Woodland High School’s ascension to a Class C state volleyball championship began last summer, according to fifth-year head coach Michelle Ripley.
“They came to open gym during the summer, and they all went to Rich Nutter’s volleyball camp,” Ripley said. “That doesn’t typically happen. They all show up for basketball. They showed more dedication for volleyball.”
Ripley speculated the reason they dedicated themselves to volleyball was because they felt a state championship was within their grasp.
“And they were excited to play together,” she said.
Woodland’s state title was its first since 2002, when it notched its third straight Class A state championship.
Ripley returned six girls who started last season, and defending state champion Washington Academy of East Machias had moved up to Class B.
That meant Calais would be the Dragons’ primary challenger. Calais won the first state Class C title in 2017 after winning the B state championship in 2016.
“Washington Academy moving up to B was a huge help, and Calais had an incredible exchange student last year, and she was gone,” Ripley said.
Woodland met Calais in the state final and, even though the Dragons defeated Calais 3-1 and 3-0 in their two regular-season meetings, they dropped the first set 25-19.
“It was nerves,” Ripley said. “Calais had been [in state championship matches] five years in a row, so they weren’t rattled. My kids were absolutely rattled. We made a lot of errors.”
Woodland had not played in a state championship match since losing to Greely of Cumberland Center in 2003.
But led by junior hitter Emily Curtis, the Dragons bounced back to win the second set 25-20 and took the third and fourth sets 25-23 and 25-22.
“Emily is our hardest hitter, but she made some mistakes in the first set and was holding back a little [early] in the second set. But then she started swinging away again,” Ripley said.
Curtis was used strictly in the front row a year ago but played the entire rotation this season and led the team in kills.
Ripley needed a setter to replace the departed Brooke Russell and senior Mackenzie Campbell asked if she could try.
“And we never looked back,” Ripley said
Campbell, the only senior on the roster, led the team in assists.
Junior hitter Emily McArthur paced the team in aces, and junior setter Isabella Moody led in serve percentage, collecting points on 95 to 96 percent of her serves, according to Ripley.
Junior hitter Maya Gallant was another key contributor, playing the entire rotation for her second straight season. Junior Courtney Leighton was the libero, and classmate Emily Erskine was an outside hitter.
Sophomore outside hitter Jayden O’Neill was brought up from the JV team halfway through the season and has potential to be a strong hitter, Ripley said, while junior hitter Katherine Hiland and sophomore hitter Jasmyne Bohanon saw varsity and JV action, and freshman Nicole Cox mostly saw JV service.
The Dragons finished 14-2 with both losses coming to Washington Academy, which earned the second seed in Class B.