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Frontier after 4th straight state title

Red Hawks face Blue Devils today in Div. III championship

Frontier Regional School has a chance to accomplish something no other team in the county has done in any sport — but it will take their best effort to do it.

The Red Hawks will make the familiar trek to Northborough this morning on the verge of history as it will take on Fairhaven High School for the MIAA State Division III Girls’ Volleyball Tournament championship at Algonquin Regional High School.

The match — the first of a championship tripleheader — is scheduled to start at noon.

Seeded second in the South sectional, the Blue Devils (22-1) rolled through four matches without losing a set, and beat traditional powers Ursuline Academy, Archbishop Williams of Braintree and Joseph Case of Swansea in succession to win the South, then they knocked off 2012 finalist Lynnfield High School in three tough sets (25-23, 26-24, 25-20) to reach today’s finale.

Fairhaven is also a bigger school overall — the Blue Devils won the last three Division II South sectional crowns before they dropped to D-III this fall via realignment.

The main issue facing Frontier (19-4), which goes for an unprecedented fourth consecutive state title, isn’t the fact that two-time Gatorade Mass. Player of the Year Cassidy Stankowski is no longer there after leading those three state title teams — it’s trying to slow down an opponent who is a potential Player of the Year finalist, and whose power at the net is comparable to Stankowski.

She’s junior outside hitter Kate Leidhold, who starred on the both offense and defense with 15 kills and 20 digs in Thursday’s win over Lynnfield. Leidhold, who topped 1,000 digs for her career, also registered three aces.

Leidhold is only of only two junior starters for the Blue Devils, who start five seniors. Setter Courtney Girouard, who runs their 5-1 offense, ished out 27 assists in the semifinals, and was also a factor at the service line. Libero Courtney Tavares is an invaluable defensive presence, as she recorded 32 digs against Lynnfield.

As if the presence of Leidhold up front isn’t enough, Frontier will also have to deal with senior middle hitter Mariah Nicholas (nine kills, five blocks vs. Lynnfield), and junior middle blocker Macy Roderick.

Co-captains Mckensie Roderiques and Emma Robidoux are the other front-line weapons, and setter Haleigh Becotte is a solid defender and server.

This Red Hawks team has made tremendous strides and has proven it belongs on the big stage yet again. In Wednesday’s 25-17, 25-12, 25-18 semifinal win over Sutton High School, they fired home 16 more aces and have recorded an eye-popping 79 in four postseason matches.

They may not reach their tournament average against the Blue Devils, but Frontier’s ability to place the ball in spots and force opponents out of attacking has proven quite effective. On several occasions Wednesday, Sutton had trouble getting the ball back over the net and couldn’t get many easy points from their front-line players, giving the Red Hawks the upper hand throughout the match.

The onus will fall on Tavares and Girouard to receive serves with regular success in order for Fairhaven to gain the advantage and let Leidhold and Co. fire away at the net.

Frontier’s play from service line is highlighted by Cassidy Ciesluk. If the junior can regain the consistency with her jump serve, it will force Fairhaven to be perfect on its serve receiving.

But Ciesluk isn’t the only one the Blue Devils need to worry about — Emily Woodward, Sarah Conlisk Haley Dacyczyn and Remi Quesnelle have also been tough at the line during the postseason, and the 79 aces are plenty of reason for Fairhaven to be concerned.

Woodward — arguably one of the two best setters in the West — could play a major role in the outcome. If the sophomore is able to repeat or top Wednesday’s 27-assist, four-ace effort, the Red Hawks will be in good shape.

And if older sister Sarah Woodward — one of four seniors on the squad — can produce another solid match with double-digit kills to go along with 5-8 digs and a few aces thrown in, that should also give Frontier an advantage. Sarah Woodward leads a steadily improving front line that also utilizes Ciesluk and Quesnelle on the outside and Conlisk and Courtney Newsome in the middle.

This match shapes up to be a classic, reminiscent of the 2011 battle where Frontier outlasted Case in a five-set thriller — a match regarded as one of the best state finals in recent memory.

When asked what has been the most impressive part of this team’s run to the finals, Red Hawks head coach Sean MacDonald said, “I think I have to go back to the focus. The focus, and their determination, has been great. The serving has been better than it usually has been. After that (second) Minnechaug loss we decided we were going to ramp it up, so we did that.”

“We need to fight hard for every point (today), he added. I think this wil be a close match and we need every point we can get. ... Regardless of what happens, I’m really proud of this team. They’ve worked hard (all season).”

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