Falmouth’s volleyball team was all smiles after downing Gorham, 3-1, in Tuesday’s match.

FALMOUTH—When Falmouth’s defending Class A state champion volleyball team flips the switch, the ensuing show is something to behold.

Just ask the Gorham Rams.

Tuesday evening, in a rematch of last year’s state final match, the Yachtsmen were frustrated by the Rams, winning the first game, 25-19, then losing the second set by the same score, but when game three began, Falmouth reminded everyone why it is the prohibitive favorite to repeat as champion this season.

Behind the dazzling serving of senior Holly Barney, who produced 13 straight points at the line, and the absolute power of junior hitter Annika Hester, who produced 10 kills in the set, the Yachtsmen opened up a 22-2 lead and went on to a 25-7 triumph before closing out a 3-1 match victory by capturing game four, 25-9.

Falmouth received solid contributions from several players and improved to 12-0 on the year, while dropping Gorham to 7-2 in the process.

“The girls are at a stage where they all have roles they’ve been given or have adjusted to,” said Yachtsmen coach Larry Nichols. “After the second set, there was a short conversation about doing what you’re supposed to do. Then they did what they’re supposed to do.”

Coming to life

Falmouth and Gorham had no peer in Class A a year ago and the Rams and Yachtsmen have been very impressive again in 2019.

Gorham started by blanking host Kennebunk, outlasting visiting South Portland in five-sets, and winning in three games at Thornton Academy. After dropping a five-set home decision to Scarborough, the Rams defeated host Biddeford (3-0), visiting Windham (3-1), host Cheverus (3-0) and visiting Brunswick/Mt. Ararat (3-0).

Falmouth, meanwhile, 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, trailing two sets to one before rallying to win it in five. After Falmouth blanked Biddeford in three hard-fought games, it held off host Scarborough in four games, then blanked visiting Brunswick/Mt. Ararat.

Last year, the teams didn’t square off until the state final, which the Yachtsmen took in three games: 25-18, 25-17, 25-16.

Tuesday, Falmouth would prevail again, but it didn’t come as easily.

Gorham came out strong, winning the first five points, highlighted by a pair of aces from senior Holly Burns and kills from junior Skylar Prince and senior Meg Perry. The Yachtsmen roared back to tie it, 6-6, as Hester produced her first two kills, but the next three points went to the Rams, as senior Talia Catoggio had a kill and a block. A kill from junior Katie Phillips and a Hester ace put Falmouth up for the first time, 11-10, but Gorham went on top, 14-12, before the Yachtsmen seized control of the set.

A Phillips kill got things started and another kill from Barney drew Falmouth even. Phillips’ service acumen (she had seven points in a row, including a pair of aces) then helped the hosts open up a 20-14 lead. The Rams got back within 22-17, but senior Rose Riversmith’s kill and a faulty Gorham return set up set point. The Rams stayed alive and drew within five, but a kill from Hester brought the curtain down on a 25-19 first set victory.

In that game, Phillips had seven service points, five assists and a pair of kills, Hester added six kills and unheralded junior setter Hillary Bouchard finished with six assists.

Gorham then made a statement in the second game, but in the process, awakened a sleeping giant.

As was the case in the first set, the Rams started fast, going up, 5-1, thanks to aces from Burns and Catoggio. A kill from sophomore Ellie Perry forced Nichols to call timeout, but junior Maddy Berry followed with a block for an 8-3 lead. An ace from Ellie Perry made it 10-5 before Phillips had consecutive kills to help pull Falmouth within 10-9. Gorham remained on top, however, and went up, 14-11, on a kill from senior Meg Perry. Consecutive kills from Hester pulled the Yachtsmen within 15-14, but the next three points went to the Rams and Nichols again called timeout.

Hester responded with a kill and Bouchard served up an ace, but a kill from senior Caralin Mills made it 20-16 Gorham. A block from Phillips cut the deficit to 20-18, but a kill from Mills, a block from Prince, an errant Falmouth return and an ace from senior Ursa Steiner sealed the Yachtsmen’s fate. Phillips delayed the inevitable with a kill, but Prince’s kill gave the Rams a 25-19 win to even the match.

Steiner had four service points and four aces and Mills produced five kills in the game.

“We gave them free reign in the second set and they took it to us,” Nichols said. “We caught up a couple times, but we didn’t take care of our jobs and Gorham smacked us right in the nose. It’s what we needed.”

Just when it appeared Falmouth was going to get pushed, the Yachtsmen found another gear and made the third set its personal playground, as in a 16-minute span, they put on absolute show.

Falmouth captured the first point of a game for the first time, then Riversmith had a kill and a block in succession to set the tone. Gorham got a point back, but the next 16 would go to the Yachtsmen.

After a kill from Riversmith, Barney stepped to the service line and by the time she was finished, Falmouth’s point total grew from 4 to 17.  It would be Hester breaking it open with seven kills and a block in a nine-point span and just like that, the score was 13-1.

“Sometimes, I’ll just stop and watch (Annika) because I know she’ll always get the point,” Barney said.

“Annika showed versatility in her kills,” Nichols said. “There were five different categories and she hit all five. That’s the next step for her. You can’t just hit hard, harder and hardest, so she’s working to be a total player. She’s impressive to watch.”

Riversmith then got back in on the fun with a kill and a block before a Barney ace made the score 17-1.

“That never happens, “Barney said. “I just wanted to get (the ball) over.”

A block by Prince ended the surge, but the Yachtsmen scored the next five points for good measure and a 22-2 advantage. After a Rams’ point, a Hester kill made it 23-3, but Gorham fought hard the rest of the way, getting a kill from Mills, a block from Prince and another Mills kill to stay alive before Hester’s 1oth kill of the set ended it, 25-7.

“It was a team effort,” Barney said. “My serving, Rose blocking, Annika hitting, the defense, everyone was all together.  I knew we had to win that set to turn momentum back around. We’ve never had a set that good.”

The Rams would put up a little more resistance in the fourth game, but nothing would stop the Falmouth Express.

Hester sandwiched kills around a Riversmith block to get things started. A kill from Prince, a block by Ellie Perry and a kill from Meg Perry allowed Gorham to take a 4-3 lead, but Bouchard tied it with a kill, Hester followed with a kill to put the Yachtsmen ahead to stay and Barney served up two more aces. After the Rams made it 7-5 on a kill from Meg Perry, Hester had a kill and that brought Riversmith to the service stripe. Riversmith then served consecutive aces and would rattle off eight straight points to make the score 16-5. Gorham drew within 17-8 on an ace from Ellie Perry, but Hester and Phillips countered with kills. After the visitors got their final point, the final six went to Falmouth, with the last one coming from Hester on a kill to end the set, 25-9, and the match, three games to one.

“We wanted to come out stronger and beat them,” Barney said. “We didn’t want it to go five (sets).”

“As a coach, I’m very proud of how (the girls) responded,” Nichols said. “Tonight was a breakthrough for some kids.”

Hester led the way with 26 kills, seven service points and a pair of blocks.

Phillips added 18 assists, a dozen service points and 11 kills.

Riversmith contributed 15 service points, six kills and four blocks.

Bouchard had 16 assists and Barney excelled with 17 service points.

“Holly had been struggling and she knew it and she took care of it,” Nichols said. “As a senior captain, she stepped up and did her job and that’s what you have to do.”

Gorham was paced by 11 assists from Steiner and seven kills from Mills.

Perfection?

While Gorham (now third in the Class A Heal Points standings) returns to action Thursday at home versus Bonny Eagle, Falmouth will seek a 14-0 regular season for the first time in program history, as it goes to Windham next Tuesday, then wraps up the campaign at home versus Thornton Academy two days later.

“I think we’re definitely getting better as we go,” Barney said. “We work well together. We know we have the ability to win (matches) in three (sets). We want to win (another title) so badly. We’ve all been thinking about that, but the goal of the season is to have fun. We just have to keep our energy up. We have to keep cheering after every single point. When we’re energetic, we get the points.”

“We need to stay healthy and continue to tighten up our defense,” Nichols said. “Once the playoffs start, if we don’t play defense, we’re done. I think overall the parity this year is great. I’m so excited. There have been so many entertaining matches. It’s a treat to watch.”

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

Comments are not available on this story.