GORHAM—Falmouth’s volleyball team has lived up billing.

As the finest team in the state.

Without a doubt.

Friday evening on the campus of the University of Southern Maine, the top-ranked Yachtsmen met No. 2 Scarborough in the Class A state final and left zero doubt that they’re not only unrivaled this fall, that they’re also one of the finest teams in the history of Maine high school volleyball.

Falmouth rode the power of junior Annika Hester and the serving of senior Rose Riversmith and junior Hillary Bouchard to a 25-20 first set victory.

The Yachtsmen then dug a 7-1 hole in the second game, but roared back and pulled away for a 25-18 win, thanks in part to eight Hester kills, seven assists from junior Katie Phillips and nine service points from senior Holly Barney.

Falmouth wasn’t able to win in straight sets, but nearly erased a 22-14 deficit before falling, 25-23, when sophomore Maddie Strouse closed it out for the Red Storm with a kill.

The Yachtsmen didn’t let Scarborough entertain any further thoughts of a comeback in the fourth game, as they never trailed and with the match hanging in the balance, Hester had 10 kills, including one on the final point, to give Falmouth a 25-19 victory and the match, 3 games to 1.

The Yachtsmen closed the season 17-0, extended their two-year match win streak to 29, won a title for the third time in program history and ended the Red Storm’s fine season at 14-3 in the process.

“Last year, we flew under the radar and that was like getting away with something, but this year, we were favored and I think we handled the pressure well,” said Falmouth coach Larry Nichols. “We had fun and the kids cared for each other. From the stars to the kids who didn’t play at all, everyone was great.”

Collision course

Since gathering in August for the season, Falmouth has been well aware it was viewed as the team to beat and the Yachtsmen rose to the occasion time and again.

Falmouth began 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. After a four-game home win over Gorham in a state final rematch, the Yachtsmen swept host Windham and visiting Thornton Academy to wrap up the regular season.

Falmouth had no trouble with No. 9 Marshwood in the quarterfinals, winning in three-sets (25-16 25-6, 25-7), then outlasted No. 4 Windham in four games (20-25, 25-8, 25-14, 25-14) in Wednesday’s state semifinal round.

Scarborough, meanwhile, 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. After a four-set home loss to Falmouth, Scarborough lost at defending Class B champion Yarmouth in five-games, but the Red Storm closed the regular season on a five-game surge, blanking visiting Massabesic and Biddeford, beating host South Portland in three-games, then defeating host Kennebunk and visiting Deering by 3-1 scores.

In the quarterfinals, Scarborough ousted No. 7 Biddeford in straight sets (25-13, 25-19, 25-9) and in Wednesday’s semifinal round, the Red Storm outlasted No. 3 Gorham in five thrilling sets.

Scarborough appeared in its sixth all-time state final. The Red Storm lost to Greely in four-sets in 2011, in four-games to Falmouth in 2013 and in four-games to Greely in 2016 and beat Greely in four-games in 2015 and downed South Portland in four-sets in 2017.

Falmouth was taking part in its seventh state match in 11 years. The Yachtsmen lost in three-sets to Greely in 2009, in straight sets to Biddeford in 2010, in five-games to Cape Elizabeth to 2014 and in straight-sets to Cape Elizabeth in 2016 and they won it all in 2013 in four-sets over Scarborough and last fall, in three-games over Gorham.

Friday, in front of a large and boisterous crowd at USM, all of Falmouth’s brilliance and dominance was on display.

A kill from junior Shaelyn Thornton gave Scarborough an early lead, but Hester’s first kill tied the score. The teams would be tied at 2-2 and 3-3 as well, before the Yachtsmen went on top for good. An ace from Bouchard and a Hester kill made it 10-5 Falmouth, but an ace from sophomore Mya Jones pulled the Red Storm within three. Scarborough hung tough and was only down 14-12 before a service fault, a Hester kill and another point made it 17-12 Yachtsmen.

Scarborough crept back to 18-14 on a Strouse kill, but a Phillips kill and another point forced Red Storm coach Kim Stoddard to call timeout. A kill from sophomore Gwen Dorsey pulled the Red Storm within 22-16, but after Nichols took a timeout, Hester had a kill and the Red Storm failed to return the ball to set up set point. Scarborough fought it off four straight times, as a service fault and three Strouse kills made things interesting, but the Red Storm failed to get a serve over the net and Falmouth had the jump, 25-20.

“We just had to stay composed,” Hester said. “We knew we had to come out strong and show everyone what we could do the rest of the match.”

Hester was just getting warmed up with six kills, Riversmith had four service points, Bouchard had four assists and three service points and Phillips pitched in with three assists and two kills to help overcome five kills from Dorsey, four service points and three assists from junior Mayne Gwyer and three kills from Strouse.

Scarborough then threatened to take hold of the second set and draw even, but it couldn’t keep an early lead.

A kill from senior Meredith Winslow was followed by a Strouse kill and with Gwyer at the service line, the lead grew to 5-0 before Nichols took a timeout. A Strouse kill made it 6-0 before a service fault put Falmouth on the board. The Red Storm were up, 7-1, before a kill from Barney and a Barney ace forced Stoddard to call timeout. It didn’t help, as Barney’s ace got the Yachtsmen even and Hester had successive kills for a 9-7 lead. Scarborough pulled even at 9-9, 10-10 and 12-12 before a kill from Phillips gave Falmouth the lead for good.

Phillips continued to dominate with a block and three successive kills for a 17-12 lead. The Red Storm got back within two on a Strouse kill, but a service fault and consecutive Hester kills made it 22-17. After Scarborough got a point back, Hester came up big with another kill, then after another Yachtsmen point, Hester finished it off with a left-handed kill for a 25-18 victory.

Hester had eight kills, a block and four service points in that game, while Phillips added seven assists and four kills, Barney had nine service points and Bouchard contributed six assists.

Gwyer had six service points and three assists and Strouse added three kills for the Red Storm, but they found themselves in a 2-0 hole.

Scarborough could have packed it in and been happy with its season, but this year’s squad has no quit and that was on display in the third game.

A kill by Strouse set the tone and a kill from senior Maya Brooks put the Red Storm ahead early. Falmouth would fall behind, 8-4, on another Brooks kill, but it would rally and tie the score, 10-10, on a Hester kill. A service fault then put the Red Storm on top for good and the serving of Gwyer and another Strouse kill made it 16-10.

Kills from Riversmith and Hester cut the deficit to 17-13, but a kill from Winslow made it 19-13 Scarborough. After a block from Yachtsmen senior Mia McHugh, Dorsey had a kill, Jones served an ace and Dorsey had a block for a 22-14 advantage.

Falmouth wouldn’t go quietly, however, scoring four straight points, featuring a pair of Hester kills and another from Phillips after a long rally. The Red Storm then appeared to hit the ball out, but got the point anyway. After Phillips answered with a kill, the Yachtsmen hit the ball out to make it 24-19 and give Scarborough set point.

The Red Storm would win the game, but not without some anxious moments, as a Phillips kill, a Phillips ace, a Riversmith kill and another Phillips ace made it a one-point game before senior Bella Dickinson set up Strouse for the kill which allowed Scarborough to extend the match with a 25-23 third set victory.

Gwyer led the way with eight assists and six service points, while Strouse had five kills and Dorsey added three.

Falmouth got six kills and three service points from Hester, five service points, four assists and four kills from Phillips, three blocks and two kills from Riversmith and six assists from Bouchard, but suddenly found itself in a match.

The Yachtsmen weren’t fazed, however, and came out and put the finishing touches on their title.

A Hester kill and a Phillips ace gave Falmouth then quick lead. Scarborough rallied to it 6-6 on a block from Dorsey, but a Hester kill gave the Yachtsmen the lead back. Kills from Hester and Riversmith and an ace from senior Gretchen Barney made it 11-7. The Red Storm got back within a point, but Riversmith had a block. Scarborough then tied it, 12-12, but a service fault put Falmouth ahead to stay.

A Hester kill and two more points made it 16-12. After Brooks countered with a kill, Hester had a kill and after another point, an ace from Riversmith stretched the lead to 19-13. Dorsey countered with a kill, but Hester had consecutive kills for a 22-14 advantage. Phillips’ block was good for the Yachtsmen’s 23rd point. Brooks had consecutive aces and a faulty Falmouth return pulled the Red Storm within 23-18, but Hester’s kill put Falmouth on the brink. Hester nearly ended it on the next point, but her kill attempt sailed out.

Then, at 7:43 p.m., off a pass from Phillips, Hester soared for her 30th kill and that brought the fourth set to an end at 25-19 and gave the Yachtsmen the title, 3-1.

“I’m so proud of everyone,” Hester said. “It’s a great group. It’s very exciting.. We knew we had it. We got fired up and had the motivation.”

“We knew Scarborough was an awesome team and we knew it would be close,” Phillips said. “We had to get energy going entering the fourth set.

“It’s awesome. It’s even more fun than last year. It’s my favorite group I’ve ever played with. It was a different experience this year. We’re very mentally tough. We work on that in practice. Coach kept us in line. We had a good balance of fun and working hard.”

“It’s amazing,” Riversmith said. “It feels good to win as a senior. We had to push through and keep the momentum and energy. There was a little pressure, but for us, it’s about having fun on the court and when we do, things go smoothly. I believed in us. We had a little dip in energy, but we’re good about keeping our heads in the next point and getting back the momentum.”

“With Scarborough, you can’t let them have life,” Nichols added. “They’re too smart with good hitters. We didn’t take care of the ball in the third set. The fourth set, we knew what we had to do.”

Ten of Hester’s 30 kills came in the final game. She also had a dozen service points and a couple of blocks.

“It’s amazing to play with Annika,” Riversmith said. “It’s not just playing with an amazing hitter, but playing with an amazing teammate. She’s so supportive and so sweet and she’s one of the best players around.”

“Annika’s shot selection has gotten better this year,” Nichols said. “She wants to get better every week. She has a variety of shots that she puts in the right places.”

Phillips capped her superb season by again doing a little of everything (20 assists, eight kills, six service points).

Riversmith bowed out with eight blocks, seven service points and four kills.

“It’s been a process getting better at blocking, but it’s really fun,” said Riversmith.

Bouchard had 22 assists and five service points.

“Hillary has stepped up and taken on the challenge, “Hester said.

Holly Barney added 14 service points.

“This year, the challenge was to make not only other people, but our own team realize that yes, Annika is a special player, but that we have some other great players who complement her,” Nichols said. “The biggest challenge this year was those players recognizing how important they were. You can’t win a title with one kid. Hillary has 60 hours of setting experience now. Katie did great things for us. Rose had some big blocks. The Barneys and their defense. They were key too.”

Runners-up

Scarborough was paced by Gwyer, who had 18 service points and 17 assists.

Strouse had a dozen kills and five service points.

Dorsey contributed 12 kills and three blocks.

Dickinson finished with eight assists and Brooks added five service points and three kills.

“Credit to Falmouth,” Stoddard said. “They really played well as a team. All six of them on the court. That made it hard for us. We took our swings and we had our shots. Momentum is a fickle thing, especially between sets when you get a chance to regroup. We played as aggressive as we could, but they were a great serving team. They served a little tougher than I expected. Our passers did a good job getting the ball up, but we couldn’t quite get the big hits.

“We were right where we wanted to be. This was our goal all season. We had to work hard. To have a great match tonight, we can walk out of here with our heads held high. We accomplished a lot. I knew we’d be here and I knew we’d have to play Falmouth and we wanted that.”

Scarborough loses seven seniors, including Brooks, Dickinson and Winslow, but the likes of Dorsey, Jones, Strouse, Thornton and junior libero Brenna Humpage return.

The Red Storm expect to get back to the big stage in 2020 and finish the job.

“Next year, we’ll still be really good,” Stoddard said. “I might move some people around, but you’ll see Scarborough volleyball going deep again.”

No end in sight

Falmouth also has to do its share of saying farewell, as Gretchen Barney, Holly Barney, McHugh and Riversmith, along with four others, depart.

The 2020 Yachtsmen will be anchored by Bouchard and the dynamic tandem of Hester and Phillips, so weep not for this group. Falmouth will be a powerhouse again.

“This group of seniors has been awesome, but we have a lot of girls who have worked hard,” Phillips said. “It’ll be way different next year, but it’ll be fun.”

“I’m sad to say goodbye to the seniors,” Hester said. “I’ll miss them so much. This was one of my favorite teams ever. A lot of girls play club (volleyball), so I’m excited for next year too.”

“It’ll be totally different next year, but I’m excited that the younger players have practiced with top players and they’ve gotten better every week,” Nichols added. “They know what they have to do. It’ll be a fun year in a different way.”

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

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