ELLSWORTH — This is the season the George Stevens Academy volleyball team has been waiting for.
For a few years now, GSA has been developing its young volleyball program with the goal of building one of the state’s premier small-school teams. After a 13-3 season in 2019 and an undefeated winter/spring intersession season earlier this year, it’s safe to say the Eagles have achieved just that.
“We’ve been working to get better and better over the past few years, and now we’re to the point where we’re in a good spot,” GSA senior Evelyn Dagan said. “A state championship is always the goal, and now that this team has tasted what that’s like, we want it just as bad this year if not even more.”
Stacked with much of the talent that spurred the aforementioned teams to success, GSA certainly does have Gold Ball dreams this fall — and as the Eagles showed in their latest match, this squad possesses the maturity and skill to win even when things don’t go as planned.
GSA claimed a four-set victory over Ellsworth in Tuesday’s match at Ellsworth High School. The visitors overcame a 25-20 loss in the first set by claiming a 25-22 win in the second set, breezing to a 25-12 victory in the third and closing out the match with a 25-18 win in the fourth.
After GSA (2-0) scored the first three points in the opened set, Ellsworth roared back with seven of the next eight points to take a 7-4 lead. GSA responded with a 7-0 run to regain the lead, but the home team would go on the set’s final run as it outscored the visitors 18-9 down the stretch to notch a five-point win.
The two teams battled point for point in the second set before a brief run gave GSA an 11-7 edge. Yet after Ellsworth head coach Jamie Calandro called a timeout to regroup, the home team scored six of the next seven points to pull ahead 13-12 midway
through the set.
With Ellsworth leading 21-20 late in the second set, GSA scored five of the next six points to even the match at one game apiece. The visitors carried that momentum into the third set as they led by double digits throughout en route to a 13-point win.
“You could 100 percent feel [in that third set] that the momentum had totally shifted,” Dagan said. “We talk before every point to make sure everyone is one the same page with the game plan, and we knew what we had to do and how to do it. We knew what our plan had to be going into the fourth.”
Although GSA was not quite as dominant early in the fourth set, the team hit its stride as the frame unfolded. With the two teams tied at 10, the visitors bookended five straight Ellsworth points with runs of 9-2 and 6-1 to close out the match and stretch their win streak 13 games dating to back to the start of the March/April season.
“Ellsworth is a really good team, and we haven’t seen a lot of teams as strong as them yet, so I think we got a little frazzled early on,” GSA head coach Aleta Schmidt said. “[The girls] slowed it down and did the things they know how to do and do every day in practice, and they were able to take control back.”
Dagan recorded five kills, two aces, 28 assists, one solo block and two assisted blocks for GSA, and Sophia Biggie-Jennings added six kills, five aces, three digs and two assisted blocks. GSA also got two kills, nine aces and two digs from Regan Libby, five kills and three digs from Frances Spangler and three kills, four aces and two digs from Hailey Vogell.
GSA is less than five months removed from going 11-0 and winning the Penobscot Valley Conference Small-School title. Only one player, Sophie Peasley, is missing from that team, and the Eagles are one of the clear favorites in Class C along with Washington Academy.
“We’re coming back with basically that same championship team, minus our libero,” Schmidt said. “We also have a lot of girls who played JV last year that we felt were ready to move up to varsity, so we’ve still got same group of girls plus four more, which makes us really strong.”
GSA had opened the season Friday with a three-set win victory over Bucksport in Blue Hill. The Eagles will face Narraguagus (0-1) at 5 p.m. today, Sept. 9, before hosting Mount Desert Island at 5 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 14.
Ellsworth has upcoming road matches at 6 p.m. today against Brewer (1-1), 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 11 against Nokomis and 5:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 13, against Narraguagus. The team will then host Washington Academy at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.