Gilford's 13th volleyball title a memorable one
DERRY - Looking to avenge its early-season shutout at the hands of St. Thomas of Dover and earn its second consecutive Division II championship, the Gilford girls' volleyball team came out firing and took care of business, beating the Saints 3-0 in sets of 25-9, 27-25 and 25-20 at Pinkerton Academy Saturday night.
"We played phenomenal tonight," said Golden Eagles head coach Joan Forge. "We were just on every aspect of our game; serving, serve-receive, passing and hitting. I've never seen a Gilford team so on in a state championship match."
The Golden Eagles (19-1) picked up their 13th volleyball title in school history thanks to solid and athletic team play across the board. Charleyne Panner had 35 assists, two kills, and 14 digs, Kelly Gallant and Danica Gelotte had 16 and 15 digs, respectively, and junior Kira Crites registered 13 kills.
It was 5-foot-10 sophomore middle hitter Jessa Crites who stood out more than any other player on the court, though, after making adjustments from a Sept. 7 loss to St. Thomas. That day, Gilford suffered a 3-0 loss at the hands of the Saints (19-1), prompting changes, including a position switch for the younger Crites.
'I don't like to lose. Gilford doesn't like to lose. So when we did, the first thing I said to the team was, 'We can improve a little bit as we go along, but we'll never catch them, or we have to make some adjustments, some changes, and we have to practice longer and harder' and they were all in," said Forge. "We moved Jessa Crites to the middle and it made a big difference. She was an outside hitter when we faced them the first time, so moving her to the middle didn't let their libero get to every ball Jessa hit, which happened last time."
A dominant 17-kill, three-block, seven-dig performance from the lanky sophomore.
St. Thomas nearly came back to win the second set, taking a 22-19 lead after trailing 19-14, but eventually lost. Situational play like that is what Forge says led to her team performing at such a high level when it counted most.
"It's the perseverance and the composure and I really truly believe it's our mental prep," she said. "We spent a lot of time on our mental preparation during the tournament and we put the girls in scenarios of down by two, up by two, game three, whatever. It's like they've been there before they even take the court, so it's just a matter of 'OK, we just need to be steady, we need to do our job', and they keep plugging away point by point, knowing it all makes a difference."
The Eagles' preparation showed that they were ready to compete with the same team that embarrassed them in just the third game of the season.
"We kept our composure," she said. "Even when we won game two, you didn't see the kids jumping around. We're not going to get excited until match point and that's really important because the game is a game of momentum and it can change on a dime. Why bother getting really excited or why bother getting really low? We just try to stay steady and not really look at the score."
For St. Thomas, a second consecutive championship loss, this time coming in as the top seed with an undefeated record, is discouraging, but head coach Kristie Holtz knows that there's a lot to take away from a stellar season.
"It didn't end the way we wanted it to, but we had an amazing season and there's a lot to be proud of," said Holtz. "I think (Gilford) was a lot stronger defensively than the last time we saw them and they played a good, clean game with few errors, but we hung in there and we definitely didn't want to give up."
Cecelia Chrisom had four kills, 48 assists, one ace, and 18 digs for the Saints. Teammates Regina Mastrobattista had three kills, 28 assists, and 17 digs, and Maria Chrisom had 14 digs.