The birth of a new streak?

  • Frontier’s Lauren Davenport (2) gets a kill over Notre Dame blocker Emily Richard (17) in the third set of Wednesday’s MIAA Division III State semifinal match against Notre Dame. The Red Hawks earned a 3-0 win to move to today’s State finals, where they will take on Bourne at 2 p.m. at Worcester State University. Right, Ashley Telega tips the ball over the net for a point against Notre Dame. RECORDER fiel photos/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier's Sarah Zoly (12) serves against Notre Dame in the first set on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 in Fitchburg. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier's Ashley Telega (8) sends a backset over the net while Ella Deane (20) looks on in the second set against Notre Dame on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 in Fitchburg. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Above, Frontier middle hitter Ashley Telega (8) hits the ball past Notre Dame blockers Dennise Annan (29) and Kate Scarano (30) in the third set of Wednesday’s 3-0 semifinal win at Fitchburg High School. The Red Hawks make their eighth consecutive trip to the state finals today at 2 p.m. at Worcester State University to face South sectional champion Bourne, where they look to put last year’s finals loss behind them. Below, outside hitter Selayna Bathurst goes up for a hit against Notre Dame. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier's Ashley Telega (8) tips the ball over the net in the second set against Notre Dame on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 in Fitchburg. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier's Selayna Bathurst (14) serves against Notre Dame in the second set on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 in Fitchburg. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier celebrates their 3-0 win over Notre Dame on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2017 in Fitchburg. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Friday, November 17, 2017

Perhaps it’s fitting that this year’s Frontier Regional School girls’ volleyball team is facing Bourne High School in the MIAA State Division III finals.

The Red Hawks have their sights set on starting a new state championship run this fall after their string of six straight state titles came to an end last year. Call it a rebirth, if you will. A streak possibly being born again?

Frontier (16-6) will get a chance for the ninth state title in program history today at 2 p.m. at Worcester State University when it takes on South sectional champion Bourne (25-2) in the first-ever meeting between the programs.

Frontier returns to the finals for the eighth straight season following three wins in the WMass tournament, each by a 3-0 score. The WMass championship win came against a Lee High School team that had beaten Frontier in five sets two weeks prior. After knocking off the Wildcats for their 13th consecutive WMass crown, the Red Hawks then dispatched Notre Dame Academy (Tyngsborough) in straight sets to earn its return trip to the finals. It is also a chance for last year’s team to earn a state title of its own.

Last year’s Frontier roster did not feature a single senior, and other than a couple of players leaving the team as transfers, and one other bench player not coming back out, this year’s Red Hawks look very similar to the team that walked off the court last fall following a 3-0 loss to Case High School in the state finals. That marked the seventh straight year the Hawks had made the finals, but was the first time in that run that the team had failed to cash in on the trip, and dropped the Red Hawks to 8-2 all-time in state championship matches (they have also lost twice in the state semifinals during their current run of 13 consecutive WMass championships).

Frontier coach Sean MacDonald was far from upset to see the streak come to an end. Last year’s squad was totally made over from the 2015 state titlists, who were made up mostly of seniors. And with a lineup of not only newcomers, but young newcomers (remember, no seniors?), winning western Mass. and then making it back to the state finals seemed like an incredible season.

“I think losing in the state finals last year, that was a big accomplishment to even be playing on that day,” MacDonald explained. “It hurts when you are there and you lose, but Case was just better, and we knew it. A few hours after the match, it was starting to sink in that we had a really, really good season. Now, everyone has a little more experience, is a little more mature. Last year, I think we wanted to win western Mass. and after that everything was sort of gravy. This year, our goal was to be playing (today).”

Frontier senior setter Ella Deane joined her coach and teammates at the state volleyball luncheon on Thursday, which is held for each of the six teams in the state that are appearing in the finals in Divisions I through III. Each team was asked to say a few words and MacDonald felt Deane exemplified what it felt like to have the pressure of that streak on the team last season.

“She said that people will say, ‘Oh, Frontier is back in the state finals again,’ but that’s not how it felt to her and her teammates, because to them, it was their first time in the state finals. And for them to get there last year was really remarkable given the turnover from the season before.”

Deane also pointed out that of the five other teams at Thursday’s luncheon, Frontier had played three of them this season in Division I state finalist Hopkinton High School, as well as both Division II finalists, Westborough High School and Melrose High School. The Red Hawks lost all three of those matches.

“Those experiences and playing against those caliber of teams is what prepares you,” Deane said.

MacDonald said that no matter how his team does today, he is proud of what they have accomplished.

“We had some tough stretches, including losing the final four matches going into postseason,” the coach said. “But I’m really proud of this team and if we play right, we are going to have a chance. It’s not going to be easy by any stretch, but we are going to have a chance.”

Frontier will need all the preparation it can get against a Bourne team that is returning to glory this season. Bourne won a Division II state title in 2000, and won Division III state titles in 2002 and 2004, before moving back to Division II, where it finished as state runner-up in 2006, 2007, and 2009. That was the last time the team made the state finals before this fall.

It’s no surprise that Bourne is in this position. The Canalwomen, who wear purple and white, went 20-2 in the regular season and earned the top seed in the South. Bourne won each of its first three tournament matches by a 3-0 score, and then took on defending state champion Case in the South finals, where Bourne won 3-1. The Canalwomen then knocked off Central champion Hopedale, 3-1, in the state semifinals on Wednesday, setting up today’s showdown.

Bourne has a solid all-around lineup according to MacDonald, including three All-State honorees. One player to keep an eye on is opposite hitter Emma Fenton, who stands at 6-foot-3. MacDonald said that Bourne likes to set her up frequently for kills, something you don’t see many teams do on the right side of the court.

“They are going to be doing quite a bit of right-side attacking, more than what you usually see in high school,” he said.

He also said that at 6-3, Fenton’s presence at the net on defense is also something his team will have to deal with.

Fenton is joined on the All-State team by teammates Leah Hidenfelter (libero) and Aly Hickey (setter), who are also the only two seniors on the squad.

“I think the libero is very good and she is going to dig a lot of balls and pass well,” MacDonald said. “The setter distributes the ball a lot all over.”

Mattison Stuck and Kameryn McAnaugh are the outside hitters, while Charlotte Orth and Caitlin O’Connor are the middle hitters. Sara Sullivan comes in for Fenton in the back row and her and Orth have very good serves.

MacDonald said that in order to counteract what Bourne does well, his team will need to be strong at the service line, where his players will be able to be at their best, defensively, against the dangerous Bourne attack.

“People think serving is an offensive skill, but it’s defensive,” MacDonald explained. “Once the ball leaves the servers hands, you are on defense. We want to serve the ball so that they don’t have all their options to attack us. We don’t want their setter to get the ball up at the net. We can try to serve away from certain people, or at certain people. And after that, we’ve got to play good defense.”

Frontier’s starting rotation will feature Deane as the setter, and Lauren Davenport and Selayna Bathurst as outside hitters. Both Deane and Davenport are also All-State honorees. Ashley Telega and Grace Randall are the middle hitters, Hailey Orloski is the opposite hitter, and Brianna Thurber is the libero. Many of the same faces that were on hand last season.

“Besides volleyball skills, they have the confidence and maturity to know how to handle adversity,” MacDonald said. “They can draw upon last year when they were young and inexperienced and not one of them had a lot of playing time in big games because of all the seniors from the year before. We’ve won a number of close matches and they know that unless the match is over, we’re not out of it.”

If they are able to put it all together, then this group of girls will be able to put the memory of last season behind them. On second thought, last year is all part of where they are now, which is one win away from starting a new state title winning streak.

“I think they would like to write their own chapter in the story of Frontier volleyball history,” MacDonald concluded.