Senior setter Charleyne Panner will once again anchor the defending state champion Gilford girls’ volleyball team this fall. File Photo. (click for larger version)
August 27, 2012GILFORD – After two straight runner-up finishes, the Gilford High School girls' volleyball team got over the hump in 2011. Behind a stacked six-person senior class, the Golden Eagles finished the season undefeated, winning the Division II state championship for the first time since 2007 with a victory over St. Thomas Aquinas in the finals.
"They were runners-up for two years in a row. They had knocked on the door and they really wanted it," explained Gilford coach Joan Forge. "We talked about for those seniors how basically it's either we do it now or it never gets done. We spent a lot of time on the court, raising our level of play in order to win that state title."
This fall features a different looking Gilford team, as the losses to graduation have led to new starters in a variety of positions.
"It actually makes it much more exciting at practice because they know there are so many more openings," said Forge. "We have tremendous enthusiasm and energy. This is probably one of the loudest teams that I have had. It's been really fun. People have been moving around, trying new positions and they've been embracing that change. That's to be expected when you're going up to the varsity from lower levels."
While the bulk of the starting lineup moved on after graduating, the Eagles do have the benefit of returning senior setter Charleyne Panner, who will anchor the team's 5-1 formation after being named a first-team all state player last year as a junior.
"I feel like I know this team inside and out," said Panner. "And I can't say enough about how hard we've been working so far. We're all trying to stay positive and we know we have the potential to be a good team once again this year."
After losing hitters like Olivia Broderick, the Division II Player of the Year in 2011, Courtney Leach and Katie Welch to graduation, Panner's experience in the setter position will be even more important as she looks to pass to a relatively new crop of hitters in 2012.
"Charleyne is one of the best setters I've ever had in the program," lauded Forge. "She knows every single one of her teammates inside, out and backwards. She knows where they like the ball, everything. The knowledge that she has of her teammates is amazing. She's a person I really rely on as far as everything that goes on the court.
"I will go out on a limb and say she's one of, if not the best setter in D-II," the coach continued. "When you have an outstanding setter, she is going to make an average hitter an above average hitter. She's going to elevate everyone's games. People that know volleyball know that she's a unique individual."
Senior libero Kelly Gallant also returns to the fold, and she has performed very well in preseason according to Forge.
"I'm very impressed with her improvement," the coach said. "She's a leader of the backcourt and she's talking constantly. She really understands the game. Her and Charleyne are two great leaders on the court for us."
Several players will see time at the outside hitter slots, led by sophomore Jessa Crites, who was an honorable mention all state performer as a freshman last year. Older sister Kira Crites, a senior, has looked very sharp during preseason and will serve as an outside hitter as well, while senior Brooke Beland is slated to be a right side hitter. Fellow senior Sophie Brunt also returns to the varsity and will work into action on the right side, as will junior Mikaela Mattice.
"This team has potential, they need to come around," said Forge. "We'll be stronger in some areas and weaker in others. We need to isolate those areas. It's tough to replace Olivia Broderick and Courtney Leach in the middle, that's probably the toughest to replace right now. But that's what makes it fun."
Looking to fill in those middle hitter spots will be freshman Jordan Dean, junior Kirsten Dionne and senior Erin Pumphret, with all three being new to the varsity.
Gilford opens its regular season and title defense on Aug. 31 when Somersworth comes to town for a 6 p.m. match.