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Coe-Brown volleyball reaches first-ever title match

Coe-Brown's Megan Rouillard goes to the net during Division II semifinal action against Gilford on Wednesday night in Derry. (Al Pike/Foster's Daily Democrat)

Coe-Brown's Megan Rouillard goes to the net during Division II semifinal action against Gilford on Wednesday night in Derry. (Al Pike/Foster's Daily Democrat)

DERRY – After dominating the first two sets of last night’s playoff match against Gilford, the last thing the Coe-Brown girls’ volleyball team wanted to do was give the Eagles life by losing the third game.

Trailing by two points, the Bears called a late timeout to gather themselves for a final push.

They came out swinging and scored the last six points of the match to complete a 3-0 sweep in the semifinals of the Division II tournament at Pinkerton Academy’s Hackler Gymnasium.

With the victory, top-seeded Coe-Brown advanced to its first volleyball final where it will face No. 2 Windham for the title Saturday at 5 p.m. Windham swept No. 3 St. Thomas, 3-0, in the other semifinal.

“This has been our goal all season,” co-captain Sadie Steffen said. “I think we worked extremely hard and we definitely deserve to be here. It’s really exciting.”

The Bears (17-1), who reached the final four last year but lost in the semis, beat No. 4 Gilford, 25-18, 25-15, 25-21, for their 16th straight victory.

The Eagles (14-4), the two-time defending D-II champion, had won four in a row entering the semifinals and 14 of their previous 15 matches, with the only setback a 3-1 decision to Coe-Brown.

“All year we’ve worked on mental toughness,” co-captain Emma Easler said. “Volleyball is all about mindset. You can’t get down on yourself. So it’s important that we pull together as a team and don’t let up.”

The Eagles succumbed to the Bears’ late rally fueled by Megan Rouillard, who after the aforementioned timeout immediately put down a kill to earn her team a sideout.

Coe-Brown Coach Rick Veno said his message during the timeout was “not to panic. Play the way we’ve been playing all night long. Look for opportunities and take advantage of our firepower. That’s what we did.

“We felt they were starting to get some momentum and we wanted to take it away from them right away,” Veno added. “The key was to make a good play, get the ball back and then run with it.”

Coe-Brown still trailed 21-20, but Rouillard served out the match, including an ace that pulled the Bears even and ignited the comeback.

They then took advantage of a couple of unforced errors to punch their ticket to Saturday’s championship match. Even a pair of Gilford timeouts couldn’t slow the Bears’ momentum.

“We really wanted a fourth game,” Gilford Coach Joan Forge said. “We spend so much time on conditioning, so we were really hoping to get that fourth game and maybe have that be the difference.

“They were stronger tonight,” Forge added, “and they got their way.”

Rouillard finished with a team-high 19 kills while Abigail Ahern and Easler had 12 apiece. Steffen added 33 assists.

Libero Debbie Peabody had 32 digs, and Amanda Riley went 19-for-19 serving with an ace.

“I thought their defense was outstanding,” Forge said. “We had a hard time finding holes. Lot of long rallies, and I think they won them all.”

Jordan Dean helped keep Gilford close in the third set with a point and a kill that created an 18-all tie with Shannon Mercer at the service line.

Two service points by Dean gave the Eagles a 21-19 lead, prompting the Bears’ fateful timeout.

“We knew that Gilford’s track record over past years has always been strong,” Veno said. “They’ve always come out with some kind of trickery or whatnot to win games. We weren’t going to let that happen. We were prepared for almost anything they could dish out.”

Coe-Brown had a much easier time of it in the first two sets, racing out to early leads and maintaining them.

The Bears led by as much as 17-5 in the opening set on back-to-back kills by Easler and Rouillard.

The Eagles got as close as 23-17, but Coe-Brown scored the final two points to close out the first set.

The second set took a similar tack. The Bears went up 9-4 on a kill by Riley, and extended the margin to 17-9 on back-to-back kills by Riley and Rouillard.

A kill by Ahern left Coe-Brown at set point, 24-15. When the Eagles failed to return Peabody’s hard serve, the Bears were up two 2-0 and on the verge of the program’s first championship appearance.

“I thought we played the best we’ve played all year long, especially defensively,” Veno said. “We made some unbelievable plays. Tremendous effort all the way around by every one of these girls out on the court.”

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