PORTLAND—A season of growth and triumph came to an agonizing close for Cheverus’ volleyball team Thursday evening.

Hosting Marshwood in a Class A state preliminary round playoff contest, the eighth-ranked Stags had their share of chances to advance, but with the season on the line, the opportunistic, scrappy, ninth-seeded Hawks made the plays the mattered most.

Marshwood made an immediate statement, winning the first set, 25-19, thanks to a 6-0 run to close it out.

Cheverus bounced back in the second game, never trailing and pulling away for a 25-16 win to even the match.

The pivotal third set would feature 14 ties and saw the Stags cling to a 23-22 lead, but the Hawks scored the final three points to get the edge.

Again, Cheverus responded, leading nearly the whole way in the fourth game en route to a 25-18 victory.

That sent the match to a first-team-to-15-points, winner-take-all fifth set where the Stags took an 8-6 lead, but the hosts only managed one more point and Marshwood went on to win, 15-9, to take the match, three games to two.

The Hawks won a postseason match for the first time in program history, improved to 8-7 advanced to meet top-ranked, defending state champion Falmouth (14-0) in the Class A quarterfinals Saturday at 4 p.m., and in the process, ended Cheverus’ fine season at 8-7.

“It felt like we were fighting from behind all night, but I expected to win the whole night,” said Stags’ coach Andy Wimmer. “We’ve been in this situation so many times. We usually answer that call, but a couple key mistakes hurt us.”

Back in the playoffs

Cheverus’ varsity program dates to 2012 and this fall, for the fifth time in those eight years and the second autumn in a row, the Stags qualified for the postseason.

Cheverus started with three-set losses at South Portland, at home to Falmouth and at Scarborough, before winning eight of its final 11 matches. The Stags got things going with a four-set victory at Greely, a 3-0 home win over Westbrook and a five-set victory at Massabesic. After falling at home in straight sets to Gorham, Cheverus enjoyed 3-1 wins over visiting Biddeford and Sanford and host Brunswick/Mt. Ararat and Kennebunk. Following a 3-0 home loss to Windham, the Stags beat host Deering in four-games, then closed with a 3-0 home loss to Thornton Academy Tuesday.

For the second year in a row, Cheverus earned the No. 8 seed for the Class A tournament.

Marshwood, meanwhile, went 7-7, winning three of its final four matches to wind up ninth in Class A.

The teams didn’t play in the regular season, but did play in 2018, where the Stags rallied from a 2-0 deficit to win in five-games.

The teams had never before met in the playoffs.

Thursday, the match again went the distance, but this time, the Hawks had just enough to make their own share of history.

Masrhwood shot to a quick 6-1 first set lead behind a pair of aces from junior Maddie Fjeld. Cheverus drew back within 7-5 on a kill from junior Jillian Lizotte, but a pair of aces from senior Erin Gray and a kill from junior Elise Echols put the Hawks up, 15-10. The Stags would rally and kills from senior Kristina Matkevich and Lizotte forged a 19-19 tie. Marshwood would respond after a Cheverus service fault and close out the set, as junior Reid Johnson served up an ace which hung on the top of the net before falling over and after a block from junior Raya Anderson, Johnson served another ace before a Stags’ net violation gave the Hawks a 25-19 first game win.

In that first set, Johnson had six service points and four aces, while Field added four service points, which helped counter eight assists and five service points from Cheverus senior setter Maggie Williams and Lizotte’s three kills and a block.

The Stags returned to form in the second game.

After the set was tied, 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3, Cheverus went on top to stay on a Matkevich kill. The Stags steadily opened it up and went ahead, 13-5, thanks to three kills from senior Alex Hammond. An ace from junior Liza Rogers extended the lead to 15-7 and an ace from Williams made it 20-11. After Marshwood crept back to 21-14, Hammond had a kill and an ace from Matkevich made the score 24-14. A kill from Fjeld and ace from Gray kept the Hawks alive, but a Hammond kill closed out a 25-16 win for the Stags, evening the match.

In that game, Williams had six assists and five service points, Matkevich added six service points and Hammond had five kills and a block.

The third set illustrated just how close the teams were, but with control of the match on the line, it would be Marshwood coming up big.

The game would be tied at 1-1, 2-2 and 3-3 and after Cheverus went up, 12-7, it was tied again at 12-12, 13-13, 14-14, 15-15, 17-17, 18-18, 19-19, 20-20, 21-21 and 22-22. A kill from Lizotte gave the Stags the edge, but Cheverus couldn’t return the ball to set up the 14th and final tie of the set and after the Stags again failed to return, an ace from Johnson gave the Hawks a 25-23 win and a 2-1 match lead.

Fjeld had nine service points, while Johnson added three, to go with three assists, in that game.

Needing to stay alive, Cheverus again rose to the occasion in the fourth set.

Williams set up Hammond for a pair of kills and Rogers for another for a quick 5-2 lead. Marshwood got as close as 7-6, but an ace from Matkevich, three kills from Hammond and one apiece from Rogers and senior Grace Tourville put the Stags on top by a 15-6 score. The Hawks would rally within 23-18 on a kill from sophomore Margaret Kovalcin, but Marshwood couldn’t return the ball on consecutive points to give the Stags a 25-18 victory, setting up the fateful final set.

Often after losing the fourth game, a team struggles in the fifth, but the Hawks weren’t fazed, as a kill from Kovalcin set the tone. Hammond answered with a kill, but Marshwood went up, 3-1. A kill from Hammond and a block from Lizotte, followed by a Lizotte kill, gave Cheverus the lead. The game was then tied, 4-4 and 5-5 before the Stags went on top, 8-6.

That’s as good as it would get for the hosts, however, as the Hawks ran off five straight points, highlighted by an ace from Anderson, a kill from Fjeld, another Anderson ace and a kill from Kovalcin. Marshwood hit the ball out to allow the Stags to draw within 11-9, but that would be their last point of the season, as a service fault, followed by a Kovalcin block, a failed Cheverus return and an ace from Gray gave the Hawks a 15-9 fifth game win and the match, 3-2, in just under two hours.

“We really wanted it,” Gray said. “(That last point) felt so good. I knew I had to put a little more on it and it worked. This means a lot because I was worried this might be our last match today. It feels so good to get the win. It was hard to get our heads up after losing the fourth set, but we had to stay strong and play as a team and we did. We all had a lot of motivation. We lost one of our better players, (sophomore) Caroline Hammond, to injury. She sprained her ankle, so we had to step up and play a bigger role and it worked.”

“It’s the first-ever playoff win for us and it’s especially sweet,” said Marshwood coach Paul Brisson. “I loved the effort. It was a nice match against a good Cheverus team. It was exciting. A lot of good defensive play. We had a number of blocks that I think made a big difference for us and altered their offense a little bit. After the fourth set, we had to have a short memory and act like it didn’t happen and it worked.”

Gray’s play wasn’t completely reflected in the stat sheet, as she had eight kills, five aces and countless digs.

“Erin is amazing,” Brisson said. “She’s a senior captain and a wonderful athlete. She’s a hockey goalie and she uses some of those skills out on the floor. She’s a good, smart player.”

Johnson had 10 assists and eight service points, Fjeld added 10 service points and Kovalcin finished with seven kills.

Marshwood was swept at Falmouth (19-25, 14-25, 14-25) back Sept. 26. The teams have no playoff history.

The Hawks know they’re decided underdogs, but are ready for the challenge.

“We hope to give them a good run,” Gray said. “We have to work hard in practice and come ready to play and give them what we’ve got.”

“Now it’s Falmouth and all they bring,” said Brisson. “They’re an amazing team and we’ll give them all we’ve got and see if it works. We saw them earlier in the year. We know what we have to contend with. We get to still play another day.”

Farewell and a look ahead

Cheverus was paced by Williams’ 22 assists and 18 kills from Hammond. Matkevich contributed 16 service points and seven kills. Lizotte had six kills and four blocks. Rogers five aces and junior Jenna Booth six service points.

“I think hustle had a lot to do with it,” Wimmer said. “(Marshwood) got after it, kept balls alive and never gave up. We missed our momentum plays and it’s tough to win that way. One small play here or there and it could have been different. We thwarted our own runs at times with missed serves. The two games we won, we won pretty handily. That was the team I expected. The games we lost, we never took advantage of the momentum we had. We couldn’t keep the pressure on them.

“I believed in this team and we got so much better. We started out against three of the top four teams and they’re established. We wanted to get better and we played our best volleyball at the end of the year. That was our goal. A lot of players got better and I appreciate the work they put in.”

The Stags have to say goodbye to Hammond, Matkevich, Tourville and Williams. The 2020 team will be paced by Booth, Lizotte and Rogers.

“Last year, we lost five seniors and this year, we lose five seniors, but we have a strong core,” Wimmer said. “We need some other players to step up. We’ll see how it goes.”

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

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