John Stark starts strong, but falls to Gilford in D-II volleyball final

Monitor staff
Published: 11/8/2020 8:49:03 PM

The John Stark players were relaxed heading to Gilford High for Saturday night’s Division II volleyball championship, and the Generals used that calm to win the first seven points of the match.

“And all of a sudden we had that, ‘Wow, we’re doing this,’ moment,” Stark coach Jeff McClellan said.

That moment seemed to break Stark’s loose attitude, and the Golden Eagles took advantage. Gilford shook off the early hole to claim a 25-16 win in the first set on its way to a 3-0 sweep. It’s the third straight title for the Golden Eagles and the 17th in program history.

“They’re a great team and they just started going point to point. Their winning pedigree kind of took over where it didn’t faze them being behind,” McClellan said. “And then we started to make simple little mistakes, but good teams are going to help you make mistakes.”

After winning the first set, the Golden Eagles (11-1) seized on the momentum and built a 7-2 lead in the second set. But the Generals (8-4) responded behind strong serving from Izabella Nelson and Paige Hamel, who was outstanding all match and finished with six kills, and came back to tie things up at 8-8. Gilford refused to relinquish the lead, however, and pulled away at the end of the set for a 25-17 lead.

“We did not bring our ‘A’ game. We typically pass a bit better. We typically get Lil (Stonger, Stark’s star outside hitter) involved a lot more,” McCleallan said. “But Gilford is a good serve team. They took us out of our game and we had to play out of system quite a bit. I just think it was the nerves. … This is my favorite gym in the state. I mean look at the banners, it’s intimidating, which it should be. But you’re coming in to the Eagles’ den.”

Despite all the banners and the two-set deficit, Stark once again showed its willingness to fight at the start of the third set as it jumped out to a 4-1 lead. But once again the Eagles were not bothered by trailing and they went on a 10-2 run to take an 11-6 lead midway through the set and forve the Generals to take a time out. Stark played better after the break, but the Eagles simply had too much talent and skill all over the court with Kate Sullivan intimidating at the net, Serena Pugh digging everything in the back and players like Lindsey Sanderson, Callista Shepard and Riley McDonough doing a little bit of everything and doing it well.

In the end, all that talent led to a 25-18 win in the third set and a championship sweep.

“I would have loved to have taken a set or two and gone five, but they’re a great team,” McClellan said. “Look at their banners. They put them up year after year.”

Stogner finished with a team-high seven kills for Stark. Brooke Patnode had 15 assists and five aces and Brianna Bodner had three blocks.


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