Charleyne Panner sets the ball for a teammate during playoff action Oct. 27 in Gilford. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
October 29, 2012GILFORD — Though the Gilford volleyball team doesn't have tons of experience playing from behind this year, the team is always prepared for just about anything thrown its way, including an early deficit.
"We do a lot of mental preparation, it's been our forte," coach Joan Forge said. "So they've been there before, even if they really haven't been there before."
The mental preparation paid off in a big way against upstart Somersworth in the Division II quarterfinals on Saturday, Oct. 27, as the Golden Eagles found themselves down 1-0 after the opening set.
The defending champs calmly pulled it together and came battling back, winning the next three sets to take a 3-1 win and earn another trip to the Final Four, where they faced off against Oyster River after deadline on Tuesday.
"It was a terrific game," Forge said. "There were long volleys and both teams played defense like crazy.
"It was great stuff," she continued. "We were ready for it, excited for it and we got what we wanted."
Gilford opened up an 8-2 lead in the first game, with a nice tip from Jessa Crites and a kill from Jordan Dean helping the hosts get that lead, but the 'Toppers didn't back down in the face of adversity, instead fighting back.
Jessa and Kira Crites and Charleyne Panner all had nice plays at the net for the Eagles to keep them in the lead, but the 'Toppers kept chipping away and eventually caught the hosts, tying the set at 16-16.
From there, the squads went back and forth, with Jessa Crites getting a big kill, but Somersworth pulled ahead by a 22-18 score. A kill from Kira Crites after a volley that included a great play at the net from Kirsten Dionne helped the hosts cut the lead to three at 22-19 and an ace from Sophie Brunt made it 23-22, but the 'Toppers got the next two points and took a 25-22 win.
The Crites sisters and Panner helped Gilford get out to an early lead in the second set, but again Somersworth fought back and tied the game at seven. A Dean kill put Gilford back on top and a Panner kill and an ace from Kira Crites allowed the hosts to slowly build on their lead. Jessa Crites had another big kill and an ace from Mikaela Mattice and a pair of aces from Jessa Crites pushed the lead to 20-13.
Two nice plays by Dionne helped upped the lead to 24-15 and Kira Crites sealed the win with perfect placement on a shot for the 25-15 win.
Panner, Jessa Crites and Mattice helped the hosts to a 5-0 lead to open the third game and the Golden Eagles led 10-3 at one point, but again, despite the work of Jessa and Kira Crites and Dean at the net, Somersworth came battling back, cutting the lead to 13-12. Panner picked a nice spot to get the next point for Gilford, but Somersworth came back and tied the set at 14.
Gilford didn't fall behind, as a Jessa Crites kill and an ace from Mattice opened the lead up a bit. A big kill from Kira Crites and some perfect placement from Panner gave the Eagles the 25-18 win and a 2-1 lead.
The Crites sisters got Gilford out to an 8-1 lead in the fourth game and a Jessa Crites ace and kills from Dean and Kira Crites helped the Golden Eagles open up a 15-3 lead. A pair of nice shots from Jessa Crites quelled a 'Topper rally a bit and the champs closed out the 25-16 win and a 3-1 quarterfinal victory.
Forge gave Somersworth credit for coming out strong and noted her team needed time to adjust.
"We hadn't played them since the first game of the season," Forge said. "It takes a defense time to read what the other team's doing.
"You really have to study the other team and analyze and figure things out," she added. "It took a while, but that's going to happen against a great team."
For Panner, it was just good to be back in the lineup. The senior setter missed the entire month of October with an injury, returning in the team's first round win over Pelham.
"We didn't know if I was going to come back or not," she said. "But it's really nice to be back. I missed it so much, I can't explain it."
Panner finished with 32 assists and seven kills, the latter impressing Forge from the setter position. Jessa Crites had 19 kills, one block and 11 digs, while Kira Crites had 10 kills and 20 digs. Dean had five kills and Kelly Gallant had 25 digs. Danica Gelotte had 10 digs on the night and the team finished with 43 kills on the night.
"I'm proud of the girls for their composure," Forge said.
The Golden Eagles moved on to the Division II semifinals, held after deadline Tuesday at Pinkerton Academy, with sixth-seeded Oyster River on the other side of the net.
"We had to push through tonight and it just gets harder and harder from here," Panner said. "But I know we'll give it our all and never ease up."
Should the Eagles be victorious in their semifinal tilt, they will play in the finals on Saturday, Nov. 3, at 7 p.m. at Pinkerton Academy in Derry.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at email@example.com or 569-3126