Golden Eagles tripped up by Somersworth in Division II volleyball semis

  • Gilford High School’s Maddison Currier (left) leaps up and gets a hand on a shot from Somersworth’s Katherine Smith during a Division II semifinal match Thursday night at Pinkerton Academy. Somersworth swept Gilford, 3-0. JAY MCAREE / Monitor staff

  • JAY MCAREE / Monitor staff Gilford High School’s Karly Sanborn (left) prepares to set the ball for teammate Maddison Currier during a Division II semifinal match at Pinkerton Academy Thursday evening. The Golden Eagles lost in three sets to finish the season at 14-4.

  • JAY MCAREE / Monitor staff The Gilford High School volleyball team huddle up after scoring a point in the second set during the Division III semifinals against Somersworth Thursday at Pinkerton Academy. The Golden Eagles lost in three sets.

  • JAY MCAREE / Monitor staff Gilford’s Maggie McNeil (right) sets up for a kill off a pass from teammate Cynthia Gagnon during a Division II semifinal match against Somersworth at Pinkerton Academy. Gilford lost in three sets: 26-24, 25-15 and 26-24.

Monitor staff
Published: 11/4/2016 12:30:34 AM

DERRY – Coach Joan Forge used the phrase “work in progress” when describing her Gilford High School volleyball team’s outlook in the preseason. Senior Stevie Orton called the Golden Eagles rough around the edges. The loss of the team’s top two hitters from the championship team a year ago certainly contributed to those expectations, but through all those changes, an opportunity to punch their ticket to a second straight Division II title game was still staring them right in the face Thursday.

In a rematch of the 2015 state championship game, where Gilford survived a thrilling five-set match, No. 3 Somersworth put together its best game of the season – using 24 kills from senior Kaitlyn Lavoie to sweep past the second-seeded Golden Eagles in the Division II semifinals at Pinkerton Academy.

“The improvements from the beginning to the end (were) just enormous,” Forge said. “To finish in second place was huge for us and then to get to the Final Four was huge for us. We also knew we had a shot at it so that gets the energy flowing and they were very motivated. ... This team’s improved more than I’ve ever seen a Gilford team improve because in the beginning, we were below average and all the girls knew it, but throughout the season, we got better and better and turned into a great team.”

But not even those tremendous strides could remedy the level of execution Somersworth played with. The Hilltoppers pulled out a tight 26-24 win in the first set, dominated the second set, 25-15, and battled back and forth with the Golden Eagles (14-4) in the final set before riding another 26-24 win to the championship game.

“I haven’t seen us do that, I just haven’t seen us do it,” Somersworth Coach Steve Hodsdon said of his team’s level of play. “I told Joan afterwards that you caught us on the best day ever. Defensively, we have never been that good ever.”

Hodsdon added that the chatter leading up to the game about the rematch with Gilford was hard to ignore, but that his girls were focused on the day.

“Of course it’s in the back of our minds going into the week, but also on the flip side, we just wanted to win the day. We couldn’t do anything about last year today,” Hodsdon said.

The Hilltoppers got to work immediately, jumping out to an early lead in the first set, but the Golden Eagles fought back to tie it at 24. Trailing by one with Somersworth serving for match point, Gilford put the first ball in the air, but scrambled trying to find it on the way down as the Hilltoppers picked up the win.

In the second set, the two sides fought back and forth as Gilford climbed to a 9-7 advantage with Maddison Currier (11 digs, 3 kills) picking up a kill and block for points eight and nine, respectively. Somersworth would recapture the lead at 15-14, and took off from there with a 10-1 run capped by a kill from Ashly Lavery.

As the defending champions, the Golden Eagles had become accustomed to getting every team’s best shot during the regular season, and the Hilltoppers proved to be on the top of their game from the outset.

“We have a lot of new players and they don’t understand what the target is but they realize it as the season progressed,” Forge said. “Teams do bring their best and Somersworth played a fantastic match.”

Backed into corner in a do-or-die third set, the Golden Eagles displayed the talent and grit that got them this far.

Gilford fell behind 20-14, but rallied to tie the score at 20-all highlighted by an ace and a kill for Cynthia Gagnon and a kill and a block for Orton. Down again moments later, Orton picked up a point to make it 23-22 and a hitting error by the Hilltoppers tied the score, but Somersworth outscored Gilford, 3-1, in the waning moments to put an abrupt end to its season.

Orton, one of four Gilford seniors and playing at less than 100 percent, finished with eight digs, seven kills and a block in her final career game – a feeling that set in as she walked off the court.

“It’s definitely upsetting because we had such a bond as a team,” Orton said. “This was probably the (most) cohesive group we’ve had and it’s always tough to leave knowing that as a senior, you’re not going to be able to play with that team again, you’re going to lose some friends, so it’s pretty hard.”

Somersworth will take on No. 1 Windham in the Division II championship match Saturday at Pinkerton Academy.

(Jay McAree can be reached at 369-3340 or at or on Twitter @jaymcaree.)

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