By ROGER AMSDEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD — The Gilford High School volleyball team lost its first match of the season to defending champion Windham, 3-2, but went on to post a 14-2 record and emerge as the top seed in the Division II tournament, which got underway Wednesday.
The team's only other loss during the season was 3-2 to Raymond, which also posted a 14-2 record, as did Windham.
Gilford rallied at the end of their season by going on an eight-game win streak and knocking off two of the top teams.
The Golden Eagles had a bye in the first round of the tournament and will host the winner of Wednesday night's Laconia-Oyster River match Saturday at 6 p.m.
Last week Gilford closed out its regular season by beating Kennett 3-0 at home and St. Thomas Aquinas 3-2 in a match played in Dover.
During its final home match last week a brief ceremony was held before play got underway to honor four seniors: manager David Hart, captains Bailey Hildreth, Kasey Moore and Brooke Beaudet.
Friday they beat top-ranked St. Thomas, 3-2.
"We peaked at the right time and finished our season strong with an eight game win streak. During the last week of the regular season we had two big wins against top teams Portsmouth and St. Thomas. We played steady and consistent volleyball at the end and need to bring that into the tournament," said coach Joan Forge.
It took Gilford 53 assists, 57 kills and 111 digs to beat top-seeded St. Thomas in a five set match. Gilford started out strong beating St. Thomas 25-18 in the first set behind Maggie McNeil’s 4 kills and Abby O’Connor’s 2 blocks and the team’s steady defensive play.
St. Thomas answered to win set two. 25-23. Gilford won set three 25-17 to have a 2-1 advantage. The score was tied 13-13 when Naomi Eldridge came to the service line and served six straight to give Gilford a19-13 lead. Eldridge had four ace serves in that stretch for points 14, 15, 18 & 19. “That was huge for us when Naomi came off the bench to serve 4 aces and put us ahead by a large margin.” said Forge. Beaudet had kills for points 20 and 22 and Lexi Boisvert ended the set with a kill for point 25.
St Thomas once again fired back by winning the fourth set 25-23. Beaudet caught fire and put down 7 kills in 11 attempts but it was not enough and sent the match into the fifth set.
This is the third time that Gilford had to play a fifth set to determine the outcome. They lost the two previous five set matches even though they had tied scores at 11-11 against Windham and 13-13 against Milford. Gilford prevailed this time against St. Thomas and won 15-13. Six different players scored points to secure the victory behind Karly Sanborn’s 7 assists. Abby O’Connor kill for point 2, Beaudet kill for point 3, Abby Warren block for point 4, Beaudet kill for point 5, Warren kill for point 7, Boisvert kill for point 9, McNeil kill for point 10, and Beaudet kills for points 14 and 15.
This was a total team effort by going deep into the bench utilizing 12 players throughout the match.
Sanborn had a career high 46 assists just 2 shy of the school record. McNeil had a career high 16 kills and 31 digs and Beaudet had a career high 23 kills in the match plus 18 digs.
Being the top seed in the Division II tournament is not a new experience for the Golden Eagles, who two years ago had an undefeated 20-0 season and took the division championship.
It was the 15th Division II state title for the Golden Eagles under Forge, who has been coaching at Gilford since 1984. Gilford volleyball won nine straight state championships from 1999 to 2007.
A brief ceremony took place prior to the last home march of the season for the Gilford High School volleyball team at which for seniors were honored. Shown at center court with their families are manager David Hart and captains Bailey Hildreth, Kasey Moore and Brooke Beaudet. (Courtesy photo)