YARMOUTH—Annie Vinnakota has never lost a postseason volleyball match and she’s not about to start now.

Saturday afternoon at Stroud Gymnasium, Vinnakota and her second-ranked Yarmouth teammates, the four-time reigning Class B champions, got pushed by visiting No. 7 Falmouth in a state quarterfinal, but time and again, the Clippers rose to the occasion and their season goes on.

As does their title defense.

Yarmouth waltzed to a 25-11 victory in the first set, thanks to a 10-point service run from sophomore Ella Cameron, which included seven aces.

Not surprisingly, the Navigators made things much tougher in a second game which featured 14 ties, but an ace from junior Lillian Burrows put the Clippers ahead to stay and sophomore Grace Keaney’s kill punctuated a 25-22 win.

Falmouth held a lead for much of the third set, but Yarmouth wouldn’t be denied. A kill from Vinnakota put the Clippers in front for good, she added two more to get her team close, then the Navigators couldn’t return the ball and Yarmouth took the game, 25-19, and the match, 3-0.


The Clippers beat Falmouth for the first time ever in the postseason, improved to 12-3 with their 10th consecutive victory and 13th straight postseason win, ended the Navigators’ season at 10-6 and advanced to host No. 3 Messalonskee (15-0) in the state semifinals Wednesday at a time to be announced.

“All of us in the program, we have not experienced losing a state championship and I see no reason to start doing that this year,” Vinnakota said.

Renewing acquaintances

Falmouth was the last team to hand Yarmouth a postseason defeat, rallying from a 2-0 deficit to beat the Clippers in five sets in the 2017 Class B state semifinals.

Yarmouth won the next four state titles (there was no season in 2020 due to the pandemic) and after last year’s crown, Jim Senecal stepped down as coach, but after a slow start this fall, the Clippers came to life under new coach Erin Quirk and won their final nine matches to surge into the No. 2 spot in the region (see sidebar, below, for links to previous stories).

Falmouth, meanwhile, moved down to Class B this year and got out to a fast 6-1 start, but struggled in the second half, winning just three of its final seven matches, to drop to seventh in the region.


Thursday, the Navigators blanked No. 10 Lake Region, 3-0, in the preliminary round.

Falmouth and Yarmouth did not meet this year.

The Navigators had won both prior playoff encounters (see sidebar).

Saturday, in front of a large crowd, the Clippers continued to do what they always do in the playoffs.

Take care of business.

Yarmouth sophomore Ella Cameron serves up one of her seven first set aces in Saturday’s 3-0 win over Falmouth. Hoffer photos.

After Falmouth assistant coach Caitlin Murphy regaled those on hand with a terrific rendition of the national anthem, Yarmouth quickly asserted control in the first set.


The Navigators started play with a service fault, then an ace from Vinnakota and a kill from Cameron on a long point gave the Clippers a 4-0 advantage. Falmouth crept back within 5-3, then 6-4, both times behind kills from senior Erin Andrews, but after a kill from Keaney, Cameron stepped to the service stripe and simply put on a clinic.

Cameron delivered 10 straight points, seven coming on aces which the Navigators either missed completely or deflected out of play. Keaney added a couple kills and Vinnakota added another to stretch the lead to a commanding 17-4.

“That was crazy,” Vinnakota said. “It might seem unusual to you, but we’re used to Ella doing stuff like that.”

“Ella’s one of the strongest servers on the team,” said Catherine Balzano, Yarmouth’s assistant coach who was filling in for Quirk Saturday (Quirk was out of town at a wedding). “She takes her time at the line and she definitely showed up today. I’m proud of her.”

Cameron finally faulted, but it was just a momentary blip, as Vinnakota and Burrows countered with kills and Yarmouth added two more points for a 21-5 lead. Falmouth started to creep back in it, as senior Joanna Rudenberg had a block, Andrews had three kills, then senior Kani Gutter had a kill to cut the deficit to 22-11, but after a service fault, Burrows served up an ace, then a kill from sophomore Imogen Wiebus ended the game in the Clippers’ favor, 25-11.

“I knew the girls wanted to come out with momentum,” said Balzano.


In addition to Cameron’s serving brilliance, junior setter Norah Lushman had seven assists, Keaney added four kills and Vinnakota finished with four service points and three kills. Andrews had four kills for the Navigators.

The second set would be much closer.

Falmouth won the first two points and went up 4-2, but Yarmouth settled in and the game would be tied at 4-4 (on a Keaney kill), 5-5 (on a Vinnakota kill), 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 12-12, 13-13 (on a Keaney kill), 14-14 (on a Vinnakota kill), 15-15, 16-16, 18-18, 19-19, then one final time at 20-20 (on a kill from Cameron). Burrows then served up an ace and the Clippers got the edge they needed and Burrows followed that up with another ace, forcing Navigators coach Larry Nichols to call timeout.

It didn’t help, as Keaney had a kill, then Burrows serve another ace when the ball hit the top of the net, hung in the air for a split second, then dropped to the floor. Falmouth drew back within two when Yarmouth hit the ball into the net on consecutive points, but a soft kill from Keaney slammed the door and gave the Clippers a 25-22 triumph and a 2-0 match lead.

Lushman had six more assists, Keaney added five kills and a block and Burrows had three aces, while Andrews led the Navigators with four blocks and three kills.

Falmouth hoped to capture the third game and parlay that into a dramatic comeback and while the Navigators did some good things, they couldn’t quite get back into the match.


Falmouth senior Rhyse Sholl serves the ball.

Senior Olivia Dickhaut served up an ace to start, then a pair of blocks from Andrews helped spell a 5-2 lead, but Yarmouth answered and drew within 7-6 on another Cameron ace. A kill from sophomore Julia Young put Falmouth on top, 10-7, but two Vinnakota kills helped the Clippers tie it up. The Navigators went back in front, 11-10 (on an Andrews kill) and again at 12-11 (on another Andrews kill), but that would be their highwater mark.

With the score tied, 16-16, Vinnakota soared for a kill to put Yarmouth on top to stay. After another point, Burrows had a kill and Nichols called timeout. Again, it didn’t stem the tide, as the next three points went to the Clippers, with junior Drea Rideout serving up an ace and Vinnakota pounding the ball into the floor for another kill. A service fault gave Falmouth life, then Gutter had a kill and junior Sofie Asbjorbsen had an ace, but after Balzano called timeout, Vinnakota took a little bit off and had a soft kill, then the Navigators hit the ball into the net. Lushman then served for the match and when Falmouth hit the ball out, Yarmouth had a 25-19 victory and prevailed in the match, 3-0, setting off a celebration.

Yarmouth junior Drea Rideout raises her arms in celebration as the Clippers advance.

“We didn’t know exactly what to expect,” Vinnakota said. “We knew about a couple of their key players, Erin Andrews, Rhyse, Kani Gutter, from club experience. We knew they had solid players, so we just wanted to play our game and have our energy. I think the difference was our energy at the end. We all wanted to win and we had a supportive attitude. We knew we had to take big swings and be brave, but you need to have the team supporting you to do that. That supportive, aggressive energy made the difference. It’s a different group. I’m the only returning starter, but I think we’ve gotten into our groove.”

“I’m glad that I called that timeout when I did only because I knew Falmouth had momentum,” Balzano said. “They have very strong hitters and their defense was incredible. We went into the third set knowing Falmouth would come out strong. Their swinging and defense showed up, but our girls were consistent to keep it back and forth and not let them go on a scoring run. I was a little nervous going in today because it’s my first season at Yarmouth, but I’m happy it was successful.”

Cameron excelled with 13 service points, including eight aces, and also had four kills.

Vinnakota had a dozen kills (with six coming in the third game) and four service points.


“I think of Annie being a coach on the court for the team keeping things calm,” Balzano said. “She’s great for other players to look at, especially if they need to calm themselves.”

Keaney also had 12 kills.

Lushman was terrific passing the ball, tallying 21 assists, including eight in the final set.

Junior Laila Brewer had eight assists.

Rideout contributed 10 service points, including three aces.

Burrows had seven service points, including five aces.


A valiant effort

Falmouth was paced by Andrews, who had nine kills, six blocks and three service points.

Senior Rhyse Sholl added five service points and five assists.

Junior Hannah Roche had six service points and Dickhaut added four.

“We got knocked down a couple times and came back, so I’m proud,” Nichols said. “It’s been a great team to coach. I’m not surprised the girls came back, that’s why I’ve loved being with them this year. I think it was as simple as (Yarmouth’s) serves and our service errors. We got the timing on the blocks down as the match went on, but they’re a great offensive team. They pound the ball, but we stopped them and that gave us momentum. There were some great rallies there. We’ll hang our hat on that. The (offensive) changes we made this week could have backfired, but the kids stepped up. I wish we could have gotten the offensive system down sooner. I think it would have made a difference with our tough schedule. As this match went on, we became more of a threat. That’s a credit to the kids who stepped up.”

Graduation will take its toll on the program, but Falmouth, which will remain in Class B in 2024, will be a top contender again next fall.


“We’ve got nine seniors, but we’re excited about next year with the kids we have coming up,” Nichols said.

Messalonskee mystery

Yarmouth didn’t face Messalonskee this season and the teams have no playoff history.

Regardless, the Clippers are two victories from another shiny trophy and they like their chances.

“I think our team just thrives on energy, so we just need to keep playing our game, hitting hard and playing defense aggressively,” Vinnakota said.

“I think it’s great that we get to stay on this court,” Balzano said. “The girls are ready and determined to keep going.”

Sports Editor Michael Hoffer can be reached at mhoffer@theforecaster.net. For game updates and links to game stories, follow him on Threads: @foresports2023

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