and Bouchard contributed four assists and three service points.

The Red Storm looked to get right back in the match when the third set began, but despite racing out to a big lead, they had to fend off a Falmouth rally before finally putting the game away.

A kill from Strouse set the tone and the serving and passing of Gwyer, along with two more Strouse kills, helped Scarborough win the first eight points. A Riversmith kill ended the run, but a kill from senior Meredith Winslow and a Strouse block pushed the lead to 10-3. Kills from Hester and Phillips and a pair of Bouchard aces got the Yachtsmen back in it. With the Red Storm up, 13-9, Falmouth ran off five straight points, highlighted by a pair of Riversmith kills and an ace from Barney, to go ahead, but a Dorsey kill and Strouse block made it 16-14 Scarborough. The set would then be tied at 16-16, 18-18 and 19-19 before a Yachtsmen service fault put the Red Storm ahead for good. A kill from senior Maya Brooks, another from Dorsey, an ace from sophomore Mya Jones and the Yachtsmen’s inability to return the ball made it 24-20. A Hester kill and a Hester ace kept Falmouth’s hopes alive, but a block from Dorsey ended it and Scarborough stayed alive with a 25-22 third game win.

Gwyer had eight service points and eight assists in the set, Strouse added three kills and three blocks, Thornton had three kills and Dorsey had two kills and two blocks to help offset Hester’s six kills, Bouchard’s six assists and Phillips’ four assists and three kills.

The pivotal fourth set was tight throughout and could have gone either way, but the Yachtsmen managed to close out the match.

The Red Storm appeared on their way to good things when they shot to an 8-3 lead behind a pair of aces from Jones, but Falmouth got the next six points, as Hester had four kills, to lead, 9-8, forcing Stoddard to call timeout. Scarborough responded with five points in a row, thanks in part to consecutive aces from Brooks, but the Yachtsmen came back to tie it, 13-13. After the Red Storm won a long point and got a block from Strouse, they were up, 15-13, but that would be as good as it would get for the home team.

Falmouth tied it on a Hester kill, then went on top for good on a kill from Riversmith. Riversmith had another kill, then Phillips had a kill as well to make it 18-15 Yachtsmen. Scarborough crept back to 19-18 after a Strouse kill, then to 20-19, but Hester produced consecutive kills for a 22-19 lead and Stoddard called one final timeout. After the teams traded service faults, the Red Storm got a kill from Brooks and on the next point, Falmouth hit the ball out, allowing Scarborough to pull within 23-22, but on a long point after nice saves on both sides, Hester ended it with a kill and moments later, Hester punctuated the hour-and-a-half contest by serving up a ball that Scarborough couldn’t return, ending the fourth set, 25-22, and giving the Yachtsmen a 3-1 match victory.

“The Scarborough rivalry is always big because I know a lot of their girls,” Phillips said. “They have awesome players and we expected an awesome game tonight and they gave us one. We knew we didn’t want to go to five (sets). We put all our energy out there.

“It’s been a lot of hard work having a week like this. Starting out the week, we weren’t at the standard we want to be. Cape’s always a huge rival and they gave us an awesome match. We got back into it against Biddeford.”

“Teams like Scarborough, anything you don’t do well is magnified,” Nichols said. “We learned a lot from the Cape match and we’ve learned a lot from this match. We knew Scarborough would give us a run. We had to collect ourselves and ride it out. You can’t beat teams like this in three (sets), but the girls stayed relaxed.”

Hester was her usual stat-sheet-stuffing self, leading all players with 30 kills. She also had 15 service points, including a half dozen aces.

“We kept feeding Annika,” Phillips said. “She’s always there for us. I know no matter what, that we have a great connection.”

Phillips proved how valuable she can be, by producing 19 assists, nine kills and six service points.

“It was fun to hit tonight,” Phillips said. “Hillary gave me some great sets.”

“I can’t say enough about how steady Katie is,” Nichols said. “She’s becoming a problem (for the opposition) and that’s the goal. She creates a lot of problems. We’re seeing her break out.”

Riversmith was strong at the net, finishing with nine kills and six blocks.

Bouchard excelled as a passer (19 assists) and a server (12 points).

Gretchen Barney had 10 service points and senior Holly Barney added six service points.

“We got everybody involved tonight,” said Phillips.

Scarborough was paced by 13 service points and 12 assists from Gwyer and eight kills and eight blocks from Strouse. Thornton finished with nine kills, Jones had seven assists and six service points and Brooks added seven service points.

“We fought back,” Stoddard said. “We know we can dig deep and keep the ball in when we need to. I’m very happy with the effort on defense in particular. We’re not intimidated by anyone in the state. We dug a bit of a hole, but I knew my servers and hitters would make great plays.

“Maddie Strouse made a huge difference at the net. Her swings and serving were great. My libero (junior Brenna Humpage) was all over the place. She wouldn’t let the ball hit the floor.”

Act two?

The Class A state match will be held Friday, Nov. 1 at the University of Southern Maine in Gorham and there’s a very good chance that one if not both the Red Storm and Yachtsmen will take part.

That’s still a ways out, however, and both teams have some heavy lifting to do in the meantime.

Scarborough (now second in the Class A Heal Points standings) looks to bounce back Saturday when it has another huge test, at Yarmouth. After hosting Massabesic and Biddeford, the Red Storm close with matches at South Portland and Kennebunk and at home versus Deering.

“We have some small things to work on,” Stoddard said. “We have to minimize our mistakes. The name of the game is defense. We have to have good passes to set up our hitters. We’ll make those tweaks. I’m confident the girls will bounce back. We’ll control what we can control. We’d love to see Falmouth again.”

Falmouth (first in Class A) has the inside track for the top seed in the tournament. The Yachtsmen welcome Brunswick Saturday, then face Gorham in a state final rematch Tuesday in Falmouth. The Yachtsmen finish with matches at Windham and at home versus Thornton Academy.

“We know how fired up teams get to play us and that motivates us,” Phillips said. “We have to keep playing like we did tonight. We have to keep having energy and having fun. That always help us.”

“Every week, we’re better than the week before and so far, people have taken to their roles,” Nichols said. “We’re getting there. This team is like a sponge and they’re honest with their deficits, which makes it a treat to coach them. The girls want to do their part. Until we played Cape, our pace wasn’t comparable to last year. This week, I saw progress. We’re getting there. I hope the girls keep the energy going.”

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

Falmouth junior Katie Phillips sets the ball.

Falmouth senior Rose Riversmith and Scarborough sophomore Gwen Dorsey meet at the net.

Scarborough senior Maya Brooks goes to the floor to save the ball.

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