OAKLAND — Elise McDonald acknowledged she wasn’t quite sure what this volleyball season would resemble. After all, the Messalonskee senior captain said, the team graduated nine players and entered this season with new coaches.

“I really wasn’t expecting anything coming into the season,” she said. “So, it’s really amazing to be having the season that we’re having, considering the circumstances.”

Indeed, the Eagles (9-0) have been dominant. Not only have the Eagles won every match entering play Wednesday, they’ve yet to drop a set.

Not bad for a program that fielded its first varsity team in 2021.

“(The season) has been really amazing,” said senior outside hitter and captain Keira Goldsmith. “We know that we can (win) and we know that we’re all there. But this season, we’ve been able to all come together as a team. And to see us move in unison, it’s just amazing.”

Added senior libero and captain Kaitlyn Burbank: “We’re riding on a high. We’ve been building up to this, and it just seems we have everything we need to be successful.”


Messalonskee finished 12-3 last season and reached the Class B quarterfinals.

The program has taken another giant step forward, with victories over Gardiner and Class A program Brunswick/Mt. Ararat/Morse this fall.

The Eagles, led by their seniors, have produced on the court this season. Middle blocker Kristina Parker leads the team with 38 blocks. McDonald leads the squad with 60 aces and 135 assists. Outside hitter Kyra Cummings has 60 kills, while Burbank has 101 digs.

Messalonskee’s Elise McDonald sets the ball during a Sept. 27 match against Cony in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

“It’s super exciting to see the way they play together,” said Messalonskee first-year coach Dan Juilli said. “It just feels like it’s a family with them. They love winning… We just love to have fun. That’s the way I run the program; we just love to have fun.”

Players credit a lot of their success to their work in the offseason. Some players competed in club volleyball, which meant driving as far as Saco to compete.

“Club is huge, a lot of us play club,” McDonald said. “Actually, a lot of us play against one another in club; we all don’t play for the same team. Club does a lot to improve everybody in the offseason. Our libero played club, and she got a lot better. Both of our middles played club and improved a ton. It helps make our entire team better when we have girls play in the offseason. It helps prepare us for the regular season.”


“We were confident with how we improved in the offseason,” Goldsmith added. “We kind of new we’d be a better team. I think a goal for us this season was to beat Gardiner, which we did. From there, that was a confidence booster, because that was so much different than last year.”

The Eagles have also received a boost on the sidelines from Juilli, who previously coached at Brewer before taking over the program this fall.

“He’s brought a lot of energy, and that’s something that we’ve lacked in the past couple of years,” McDonald said. “We’ve had a lot of work on technique and form-specific things. But we’ve kind of lacked that energy and strong enthusiasm that he brings. That helps bring us together as a team more, even if we’re not playing very well.”

Messalonskee’s Elise McDonald, left, defends the net against Cony’s Olivia Olson during a Sept. 27 volleyball match in Oakland. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel

Juilli said he challenged his team to match his energy.

“When we had our first athlete meeting, I told the girls, ‘you have to match my energy if we’re going to be successful,'” he said. “The energy brings the girls together. And they have, they’ve matched my energy. I’m excited on the sidelines. Maybe some people take it as bad sportsmanship, but that’s how I coach. That’s how I coach track (at Brewer). I’m the loudest person in the room, the fieldhouse or the track. I’ve got that loud voice. And I won’t let them get down on themselves.”

It remains to be seen how Messalonskee would fare against strong teams from southern Maine, including Kennebunk, Falmouth or defending Class B champion Yarmouth, traditionally the powerhouses of the conference. Messalonskee won’t see any of those teams until the playoffs. The Eagles will also not meet Class B frontrunner Washington Academy (10-0) during the regular season.

Still, the Eagles say they are ready for the challenges that lie ahead.

“We’re ready (for the playoffs),” Burbank said. “This whole season, we’ve been waiting to play (southern Maine) teams. Obviously, the skill level down south is a little bit harder, because it’s introduced at a younger age and super common down there. It’s hard, because the skill levels are definitely different. But we’re preparing for those harder teams, and we’re very eager to play and fully go out (and win).”

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