Messalonskee’s Lily Mitchell (3) and Sofia Derosby (11) defend at the net against Yarmouth’s Ella Cameron during the second set of a Class B semifinal volleyball match Oct. 25 at Yarmouth High School. Mike Mandell/Morning Sentinel

The 2023 central Maine volleyball season saw a new team take over as the top squad in the area, while a brand new team found success in its inaugural varsity year.

Messalonskee, which began as a varsity program in 2021, had its strongest season, going 15-1, with its lone loss coming in the Class B semifinals at the hands of Yarmouth, which went on to win its fifth consecutive state title.

That loss didn’t come without a fight. The Clippers managed to escape with a 3-2 win.

“They wanted it, and they refused to quit,” Messalonskee head coach Dan Juilli said of his team after the game. “This group is going to go down in the record books for what they did here, and tonight, they played their best volleyball of the season. There were just a few bounces that didn’t go our way.”

What Messalonskee did during the regular season was nothing short of extraordinary. The Eagles went a perfect 14-0, not losing a single set. In fact, the Eagles had no struggles until the Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference championship, when they had to fight back from a 1-0 deficit to Gardiner. Messalonskee went on to win by a 3-1 score.

“This is huge,” Messalonskee senior Elise McDonald said after the win. “It just shows all the hard work we’ve done this season and we’re starting to see tangible results. It’s just amazing.”


McDonald, who was named the KVAC player of the year, was the leader in the trenches all season for Messalonskee. She led the team in service aces (78), assists (298) and hitting percentage (.641). She was far from the lone contributor. Fellow senior Kyra Cummings was a scoring force, totaling 95 kills for the season. Senior libero Kaitlyn Burbank had 279 digs and 262 receptions. Middle hitter Kristina Parker led the squad in blocks (116) and was second on the team in kills (87). Leading the charge was Juilli, who in his first year at the helm earned KVAC coach of the year honors.

With heavy turnover from its team that reached the Class B final last season, Gardiner still had a successful 2023 campaign. The Tigers finished 9-6, falling to Ellsworth in the Class B quarterfinals.

Gardiner’s Yana Montell returns shot during a Kennebec Valley Athletic Conference semifinal match against Mt. Ararat/Brunswick on Oct. 16 in Augusta. David Leaming photo

“I’m very proud of the girls,” Gardiner head coach Tiffany Ouellette said. “We lost a lot this coming year, so I needed to rebuild my whole roster. Considering that I lost five starters, and all these girls were thrown into new roles, I’m just really proud of a positive, winning season. We were above .500 (for a winning percentage) and I think that’s really awesome, and they finished second in the KVAC. They worked hard, and we knew we’d have a target on our backs this season from doing well the year before. I think that fueled them a little bit as well, too.”

The Tigers were led by senior outside hitter Yana Montell, who earned KVAC first team honors.

“Yana was everything for our team this year, she literally took this team and put it on her back,” Ouellette said. “She’s just such a leader, too, just a born, natural leader. I would have so many people from other schools, or other coaches, comment about her. Not necessarily her playing, but just her fire. You can tell that she’s just a leader when she’s out there and I think the girls learned a lot from her this year, not just by her playing, but by her leadership skills. I’m just so grateful. I know it was probably hard for her to lose her whole team (from 2022). But I can’t praise her enough for how she handled this season. She never complained. She was just happy and positive and wants to see the program grow.

Juniors Danica Martin and Cam Chadbourne proved to be key pieces during the season for the Tigers.


With a young roster, Cony went 3-11 and missed out on the playoffs. But head coach Lindsey Morin was happy with the team’s progress throughout the season. Addison Lebel proved to be a standout for the Rams and earned KVAC second team honors. She was Cony’s leading scorer and provided support in multiple areas.

The Cony Rams celebrate a point against Gardiner during a Sept. 5 volleyball match in Gardiner. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I think we started the season knowing some components and some players abilities,” Morin said. “Part of the way through the season, we changed things up and moved people around to different places. We moved Addie Lebel from the middle to the outside. As we did that, girls at first may have been unsure, but then they found their groove and started communicating and understanding their roles better and having confidence in what they’re doing. There’s more to build on, but we saw that their serves were getting more consistent and harder and they were communicating better and figuring out where they needed to be. I think, as the season progressed, it got better.”

Like Cony, Nokomis also had its struggles, playing to a 2-12 record and missing out on the Class B playoffs. Junior Jayden Hood was a bright spot for the Warriors and earned KVAC second team honors. Nokomis will also have most of its roster back next season, as the team graduates just three seniors.

Maranacook opened varsity play this fall in fine fashion, making an appearance in the Class C playoffs. The Black Bears finished 7-8, falling to No. 2 Calais in the quarterfinal round.

“I’m very proud of the girls,” Maranacook head coach Robyn Graziano said. “It was pretty awesome, the girls were very thrilled throughout the year.

“I’m a little nervous,” Graziano continued, speaking of the potential numbers that could come next year after this season’s performance. “We’re most likely going to have to do tryouts if we get more girls who register in the fall. That will be difficult, we’ll have to establish what we want to see from our athletes. I think it will change the type of athlete that winds up playing. This year, a lot of the girls who played club last year stayed with us, and hopefully they stay with us and try out (next year), because they have a good chance of playing again… We’ll have a good group of girls that comes back next year.”

Jada Deah, Ava Candage and Layton Moulton were among standouts for the Black Bears during the season.

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