Kirsten Dionne goes up for a hit in semifinal action against Coe-Brown on Nov. 6 in Derry. Joshua Spaulding. (click for larger version)
November 11, 2013DERRY — After losing nine seniors from last year's Division II championship team, coach Joan Forge knew her Gilford volleyball team would be in for a tough fight to get back to the top of the Division II hill this season.
Yet, on Wednesday, Nov. 6, the Golden Eagles entered the gym at Pinkerton Academy with a chance to once again advance to the championship.
Standing in the Eagles' way was Division II's top-ranked team, the Coe-Brown Bears, a squad that had beaten the Gilford girls earlier in the season. It was a tall task indeed.
And in the end, it was a task the Golden Eagles couldn't quite get past, as the Bears claimed a 3-0 win to advance on to the finals against second-seeded Windham.
"Pretty much from day zero, this team has been all about improvement and adjustment," Forge said. "They've continued to play point by point, not keeping an eye on the scoreboard."
Nowhere was that ability to play point to point more evident than in the first game of the semifinal tilt, when Forge's troops found themselves on the wrong end of a 17-5 score.
The Golden Eagles stayed even through the first few points of the night and a nice tip from Danica Gelotte, a big block from Jordan Dean and a kill from Mikaela Mattice cut a 6-3 Coe-Brown lead to 6-5.
However, the Bears went on a run from that point, running off 11 points in a row to open up the aforementioned 17-5 lead. Two good plays at the net from Mattice helped right the ship for the Golden Eagles and Maddie Harris came up with a big block to chip in. A big hit from Kirsten Dionne and a nice play out of the net from Gelotte kept the comeback rolling, cutting the lead to 20-12.
Two huge blocks from Dean on one volley helped the Golden Eagles pull to within 22-15, but they didn't get any closer than seven the rest of the way, as the Bears closed out the 25-18 win.
"Their focus is to stay even," Forge said. "The girls fought hard."
The second game was much of the same, with the two teams exchanging points in the early going. A nice tip from Dionne gave the Eagles the opening lead of the game, but Coe-Brown rallied and took a 9-4 lead before a Dionne hit from the back row cut the lead back to four. Harris came up with another block to make it 10-6 in favor of the Bears and the Coe-Brown girls slowly pulled away, opening up a 17-9 lead before a Dean hit and strong play from Gelotte and Mattiace got Gilford back in the match, cutting the lead to 18-13. Harris had a nice hit for another point, but the Bears were able to pull away down the stretch and take the 25-15 win, putting Gilford in a must-win situation in the third game.
The Gilford girls looked like they might force a fourth game, as they opened up a couple of different leads. Out of the gate, a good service run from Dionne helped Gilford get out to a 6-2 lead, with Dean also chipping in strong play at the net. Coe-Brown rallied to pull even at eight, but a nice hit from Gelotte put Gilford back in front again.
The Bears came back and tied the match again at 10 and then took a 13-10 lead before Harris and Dionne had key points to keep the Golden Eagles in the game. A number of strong plays at the net from Dean helped the Eagles slowly climb back into the match and a Dean tip tied the match at 17. A Dean hit gave Gilford the lead back one point later and Gilford went up 21-19, looking to put the Bears away.
However, Coe-Brown scored the next six points, earning the 25-21 win and a chance to play for the Division II championship.
After a solid effort, Forge praised both the work of her girls in reaching the Final Four and the work of the Bears to make sure they didn't go further.
"My girls have an incredible work ethic," Forge said. "They weren't settling with where they were, they just kept working.
"Coe-Brown played an outstanding game," she continued. "They knew were our holes were and the found them and attacked them."
And despite the fact that she'll be graduating this spring, Gelotte noted that her teammates all learned something from the match.
"They played how we though they would, maybe a little more of a tip game," the Golden Eagle setter said. "But now we know what they'll be like next year."
Gelotte was also well aware that her team played up to its ability all season long.
"We did everything we wanted to do," she said. "We had a very good season. We bonded as a team and a sisterhood and learned life lessons we'll take with us wherever we go."
Gelotte, Brooke Marcella, Mattice and Dionne are all graduating from this year's team and Forge praised their work over the past season.
"The four seniors really did a nice job for us as far as keeping the team together," she said. 'They just work so hard."
Gilford finished the regular season at 13-3 and after a first round bye, beat Milford in the quarterfinal round of the tournament.
Joshua Spaulding can be reached at 569-3126 or firstname.lastname@example.org.