BIDDEFORD — Nobody on the Biddeford High volleyball team expected to go undefeated in the regular season. But this year’s Tigers have been the most cohesive unit that Coach Ruth Shaw has seen in 10 years. And in volleyball, unity is gold.

“We are so close. We don’t dwell on things. After we lose a point, we move on. I’ve never played on a team like this,” said sophomore starting setter Danielle Emerson, who has played volleyball since third grade.

Biddeford last went to the Class A state final in 2012 and won it just once – in 2010. But from Monday night play-arounds during summer vacation to the addition of team weight lifting before practice, the squad has become united.

A tragedy also has helped unite the team.

On Aug. 4, Janice Lapierre, the wife of 20-year assistant coach Jerry Lapierre, died. Janice Lapierre was a librarian at the school for 28 years. When the school put a plaque outside the media center where she worked, the team decided to dedicate the season to her. They had socks made with her initials – JEL – and wore them during every match.

“It wasn’t about going undefeated. It was about playing for her. That gave us energy, and we brought the energy onto the court,” said junior captain Charlotte Donovan.

Then they created a mantra – “We are one” – and started saying it in every huddle.

“Our team communicates really well and we really trust each other. We are our motto,” said senior captain Audrey Kaminski. 

As Donovan talked on Tuesday about how much stronger she and her teammates have gotten because of the team lifts, which were her idea, she struck a pose in the Biddeford High gym. She said the extra workouts not only make the players stronger physically, but mentally, too.

“Trust is really important in volleyball. I suggested team lifts so we would be working together on the court and off the court,” Donovan said. 

The result, Shaw said, is the team does not get rattled, even when they’re several points down, and even after losing a set for the only time this season against Scarborough, a perennial power. On Sept. 27, the Tigers came back to beat the Red Storm, 3-1. 

“They stayed poised and consistent even when they lost a set. They’ve done really well reading the ball and letting it go out if it’s going out. They maintain control when things get out of control,” Shaw said. “They are a well-oiled machine defensively, like a clock with all the gears moving in unison.”

Defense has been the Tigers’ strength. Shaw had them practice return balls that are difficult, “out-of-system” balls that a team typically would try to just get over the net in safe fashion. But Shaw pushed the team to return those out-of-system balls with an equally tough ball to return.

“Our out-of-system play sometimes gives us a lot of points. (The other teams) are not expecting us to put it in the deep corner then,” Shaw said. “You can’t just practice everything in perfection. Our practice can be uncomfortable.”

The result is reflected in their stats.

After 14 matches, Kaminski, a middle hitter, has 28 blocks, 96 kills, 98 digs and 33 aces. Junior Baylor Wilkinson, who plays middle, has recorded 76 digs, 68 kills and 30 blocks. Junior opposite Laura Perreault has 89 digs, 46 aces and 45 kills. Emerson has amassed 110 kills, 52 aces and 30 digs. And Donovan, an outside hitter, has 98 digs, 66 kills and 37 aces. 

“I definitely did not expect us to go undefeated,” Donovan said. “I knew we had a lot of good players, but other teams have a lot of good players. But we did a lot of things together even before the season started. And now we’re together on the court. We lose a point, we all move on.”

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