No. 5 Portsmouth downs No. 1 Gilford in D-II volleyball semifinals

Monitor staff
Thursday, November 02, 2017

During Tuesday’s practice, the Gilford volleyball team watched a kid’s version of the David and Goliath story. Coach Joan Forge wanted to make a point about her smaller Golden Eagles (David) needing to play smart if they wanted to beat a tall Portsmouth team (Goliath) in Wednesday’s Division II quarterfinals.

“We had to be smart today to beat the giants, and we started out playing smart,” Forge said, “but then the giant just won.”

The top-ranked Eagles (15-3) raced out to an early lead by taking the first game, 25-13. But after that No. 5 Portsmouth (15-4) went to its two middle hitters, Natalie Gravelle and Corinne Lamond, and won three straight – 25-23, 25-11, 25-16 – to earn a spot in Saturday’s D-II final against No. 3 Windham.

Gilford senior Brooke Beaudet got her team started on the right foot as she served for 14 straight points in the first game, a stretch that included three aces. She also got plenty of help from junior Maggie McNeil, who had five of her 11 kills in the first game.

“We looked like a finely-oiled machine,” Forge said, “and everything was going our way.”

When these two met in the regular season, a 3-1 Gilford win on Oct. 16, the Clippers found some offensive success with their tip game. They were trying the same thing on Wednesday during the first game, but the Eagles had prepared for the tips and were shutting them down.

Gilford had also practiced for the big hits from Gravelle and Lamond, but that preparation didn’t work as well as the tip prep. Lamond went 21-for-22 on kills in the second game as Portsmouth completely turned around momentum and evened the match with the tight, two-point win.

“(Lamond) lit the court up,” Forge said. “Winning that second game was really crucial for Portsmouth. They got into a nice flow and they attacked us. The second game was the critical one, I felt.”

The next two games were more of the same as the Clippers kept feeding their big middle hitters and punched their ticket to the championship game.

Beaudet finished with nine kills and 18 digs and Forge said, “her defense was unbelievable, she was a phenom.” The coach also proclaimed that McNeil, “played the best game of her career,” after totaling 11 kills and 12 digs. The Eagles also got productive nights from Karly Sanborn (25 assists, 11 digs, block, kill), Kasey Moore (19 digs), Lexi Boisvert (eight kills, seven digs) and Bailey Hildreth (nine digs).

About half of the team was still without power on Wednesday after the storm that hit the region on Sunday. But the players didn’t even think about using that as an excuse, which makes perfect sense given the grinding, blue-collar attitude of this team.

“Everybody works really hard. We practice three hours a day and no one complains,” Forge said. “We also do a lot of community service and team-bonding stuff, and they all agreed that if we had short-changed any of that, we never would have made the final four.”

This was the 24th straight year the Golden Eagles have reached the semifinals, so it’s hard to say this team exceeded expectations. But there’s no doubt these Eagles had to work for everything they got.

“After the seedings came out and we were number one, I said to the players, if I had told you in the preseason that you were going to finish 14-2 and be the number one seed, would you have believed me? And all of them resoundingly said no,” Forge said. “So what they have done from preseason through the tournament is they have elevated their game tremendously. Every single player has improved, huge. Leaps and bounds. Every single one of them.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)