Hawks roll to title, 3-0
HOLYOKE — This may not be the most talented team Frontier Regional School has ever assembled, but make no mistake about it — this team was determined to add another Western Massachusetts championship to the trophy case.
The top-seeded Red Hawks didn’t take anything for granted against Athol High School, as they used another solid serving performance and stellar defense to defeat the third-seeded Red Raiders, 25-13, 25-8, 25-16, and captured their ninth consecutive Western Massachusetts Division III Girls’ Volleyball Tournament championship on Saturday afternoon at the David M. Bartley Center.
Frontier (18-4) moves on to the state semifinals against Central Mass. champion Sutton High School on Wednesday night at 7 at Hudson High School.
The Red Hawks knew they would need to play extremely well on defense to win. They did just that, limiting a tough Athol offense to just nine kills for the entire match. On the flip side, Frontier’s serving was both consistent and difficult to defend, as it recorded 16 more aces on Saturday.
Senior co-captain Sarah Woodward said it’s all part of the game plan.
“Frontier used to be known for its serving a few years ago, and that’s what people would zone in on,” she said. “If we wanted to get to states, serving — and serving aggressively — was going to be a big part of it. We don’t care if we hit more balls out when we’re serving, but we want to serve more aggressively because we’re going to get more aces that way. It’s worked out pretty well so far.”
Added head coach Sean MacDonald: “Serving is your first line of defense, and I think it’s certainly working for us. If we can keep up the aggressive serving to the right spots on the court, I feel good about our chances moving forward.”
Athol (20-2) showed it wasn’t intimidated in the opening set, staying with the Red Hawks point for point, but the Red Raiders were never able to get a lead in the set. With the score 10-6, Woodward and senior libero Haley Dacyczyn each served for three points during a 9-3 run that extended Frontier’s lead to 19-9, and the Raiders never got closer than eight (21-13) before Emily Woodward (23 assists, three kills, three aces) served for the final three points.
“Athol has a great team,” said Sarah Woodward, who finished with nine kills, six digs and one ace. “We didn’t want to underestimate them at all. When they started receiving our serves and our hits, it opened our eyes.”
Frontier took complete control of the match in the middle set, behind a five-point run from Cassidy Ciesluk (including three aces) and a six-pointer from Emily Woodward (two aces) to build a commanding 18-4 lead. Sarah Woodward had three kills, Remi Quesnelle added a pair and Sarah Conlisk (five kills, four aces) had two nicely-timed tips into the open floor during the scoring run.
Sarah Woodward’s four service points later made it 22-5, then Athol fought back for a few points before Frontier got the final point to go up 2-0.
The Red Hawks tried to pull away in the third set, but a stubborn Raiders squad led by Tessa Neverett (five kills, 14 digs), Lexi Hamlett (eight assists) and Krystal Campbell (eight digs) kept the score close and had it as close as three (17-14). Conlisk’s tip got the serve back at 18-14 and Ciesluk fired up four straight points to make to 22-14.
A few minutes later, Sarah Woodward ended the match with a blast down the line. She later admitted that the graduation losses from last year — which included three all-state selections — and reaction from others fueled this team’s fire.
“I think that people doubting us [because we lost so many good players] was what pushed us so hard, because we know the talent we have,” she said. “Now that we’ve won and gotten back to states, we want it so much more.
“The weird thing is we usually come in a little nervous, but (today) we had so much energy and it was such a different atmosphere with this team. It was kind of cool,” she added.
Athol head coach Bernie Merron said she was pleased with how far her team had come in a fairly short amount of time.
“I never thought we’d win as many games as we did. It’s quite an accomplishment, and it’s been quite a ride for us to get to this point. I knew we could get here with the team I had and the hard work they’ve put in. I’m very pleased with how everything’s turned out.
“It would have been nice to win, but they’re a very difficult team to beat,” added Merron. “We have a lot of offseason work to do, and if the girls stay interested in this game, I think we should have some successful seasons ahead of us.”
The Red Raiders’ ascent to the championship match drew plenty of respect from MacDonald, an Orange resident who has seen Athol play on several occasions during the season.
“Athol has gone through so much, with the loss of their former player and Lexi getting hurt, playing (Frontier) was not real high on the list of things that could rattle them,” he said. “They’ve had a great season. It’s really nice to see them, after being down for so long, to come all the way back and make it to the finals.”
Notes: Neverett sang the National Anthem and did a fabulous job. ... Frontier is now 31-2 in the WMass tournament all-time under MacDonald, and has won 28 straight. ... Sutton beat Blackstone Valley Technical High School, 3-1, to advance to the states. ... Frontier actually scored 26 points in the first set. At 4-4, Frontier scored a point, but the scoreboard wasn’t changed. When alerted, an official checked the official scoring, and stayed with the wrong score. It’s not a first for a scoring mistake in the postseason — it happened in the 1996 Division III state basketball title game between Pioneer and Winchester in Worcester. Winchester was credited with a free throw it didn’t make, and the official book recorded it as a made free throw. Both teams’ books recorded it as a miss, but MIAA officials never made the change. ... In the nightcap, Longmeadow won its seventh straight Division II title with a 25-22, 25-15, 25-22 win over Chicopee Comp. ... Sarah Woodward, on the rapid improvement of her sophomore sister Emily as the team’s top setter: “She’s so good, she’s such a natural athlete. It’s going to be scary to see her as a senior. ... I take credit for her, I got her started in fifth grade.”