BANGOR, Maine — There are no high school varsity volleyball programs in the immediate Bangor area, but the Queen City will become Maine’s epicenter of the sport Saturday when state championship matches in Classes A and B are held at Husson University.
The doubleheader begins at 5 p.m. with the Class B final between top-ranked Washington Academy of East Machias (13-2) and third-seeded Calais (11-5), followed at 7 p.m. by the Class A match between No. 1 Biddeford (16-0) and No. 2 Greely of Cumberland Center (14-2).
This marks the first time since Maine’s volleyball world expanded from one to two classes in 2009 that both state finals have been staged at a single location, rather than at locales convenient for the participating schools involved.
And while that may mean more travel for the participating teams, those involved see a bigger picture in that sacrifice that ultimately may help all 23 schools statewide that field varsity volleyball programs.
“We have been hoping for this for years,” said Washington Academy coach Christine Davis. “In order for us to continue to grow this great sport, we need to get people in the gym to see it. Having the Class A and B finals together should provide a great atmosphere for the sport and give people a chance to see what an exciting game it is.”
Twenty-sixth year Calais coach Steve McGinley, who has guided the Blue Devils since the days when only the Downeast Athletic Conference sponsored volleyball in Maine and more recently since the sport was first sanctioned by the Maine Principals’ Association in 1997, agrees.
“Doing this gives volleyball more exposure, I think it’s a great thing,” he said, “and with having it at Husson University, hopefully we’ll get some bigger crowds.”
Washington Academy and Calais have experienced state championship success at each other’s expense in recent years, with Calais edging WA three sets to two in the inaugural Class B final in 2009 and the Raiders gaining revenge a year later with a 3-0 victory over the Blue Devils in the title match.
Each team was ousted in the semifinals a year ago but had high hopes this fall.
“We practiced this year with the expectation that we would make it to the final,” Davis said. “We came so close last year, and last year the girls weren’t quite sure of themselves for much of the year but by the end of the season they felt they could do better.”
Washington Academy got off to a sluggish start as Davis missed two weeks due to personal reasons, and then the team had to regroup upon her return to the sideline.
Despite a regular-season schedule that included two victories over Calais and no losses to Class B competition, it wasn’t until the Raiders’ 3-0 semifinal victory over No. 5 Machias on Wednesday that they felt fully comfortable with their level of play.
“We played with a lot of energy, and the girls said afterward that’s what’s been missing the whole time,” Davis said. “We’ve struggled here and there this year, but they’ve stuck with it and shown how determined they are.”
Washington Academy is led by senior libero Kara Graham, whom Davis describes as one of the state’s top defensive players.
“She always seems to know where the ball is going, and she’s got a good sense of the overall game,” Davis said. “She’s also an offensive threat who can attack from the back row.
“A lot of times when she’s on, the team is on.”
Senior outside hitter Secily Schmauderer and junior middle hitter Kassidy Seeley are other key performers for the Raiders.
For Calais, whose only two Class B losses have come against its Washington County rival, it’s been a season of steady growth.
“We thought we were capable of getting where we are as long as we continued to improve,” McGinley said.
The Blue Devils are led by senior middle hitter Phyllis Sabattis.
“She has an all-around good skill set — I could play her anywhere, really,” McGinley said. “She’s one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached and one of the best kids I’ve ever coached.”
Other top threats for the Blue Devils include seniors Caela Fenderson and Bridget Hunnewell, junior Jasmine Ross and sophomore Kaylee Johnson.
In the Class A match, defending state champion Greely will be seeking its ninth title in the last 10 years but will be the underdog against undefeated Biddeford, which defeated the Rangers twice during the regular season.
Biddeford, the only other school to win a Class A state championship (2010) during Greely’s current run, topped the Rangers 3-1 at home on Sept. 4 and 3-0 at Cumberland Center 10 days later.
Biddeford, which defeated No. 8 Cape Elizabeth 3-0 in the quarterfinals and No. 5 Gorham 3-0 in the semifinals, has won 48 of the 51 sets it has played this season.
Greely defeated No. 7 Falmouth 3-1 in its quarterfinal and scored a 3-2 semifinal victory over No. 6 Scarborough in a rematch of their 2011 state championship match.
Greely has a 43-12 record in individual sets this season.