Members of the George Stevens Academy volleyball team pose for a photo with their first-place plaque after defeating Woodland in the Penobscot Valley Conference Class C championship match April 12 at Brewer High School. Top-ranked GSA earned wins in the fourth and fifth sets to claim a 3-2 (25-23, 19-25, 17-25, 25-22, 15-12) victory and cap off an 11-0 season. ELLSWORTH AMERICAN PHOTO BY MIKE MANDELL

GSA volleyball team storms back to win PVC Class C title

BREWER — With its back against the wall, the George Stevens Academy volleyball team came up clutch in the season’s final moments.

GSA completed an undefeated 2021 campaign with a five-set (25-23, 19-25, 17-25, 25-22, 15-12) victory over Woodland in Monday’s Penobscot Valley Conference Class C title match at Brewer High School. The Eagles came back from defeats in the second and third sets with fourth- and fifth-set victories, the latter of which saw the team score the final seven points to overcome a four-point deficit.

The two teams fought tooth-and-nail in the first set with neither side leading by more than three points the entire way. Yet top-ranked GSA (11-0) managed to stay a step ahead of Woodland late and claimed the win as the Dragons’ return on the 48th point went long.

No. 3 Woodland, though, struck back with a vengeance in the following two sets. Although GSA scored the first point to begin the second set, the Dragons (10-3) never trailed the rest of the way in either game to claim comfortable wins and move within one set of victory.

“We stopped being aggressive and putting pressure on the ball for a little bit,” GSA head coach Aleta Schmidt said. “Woodland has some really good hitters, so when we did that, it really cost us.”

Woodland pulled ahead early in the second set as it established a 5-3 advantage, but GSA responded with 14 of the next 18 points to claim its largest lead of the night. Although the Dragons pulled back within a point late in the game, the Eagles scored three of the final four to force a tiebreaking fifth set.

That decisive set appeared to be going Woodland’s way in the early going as the Dragons established four-point leads on three separate occasions. Yet after a key kill by GSA’s Hailey Vogell broke Woodland’s serve with the Dragons leading 12-8, Evelyn Dagan delivered six straight service points to give the Eagles a come-from-behind win and the small-school pod championship.

“When Evelyn got up [to serve], you could tell she was going to take advantage of it,” Schmidt said. “She glanced at me and gave me that look that said, ‘I’m going to take this and run away with it.’ She really came through.”

GSA had previously claimed home playoff wins against ninth-ranked Bucksport (1-11) 3-0 (25-8, 25-12, 25-14) in Thursday’s quarterfinals and No. 5 Machias (3-8) 3-0 (25-12, 25-15, 25-21) in Saturday’s semifinals. The Eagles had completed season sweeps of Hancock County foes Ellsworth, Bucksport and Sumner in the regular season and claimed individual wins over Mount Desert Island and Jonesport-Beals.

Although GSA is largely heavy on underclassmen set to return next year, the match was the last for the team’s senior libero, Sophie Peasley. Peasley, whom Schmidt called “the glue of the team,” helped guide the Eagles through the match’s tough moments with her leadership from the back line.

“We kept saying, ‘Do it for Sophie,’” Schmidt said. “We didn’t win a single game her freshman year, so to go out like this is even more special for her. She’s been our MVP all year, and she was our MVP again [in this match]. The girls all wanted to give everything they could so that she could go out on top.”

The rest of the Eagles, though, will be back in the fall for another season. After gradually progressing from a winless season three years ago to an unbeaten season and pod championship, the program has its sights set on the biggest prize.

“It feels so good, and we’re already excited and talking about next season,” Schmidt said. “We really wanted to play for a state championship this year, but we’re going to be ready when we get a chance to do that next year. That’s going to be our goal.”

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell

Mike Mandell is the sports editor at The Ellsworth American and Mount Desert Islander. He began working for The American in August 2016. You can reach him via email at [email protected]

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