SOUTH PORTLAND—The Eagles succumbed to the Riots in straight sets on Saturday morning, Oct. 7. Windham played without much fire in the first set and suffered too many service errors in the third – but they found their mojo in the second, holding the lead for a long stretch despite falling in the end.
“I don’t think the match should’ve ended up the way that it did,” said Windham head coach Chris Cloutier. “I thought it would’ve been a little bit tighter – at least a five-set match. I think, skill-wise, we would compete with [South Portland] any day, as long as were there mentally. And that’s kind of been our challenge all season; we’ve kind of been on a bit of a mental rollercoaster.”
The first set went against the Eagles from the get-go; South Portland jumped out to an early, 13-5 lead, after which Windham battled ferociously back to tie things up at 15-15. The Riots picked up steam again after that however, moving to 19-15 and 21-16 before winning at 25-17.
“Our energy in the first [set] was pretty low,” Cloutier said. “We weren’t quite ready to come out and start playing, it seemed like. Takes a little a bit. Saturday matches, they’re wonderful; you never get what you want on a Saturday, seems like.”
The second set proved much tighter than the first. The Eagles grabbed a small advantage to begin things, establishing the tone at 3-1, then chugging along to 5-2, 7-4 and 8-5. South Portland then balanced the scoreboard at 9-9, after which the action see-sawed back and forth, the teams achieving ties at 12-12, 13-13, 14-14, 15-15 and 16-16. They met again at 18-18, but then the Eagles appeared to seize the momentum, hashing the next three points. The Riots, however, recovered to 21-21 and 23-23 before winning on two consecutive tallies.
“We got few more of our serves over, played with a little bit more energy, and we were right there with them,” Cloutier said of the second set.
Windham might’ve found some vim for the second set, but South Portland rested on their laurels – and it nearly cost them. “We went back to our starters in the second game, and I think we just lost our fire,” head coach Nicole Kane said, “which has been one of our issues all season. We play hard on the tight matches, but when it’s a big difference, we tend to step back. We need to find a way to stay aggressive no matter what the score is. Luckily, once it got close, they were able to fight and they got that win.”
The third set looked more like the first than the second: South Portland rolled to a 6-3 lead, then a 12-6 lead. Again Windham scrapped and gained ground, coming within one at 15-14 before watching their hosts dash out front yet again. The Riots built to 20-15, 24-16 and, finally, 25-19.
“Definitely in the third set, we had our serving woes,” Cloutier said. “It’s halfway through the [set] and we already had six serving errors; that’s certainly not going to get it done for you. You can’t win a match when you get the ball back and you’re giving them the ball back right after that. All it takes is running a couple points together for [South Portland] and you get the 14-7 lead.”
South Portland advanced to 7-5 on the result. The Riots, ranked sixth at present, travel to Thornton (seventh at 6-5) on Tuesday the 10th, then close their schedule hosting Scarborough (No. 3 at 9-2) a week later.
Windham, meanwhile, slips to 4-8. The Eagles sit in 10th currently – one slot back from playoffs contention. If they hope to overtake No. 9 Bonny Eagle and earn a tournament berth, they’ll need to win one or both of their remaining contests. Those, however, will both prove towering challenges: Windham welcomes Cape Elizabeth (No. 1 in B South) on the 10th and travels to Yarmouth (No. 2 in B South) two days afterward.
“It’s tough,” Cloutier said. “We’ve got a young team: We’ve got four starting sophomores, starting freshman, a junior and a senior. It’s hopeful for the next couple years – we should come out pretty strong with some players that have some floor experience and are ready to play. But it takes a little bit of time to get that mental game there, especially at the high school level when you’re playing a team with four or five seniors on their starting roster who’ve been doing it already for three or four years. They play for a little bit of a different reason, too; when you’re a senior, you’re playing for, ‘This is it.’ This is your last year.”
Cloutier took a moment to verbally pat one of his girls on the back, despite the team’s loss: “Kaitlyn Gedicks had a couple of good swings in there,” he said.
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Danielle Hall lofts a ball up for the Eagles.
At the net for Windham, Morgan Proulx smashes return.
Megan Fleck saw a lot of solid court time for the Eagles on Saturday.
Lydia Budroe gets underneath a ball for the Eagles.
Samantha Gosselin takes a touch for Windham.
Sierra Guite works the net.