YARMOUTH—All season, Yarmouth’s volleyball team played from ahead and won with ease.

But Monday evening, in the Class B state final match against rival Cape Elizabeth, the Clippers found themselves in a completely different and unusual situation.

Playing from behind.

But despite being pushed to the brink again and again, Yarmouth wouldn’t be denied.

And as a result, it capped a perfect season in unforgettable style.

By outlasting the valiant Capers in a five-set epic for the ages.

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The Clippers, who twice handled Cape Elizabeth in four sets during the regular season, shot a quick 11-3 lead in the first game, but couldn’t hold it, as the Capers, who despite playing on Yarmouth’s homecourt, came in relaxed, with a nothing-to-lose attitude, closed the game on a 22-7 run and when senior Maeve McQueeny set up classmate Annaliese Rudberg for a kill, got the jump with a 25-18 victory.

Cape Elizabeth then went up 15-8 in the second set and appeared poised to take a stranglehold on the match, but the Clippers awakened and behind the pinpoint passing of senior standout and team heart-and-soul Sophie Dickson, rallied for a 25-21 triumph to even things up at a game apiece.

The Capers never trailed in the third set, as junior captain Amy Rasco put on a show at the net and the service line, and a 25-16 victory left Cape Elizabeth one game from shocking the local volleyball world.

But that game never came.

Because Yarmouth dug deep into its deep reservoir of championship heart by pulling away to win the fourth set, 25-14, setting up a winner-take-all, first-team-to-15-points fifth game.

Once again, the Capers started fast and led, 6-2, but unheralded Clippers sophomore Annie Vinnakota became the surprise hero, producing a pair of kills and two blocks to help tie it up. The game was tied three more times before Dickson surprised the defense with a kill instead of a set and Yarmouth was on its way. After a kill from senior Allie McClafferty set up match point, Dickson set up Vinnakota for a kill to end it and the Clippers had the fifth set, 15-10, and the unforgettable match by a 3-2 margin.

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Yarmouth finished 17-0 for the first time in program history, won the Gold Ball for the sixth time overall and for the third consecutive season a tournament was held and in the process, ended heroic Cape Elizabeth’s campaign at 12-5.

“I thought Cape had us there for a second,” said Dickson, one of the special players in Clippers history. “I went in with an open mind because I knew it would be 50-50. Cape’s a great team and I told my friends this morning it was going to go five sets and could go either way. I’m amazed at how we played. We really pulled it out at the end.”

Previous state match results

Cape Elizabeth

2014
Class A

Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 2

2017
Class B

Cape Elizabeth 3 Falmouth 0

2018
Class B

Yarmouth 3 Cape Elizabeth 2

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2019
Class B

Yarmouth 3 Cape Elizabeth 0

Yarmouth

2011
Class B
Yarmouth 3 Bucksport 0

2013
Class B

Yarmouth 3 Washington Academy 2

2014
Class B

Yarmouth 3 Machias 0

2018
Class B

Yarmouth 3 Cape Elizabeth 2

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2019
Class B

Yarmouth 3 Cape Elizabeth 0

Anything other than a Yarmouth-Cape Elizabeth state final this fall would have come as a surprise, as the Capers and Clippers have been the class of Class B since the start of the season and in reality, for several years.

Yarmouth emerged triumphant at the end of the 2018 campaign and again in 2019 and likely would have three-peated had there been a season in 2020 (COVID prevented it).

The Clippers had won all five of their previous state matches, while the Capers had split four (see above).

This season has been the finest in Yarmouth’s history, as the Clippers dominated the competition from the get-go.

Yarmouth opened with a four-set win at Cape Elizabeth, then downed visiting Greely, host Gray-New Gloucester, visiting South Portland and host Cheverus in three-games. After a stirring four-set home win over Class A powerhouse Scarborough, the Clippers downed host Greely (3-1) and swept visiting Wells, Falmouth and York before blanking host York, sweeping visiting Cape Elizabeth and closing with 3-0 wins at Windham and Falmouth.

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After a 3-0 quarterfinal round victory over No. 8 Ellsworth, Yarmouth made quick work of fifth-ranked Mt. Desert Island in the semifinals, 3-0.

Cape Elizabeth has been chasing Yarmouth all season.

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 (coach Sarah 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 Capers had to play a state preliminary round match against No. 14 Westbrook, winning, 3-0, then they beat No. 6 Greely by the same margin in the quarterfinals before ending No. 2 Gardiner’s undefeated run with a 3-0 triumph in the semifinals.

Money’s worth

The state match was originally supposed to be played at the University of Southern Maine, as it was in 2019, then it was moved to Lewiston High School and finally to the court of the highest remaining seed.

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And Monday, in front of a raucous, capacity crowd in Yarmouth’s small gymnasium, the sport of volleyball was the ultimate winner as two fantastic teams played their hearts out for two hours and after ebbs and flows, breathtaking plays and tremendous displays of heart and will, the Clippers did just enough to emerge triumphant.

The first set took 21 minutes and featured a stunning turnaround.

Cape Elizabeth won the first point, but after a McClafferty kill, Dickson stepped to the service line and served up three aces for a quick 6-1 lead. A kill from Capers junior Madalynn Vaine ended the run, but Yarmouth continued to add to its lead and an ace from Vinnakota made it 11-3 and the Clippers appeared on their way.

Not so fast.

Rudberg had her first kill, then served an ace and after a kill from junior Madison Thornton, Cape Elizabeth only trailed, 12-10. Junior Dorcas Bolese and McClafferty countered with kills for Yarmouth, but a block from Thornton cut the deficit to one and forced Yarmouth coach Jim Senecal to call timeout, which didn’t help, as four more points went the Capers’ way. McClafferty got a point back, but a kill from Rudberg and an ace from Rasco made the score 22-16. The Clippers couldn’t bounce back and McQueeny set up Rudberg for a kill and Cape Elizabeth had a 25-18 win and a huge boost of confidence.

“I didn’t say anything to the girls because I didn’t want to put pressure on them, but the coaching staff and I talked about how important that first game was,” said Boeckel. “Yarmouth hadn’t been pushed much, so I wanted us to get that under our belts.”

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In the first game, McQueeny had seven assists, Rudberg five kills and junior Josie Caton six service points, which helped neutralize five service points and four assists from Dickson.

Cape Elizabeth rode its momentum into the second game and appeared en route to another victory, but this time, it would be the Clippers roaring back.

A kill from Rasco and an ace from McQueeny began the set, but Yarmouth tied it up at 2-2, 3-3, 4-4 and 5-5 before two Rudberg kills put the Capers ahead. Cape Elizabeth went on top, 10-6, on a kill from Vaine, but an ace from Dickson cut the deficit to 10-8. The Capers then rattled off five straight points, sparked by a Vaine kill, to make it 15-8.

A kill from McClafferty then brought the Clippers to life and consecutive kills from senior Tristen Rogers and Miller made it 15-12 and caused a Cape Elizabeth timeout, which didn’t stem the tide, as Yarmouth drew within one before the run ended. The Clippers tied it at 16-16, but McQueeny countered with a kill. After Rogers tied it with a kill, Yarmouth went ahead, then opened it up behind kills from Miller and Bolese and an ace from Rogers. The Capers drew within 21-19 and appeared to get the next point as well, but it was awarded to the Clippers. That proved huge, as a kill from Rudberg would have tied it, but instead made the score 22-20. McClafferty then had a kill, Cape Elizabeth hit the ball out and after the Capers stayed alive by winning the next point, a kill from McClafferty ended it, 25-21, in 22 minutes.

Dickson had 10 assists in the set, while McClafferty had six service points and three kills, Miller five kills and Rogers four service points. Cape Elizabeth got eight assists and four service points from McQueeny and five kills from Rudberg, but the match was tied.

The Capers then won the third game with relative ease, in 23 minutes, never trailing.

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Consecutive Rasco kills set the tone. A kill from McQueeny then made it 5-1. Yarmouth drew within one on a block from Rogers, but Cape Elizabeth went from up 8-7 to 13-7, as Rasco had three kills, Rudberg another kill and McQueeny a block. The Clippers rallied and cut the deficit to 13-11 on consecutive kills from McClafferty, but Rasco had two more kills and a block from Thornton and a kill from Rudberg made it 19-12. This time, the Clippers couldn’t counter, as Rudberg and Thornton had kills and after a Yarmouth service fault made the score 22-14, Rudberg and Rogers traded kills and after a Yarmouth win on a long point, Rasco had a kill and the Clippers hit the ball out to give the Capers a 25-16 win and a 2-1 lead in the match.

Rasco dominated in the game with nine kills and five service points.

“I said to Amy yesterday that I didn’t think we’d seen her best match yet and this was her best match,” Boeckel said.

McQueeny set up over half the points, assisting on 13 of them. Dickson had seven assists for Yarmouth, which suddenly found itself on the ropes.

Prior to the start of the fourth game, Senecal could be heard, even over the din, imploring his charges to play their game and to go down fighting.

“The kids hadn’t played in an environment like this and were a little scared,” Senecal said. “Cape was in our gym and they had nothing to lose. The point was we were fortunate enough to play at Yarmouth and I didn’t want to lose a third set here.”

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After the Capers enjoyed a relatively easy win in the third game, the Clippers did the same in the fourth, needing 22 minutes to push the match the distance.

Cape Elizabeth won the first point and held leads of 3-2 (on a Rudberg kill), 5-4 (on a Thornton kill), then 8-5 after kills from Rasco and Rudberg, but the next nine points went to Yarmouth, which seized control. Dickson surprised with a kill, McClafferty had a pair of kills, Miller served up a couple aces and a Bolese block made it 14-8. Rudberg ended the run with a kill, but McClafferty answered with one, then Vinnakota began to make her presence felt with consecutive kills and junior Bri Torres served up an ace for an 18-9 lead.

After a service fault, Vinnakota and McClafferty added the kills and the lead grew to 22-10 on a block from Vinnakota. The Capers drew within 22-14 on an ace from McQueeny, but after winning a point, the Clippers got a kill from Vinnakota and an ace from McClafferty to end it, 25-14, and keep the match alive.

“Our goal going in was to be aggressive and not to be tentative,” said Dickson. “I went to the Class A state match between Biddeford and Scarborough (a 3-2 win for the Red Storm) and I think Biddeford’s downfall was they weren’t aggressive enough. We were tentative in the first and third sets. Once we started getting our hitters hot and getting aggressive with our offense, that’s what did it for us.”

Dickson had eight assists in the fourth set, Miller had eight service points, while Vinnakota had five kills and McClafferty four kills and three service points. McQueeny’s six assists weren’t enough for Cape Elizabeth to prevail.

With the crowd at a fever pitch and the tension so thick it was a palpable, the 16-minute fifth game was one of overcoming nerves and making plays, something Yarmouth was able to do with a little more frequency.

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The Capers won the first point when the Clippers hit the ball out, but Vinnakota responded with a kill, then Rogers set up McClafferty for a kill and a 2-1 lead. Cape Elizabeth then went on a run, as McQueeny had a kill, Rudberg added another, the Capers won the next point, then after Yarmouth hit the ball into the net, a kill from Vaine put the Capers on top, 6-2.

But that would be their highwater mark and after a Senecal timeout, the Clippers closed on a 13-4 run.

The comeback began with a Vinnakota kill. Then she had another. Next, Vinnakota had a block, then another and just like that, the score was tied.

“I just realized that I needed to kick in and get this for my teammates,” Vinnakota said. “I had some bad hits in the beginning, but I knew I had to keep going. Coach just told us to play as hard as we could every point and keep doing it.”

“Everything came together,” Senecal said. “I think that over the years I’ve learned that we like to think we’re all inspirational, but sometimes a timeout is just a momentum change. That’s all it is. The message was clear, it’s your floor, your time, don’t be tentative.”

Cape Elizabeth went back on top on a McQueeny kill, but a Rogers kill tied it again. After a Rudberg kill, a kill from Miller tied it, 8-8.

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The Capers then went on top for the last time on a Rudberg kill that barely landed inbounds before a Miller kill tied it and a Dickson kill put the Clippers ahead for good, 10-9, forcing Boeckel to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as McClafferty had a kill, then Cape Elizabeth failed to return the ball.

Boeckel called her final timeout, but again, it didn’t help, as after a Bolese block kept a point alive, McClafferty set up Rogers for a critical kill and a 13-9 lead.

The Capers’ final point of the season came on a Rudberg kill, but McClafferty countered with a kill to set up match point.

Torres then stepped to the service line, got the ball over and after the Capers returned it, it came to Dickson, who set the ball up for Vinnakota, who soared and hit the ball off a Cape Elizabeth defender and on to the court to give Yarmouth a 15-10 fifth game victory and the match, 3-2.

“Bri Torres, our libero, subbed out and so I subbed in and I got there and Sophie looked at me and said, ‘I’m going to set you,'” Vinnakota said. “I just wanted to put it somewhere they couldn’t get it. I had to be smart with it. It was amazing.”

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“(Annie) came in that last point and I told her, ‘I’m coming to you right now’ and she got it,” said Dickson. “I set it and she did it from there. It was kind of magical, not real when the ball landed.”

At 8:02 p.m., after two scintillating hours of volleyball, the celebration began in earnest.

“I had no thoughts, just pure happiness,” said McClafferty. “I think this means the world to all of us. After losing all the players we did (to graduation), we couldn’t have imagined this. That was one of the hardest fights we’ve ever had. We definitely knew Cape would work hard for this, but they were tougher than we even imagined. That last set, we realized we just had to pull together and play for each other. We focused on hitting the ball in and staying aggressive.”

“I think we just really wanted it,” said Miller. “We were willing to do what it took. We dove for every ball and played our hearts out because for a lot of us, this was our last game and we wanted to leave it all on the court. It means a lot, especially after not having a season last year. We had to be aggressive and we were able to catch up and pull it out in the end. When I realized (the last point) went in, I was really excited. It was a really tight match. We’d been down a lot, but we came back. It means a lot to end with a championship this year on our home court. ”

“I didn’t realize it would be this difficult, but we pulled it out,” Vinnakota said. “It’s really important to me that we got this for (the seniors). They played so hard. Getting it for them was more important than getting it for me.”

“I think our unity as a team brought us together at the end and we had great support tonight,” said Dickson. “You don’t get many chances to play for a state championship in your gym senior year. This was our legacy.”

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“We had to work for it,” Senecal added. “Cape played their best match. They picked every ball up, they found our weaknesses, they put us on our heels. We struggled in the early sets. We couldn’t block, but we turned it around when we had to. Kids who started out flat came on strong late. We had kids who were hitting tentatively, then they realized the only chance they had was to play with power. We found some holes. It feels really good. This team has so exceeded my expectations. I expected we’d be good, but considering what we lost (to graduation), I’m so surprised. The kids did a great job.

“It means a lot to us because most of these kids hadn’t experienced this before. Sophie had, but the rest of the starting lineup hadn’t. That makes it special. The kids came together very quickly. We didn’t have an easy schedule. The kids met every challenge. They were never challenged like this, but we came through tonight.”

So many contributors

Dickson, who said after the match that she plans to continue playing volleyball, although she’s unsure of her college destination, bowed out with 38 assists, including nine in the fifth set alone, 10 service points, including four aces, a couple timely kills and too many dazzling defensive saves to count.

“Sophie is very competitive and we love her for it,” Vinnakota said. “She really drives the team. She did a great job. She was tired the entire time but she drove us.”

“It’s been awesome playing with Sophie because you don’t have to worry,” Miller said. “You know she’s going for the ball.”

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“Sophie’s such a great setter and she’s such a great teammate,” said McClafferty. “She’s everywhere. She’s amazing.”

“It starts and ends with number 6 (Sophie),” Senecal added. “This team’s heart comes from her. When you think the ball is heading down then a blue streak comes flying in and picks balls up, that’s inspiring to everybody. She refuses to lose. Sophie’s one of the best players in program history. Most coaches who have played against her would see she’s one of the top players in the state.”

Vinnakota became the surprise hero, finishing with 12 kills, four service points and three blocks, with nine of the kills and all three blocks coming in the final two sets.

“I wasn’t expecting to start or play this much as a sophomore,” said Vinnakota. “I learned so much about how to work from these seniors. I’m relatively new to volleyball. They gave me a lot of knowledge and it’s added up.”

“I love Annie so much,” said Dickson. “She just came in this year. I’d never met her before. She’s so perky. She can jump to the ceiling.”

“Annie’s definitely one of kind,” McClafferty said. “When she gets going, she’s unstoppable.”

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“Annie has brought so much,” said Miller. “I love playing with her. She has hard swings and goes for every ball. She brings out the best in everyone.”

“Annie’s hitting percentage is the best on the team,” Senecal added. “She has an awkward approach and that messes up the block. At 5-foot-8, she’s big enough to hit straight down. She’s been great. She has a great future.”

McClafferty had a terrific final match, posting 16 kills and 16 service points.

Miller added 13 service points and nine kills.

“I was very focused on just getting the ball in,” Miller said. “My teammates kept me on the service line.”

Rogers had eight kills, four assists and four service points, Bolese contributed six blocks and a pair of kills and Torres finished with seven service points.

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Capers pride

Not many fans outside of Cape Elizabeth gave the Capers a chance Monday night, but they came within five points of winning an improbable title.

They too had many stars.

Rudberg’s power was second to none and she wound up with a match-high 22 kills, as well as five service points.

McQueeny bowed out with 36 assists, 14 service points, six blocks and four kills.

“Maeve is just steady,’ Boeckel said. “I thought she did a great job.”

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Rasco sparkled at the most optimal time, finishing with 13 kills and 11 service points.

Caton contributed 10 service points.

“I thought Josie, who was thrown into a new position, got confidence,” said Boeckel.

Vaine had six kills and six blocks, junior Cayden Royall contributed five service points and Thornton had three kills and a block.

“We always say we want to walk off the court with no regrets knowing we did everything we could and I think that’s the best match we’ve played all season,” Boeckel said. “I’d take this match any day of the week. We made a couple tight mistakes at a tough time in the match and that allowed Yarmouth to get the ball back and make a couple runs. We know regardless of which six or seven players are on the court, we’re out there to do a job, give our all, play super-disciplined and play to win and I think that’s what we did. I always say, play to win instead of not to lose. We played to win and we just fell short. We knew they’d get their points, but we just couldn’t give them easy ones. We got a little tight at the end, but we didn’t give up. We kept fighting and I’m really so proud.

“It was a great atmosphere. What I love about volleyball is that it’s still fairly new in Maine, but anyone who comes to a match leaves thinking it’s the most exciting thing they’ve seen. Hopefully more schools keep getting it and we get high-quality coaches and the sport keep growing.”

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Cape Elizabeth has to say farewell to McQueeny, Rudberg, Ada Smith and Anastasia Chepurko, who missed the end of the season with a knee injury.

“I wish the seniors had a Gold Ball for their last match, but they should be really proud,” said Boeckel.

The 2022 Capers will feature the return of the likes of Caton, Rasco, Royall, Thornton, Vaine and junior Maddy Simopoulos, who missed the state match with injury.

Next year could be the year that Cape Elizabeth finally gets back to the pinnacle.

“It’s always a building process, but we have good kids coming back,” said Boeckel.

Starting over

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Of the 16 players listed on the Yarmouth roster Monday, 10 are about to depart as seniors. That list includes standouts Dickson, McClafferty, Miller and Rogers.

“I love those seniors,” Senecal said. “Sophie and Elena and Allie and Tristen, all of them. Some of the kids who didn’t play a lot came to practice every day and worked their tails off. Those kids you hope appreciate the moment even if they didn’t get to play today.”

The 2022 Clippers will have some holes to fill, but are starting from a strong place with Bolese, Torres and Vinnakota all battle-tested. Several other younger players are eager to make their mark.

“It’s going to be interesting next year,’ said Vinnakota. “There are only six non-seniors on the team. I’m really excited to see what the freshmen add to the team. I see a lot of potential and I can’t wait.”

“I’m excited to come back and watch next year,” said Dickson. “We’ll have a great defense with Brianna in the back row. Annie is staying in the front. Dorcas had some huge blocks tonight. I’m not worried about them at all.”

“We had an 18-0 JV season and we have some kids who will be ready for varsity experience from that team next year,” Senecal added. “We return three starters, but we’ll miss a very key piece at setter. We’ve got a couple kids who will work to fill that hole. They won’t be Sophie Dickson, but hopefully we can fill gaps in other places.”

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

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