CAPE ELIZABETH—Cape Elizabeth’s volleyball team might be short-handed, but the Capers are still more than capable of embarking on yet another title run.

Tuesday evening, playing for the final time on its homecourt, Cape Elizabeth, the No. 3 seed in Class B, welcomed sixth-ranked Greely for a state quarterfinal and while the Rangers made the Capers work, they wouldn’t be denied.

Cape Elizabeth trailed by a point midway through the first set, but a 6-0 run produced some breathing room and the serving of senior captain Amy Rasco and junior Cayden Royall helped spell a 25-19 victory.

In the second game, standout senior setter Maeve McQueeny and senior hitter extraordinaire Annaliese Rudberg worked their magic and the Capers seemingly put a stranglehold on the match with a 25-12 win.

But Greely started fast in the third set and with the score 7-3 in the Rangers’ favor, Cape Elizabeth coach Sarah Boeckel called a timeout to turn momentum and it worked like a charm, as the Capers scored the next dozen points and never looked back, going on to a 25-20 victory to take the match in straight sets.

Cape Elizabeth improved to 12-4, ended Greely’s season at 10-6 and in the process, advanced to the semifinals Thursday, where they’ll visit No. 2 Gardiner (16-0) with a trip to the state final at stake.

“It means a lot,” said Rudberg, who was the best hitter on the floor. “It was a really big game for us. We’d talked about how much it meant, so we’re super-excited to come out and get the ‘W.'”

First obstacle

Cape Elizabeth struggled with the elite teams this fall, but downed everyone else.

The Capers started by beating visiting Gray-New Gloucester in straight sets and won at Greely, 3-1, before falling at home to Yarmouth, 3-1. Cape Elizabeth ended host Falmouth’s 31-match win streak (3-0), before falling in an exhausting five-set home match to Scarborough. The Capers then beat visiting Wells and host York and Westbrook by 3-0 scores. After falling in straight-sets at Biddeford, Cape Elizabeth enjoyed a 3-0 home win over Falmouth (Boeckel’s 100th victory with the program) and held off host Gorham in five-sets and visiting Greely in four-games before losing at Yarmouth, 3-1, and closing the regular season with a 3-0 home victory over Kennebunk.

The second Yarmouth loss wasn’t just disheartening on the floor, but both senior Anastasia Chepurko and junior Maddy Simopoulos were felled by knee injuries, testing the team’s depth.

“(Anastasia and Maddy) mean a lot to us not just on the court, but also off the court and we really want them to be here,” said McQueeny.

“It’s tough being without them, mostly because we really want them on the court with us,” Rudberg said.

Friday, in the preliminary round, the Capers had no trouble with visiting Westbrook, prevailing, 3-0.

Greely returned to form this fall, but also had trouble against the best teams.

The Rangers started 1-3, losing at home to Cape Elizabeth (3-1), beating host Windham in three games, then losing at Yarmouth (3-0) and at home to Falmouth (3-2). After a 3-2 home win over Gray-New Gloucester, Greely blanked host Lake Region, then downed host Brunswick (3-1). After a 3-1 home loss to Yarmouth, the Rangers beat visiting Westbrook and York by 3-0 scores and after falling, 3-1, at Cape Elizabeth, they beat visiting Windham, host Westbrook and host Wells in straight sets to close the regular season.

In Friday’s preliminary round, host Greely needed four sets to eliminate No. 11 Messalonskee.

In addition to winning both regular season meetings, Cape Elizabeth had beaten the Rangers in both prior playoff encounters, rallying from two sets down for a dramatic 3-2 victory in the 2014 Class A state semifinals, then blanking Greely, 3-0, in the 2017 Class B state semifinals. The Capers went on to win the Gold Ball both seasons.

Tuesday, Cape Elizabeth got the better of the Rangers again, but there were some anxious moments.

The first set was tied four different times, but an ace from Rasco put the Capers ahead for good and a kill from McQueeny, who usually sets them up, helped spark a 6-0 run for a 17-12 lead. After coach Kelvin Hasch called timeout, Greely rallied and got as close as 17-16 and 18-17, but a pair of kills from Rudberg opened it up, junior Madison Thornton had another kill and after the Rangers pulled within four at 23-19, Rudberg had a kill, then served up an ace to close give Cape Elizabeth the jump.

In the first game, Rudberg had four kills, while Rasco and Royall produced five service points apiece.

“I wouldn’t say any of us were really great at the beginning of the match, but we did enough,” Boeckel said.

The second set saw Greely get the first point on an ace from senior Jordan Bickford, but the next six points went to the home team, as Rasco had a kill, junior Madalynn Vaine a block and McQueeny a pair of aces. The Rangers pulled within 10-6 when they twice saved balls that hit the ceiling, but a Rudberg kill, an ace from Rasco and another Rudberg kill made it 18-9. After a Greely point, McQueeny set up Rudberg four times for kills to put the Capers on the brink.

“Once we get the pass to the net, Annaliese kills it every time,” said McQueeny.

“(Coach) told me take a deep breath, I relaxed, Maeve set some great balls and I got a few hits in,” said Rudberg, who was off-target in the first set before finding her stroke. “It got better throughout the game. We’ve played together for four-plus years, so it’s great to have (Maeve) as my setter.”

A kill from Rasco then brought the curtain down on the 25-12 second set win.

In that game, Rudberg had eight kills, while McQueeny had 11 assists and six service points.

As expected, Greely refused to go quietly in the third set, as an ace from Bickford and a kill from senior Luna Smith-Mejia opened up a quick 3-0 lead and a pair of kills from junior Ava Littel made the score 7-3, at which point Boeckel had seen enough and she surprisingly called an early timeout.

Which worked out just the way she’d hoped.

After Cape Elizabeth got the next point, Royall went to the service stripe and she didn’t leave for a long time, producing 11 straight points, including four aces.

“Cayden’s serve drops like a stone,” Boeckel said. “She’s getting more and more confident and is getting more and more court time. It’s a little late in the season to get experience, but better late than never.”

In the 12-0 run, McQueeny added three kills and Rudberg had a block as a 7-3 deficit turned into a 15-7 lead.

“Every part of the team makes a difference and everyone had to focus on doing their part,” McQueeny said. “Once we figured it out, it set us on fire.”

“Coach just told us to play our game like we know how and we did that,” Rudberg said.

“We’d talked about coming out after the second game and kicking it up a notch and I thought we got a little lackadaisical and they did a good job keeping the ball in play and we gave up too many points,” Boeckel added. “(After the timeout) we went on a 12-point run. It’s too late in the season. We can’t give up runs or get back on our heels.”

The Rangers tried to answer, but couldn’t string points together and never got closer than four points the rest of the way. After a block from junior Olivia Talley cut the deficit to 23-19, a soft kill from McQueeny put Cape Elizabeth on the brink and after the Capers hit the ceiling with the ball, extending the match, the hosts won the next point and finished it off, 25-20, to win, 3-0.

“I grew up with all these girls and it’s a little emotional to have our last home game,” said McQueeny. “I love my teammates so much. It’s a little bittersweet. We have a bunch of new players with some girls out, but once we got momentum, the younger girls pulled through and I’m really proud of them.”

“We’re down a few players, so we have some girls out there who don’t have a lot of playoff experience,” Boeckel said. “I’m really happy we got out of here in three (games). We dropped a game to them both times (during the regular season) and could have easily dropped two or three, so this is great.”

McQueeny had 20 assists, seven service points and five kills.

Rudberg finished with 14 kills.

Royall dazzled with 17 service points, including four aces.

“Cayden’s really stepped up,” Rudberg said. “She had a great serving run today and played great.”

Rasco had 10 service points, including three aces.

Ultimately, Cape Elizabeth got contributions from everyone who took the court.

“I’m so proud of Madison, getting thrown into a new position, Cayden, going on that service run, and (junior) Josie (Caton), who’s never played libero before and did her best,” McQueeny said.

Greely was paced by Bickford, who had six service points and five assists, and junior Lillian Dube, who had six service points.

Talley finished with three blocks.

“We pushed them a little bit and I wish we’d pushed them more,” said longtime Rangers coach Kelvin Hasch. “We’ve made mistakes all season and tonight, untimely mistakes killed us. We kind of lost our heads there and couldn’t pass, couldn’t move our feet and that’s what happens, they run away with it. We got some good hits when we got sets. We played some good moments, but other times, we couldn’t keep the ball where it needed to be. It was tough maintaining (Rudberg). We switched some things up trying to get her. I probably should have switched it up earlier.

“I’m happy where we ended up. I didn’t think we had that much potential at the start. We lose quite a few seniors. We have a young core and we’ll see what happens next year.”

Heading north

Cape Elizabeth and Gardiner, which blanked No. 7 Gray-New Gloucester in its quarterfinal Tuesday, didn’t meet this season and have no playoff history.

“Gardiner’s a new team for us, but we attack every team the same way,” said Rudberg. “We want to win and we’re excited to go up and hopefully beat them and make it to the state championship.”

“Who doesn’t love a bus ride?” Boeckel said. “I don’t know much about Gardiner. I know they have a (6-foot-4) middle, who can hit the ball. I hear they do a good job keeping the ball in play. I’m hoping we can go in there and serve really tough and run a strong offense. I think if we run a really solid offense, we’ll be OK.”

While they played a far more daunting schedule, the Capers won’t take the Tigers lightly, knowing that if all goes well, they’ll get one more shot at nemesis Yarmouth in the state final Saturday in Lewiston.

“I want to play Yarmouth again really badly,” Rudberg said.

“We just need to stay disciplined and want to win,” McQueeny said. “I think we can pull through if we work hard. I have no doubt we can play our hearts out. I just really want to play Yarmouth one more time and go out with hopefully a Gold Ball.”

“We hope to see Yarmouth one more time,” Boeckel added. “We just need to get a little bit better every practice.”

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

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