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Eight straight

HOLYOKE — Right when Mahar Regional School seemed to have Frontier Regional School on the defensive, the Red Hawks stepped on the accelerator and raced away.

After struggling with uneven play in most of the first set, Frontier displayed its championship form during the final two sets en route to a 25-20, 25-7, 25-8 sweep over the Senators for their eighth consecutive Western Massachusetts Division III Girls’ Volleyball Championship Saturday afternoon at the Bartley Center.

The Red Hawks (21-1) will continue their pursuit of a third straight state title Wednesday night at 7 at Hudson High School in a semifinal match against South champ Archbishop Williams High School of Braintree, a 3-1 winner over Holbrook High School.

Frontier grabbed a 9-2 lead in the opening set, sparked by two aces from Julia Wan (four kills, four aces, two blocks) and a four-point service run from Kate Harper (five assists). The Hawks built the lead up to 10 points (23-13) before senior All-State outside hitter Cassidy Stankowski missed a jump serve. Senator middle hitter Sabrina Silva stepped up and served for six straight points, while the Hawks committed four unforced errors in that stretch.

After junior outside hitter Sarah Woodward fired home a kill to break the streak and get Frontier to set point, the Hawks finally put the set away on a missed Mahar kill attempt.

Frontier head coach Sean MacDonald knew something was amiss in the first set.

“We made errors in every possible way — hitting, passing, serving, receiving,” he said. “I think nerves were part of it. This means a lot to them. They’ve worked all year to get here. I just tried to tell them, ‘Hey, it’s just another game.’”

“I think it was lack of communication,” explained Stankowski. “It may have been just first-set jitters. But the next two games, we were able to step it up quite a bit.”

Indeed.

The teams started the second set even before Stankowski registered a kill to put Frontier in a 3-2 lead. Wan then stepped to the service line and reeled off six straight points, two aces, while Stankowski (12 kills, nine digs, three assists, three aces) finished two of the points with her trademark blasts to build a 9-3 advantage and prompt Mahar head coach Sarah Woodward (no relation to the Hawks’ outside hitter) to call time out.

The led hovered between seven and 10 points until Red Hawk freshman Emily Woodward took the service line at 16-6 and ripped off six straight points — her older sister registered three kills in the run — to break the set open, 22-6. After Mahar got a point back, Wan and Stankowski had consecutive kills and Sarah Woodward’s serve on game point wasn’t returned.

Emily Woodward opened the final set by serving for nine consecutive points. Mahar could only close the deficit to seven before Frontier opened up a double-digit lead on Sarah Woodward’s serve, and the Senators never got closer than nine. Sarah Woodward (match-high 14 kills) reeled off four consecutive kills on Stankowski’s serve to extend the lead to 21-6. Then at 22-8, Ali Durant (five digs, three aces) served for the final three points, recording an ace to end the 1-hour, 3-minute match.

Coach Woodward praised her team in the face of adversity.

“We did some great things and there was some stuff that wasn’t so good,” she said. “They have nothing to be ashamed about. They had a great season, and the seniors had a great career. We’re very proud of them.”

Emily Woodward led Frontier with 12 assists. Emma Contois added seven assists and six digs.

When asked if this title was more special than any of the others, MacDonald said. “They’re all special, because you come here with different players every year. ... I think what’s special, and what stands out the most, is that this is Cassidy’s sixth (title) in a row. I don’t think there’s any other high school athlete who’s ever won six (in one sport).”

Stankowski thought it was different for another reason.

“It feels a lot of different because it’s the last time I’ll play here in high school,” said Stankowski. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been six years already.”

Notes: Stankowski’s teams went a perfect 122-0 against WMass teams in her career, including 19-0 in the postseason. Stankowski’s teams are a combined 134-6 overall. ... The last time Frontier lost to a WMass team was Oct. 2, 2006 against Belchertown High School (28-26, 25-12, 25-13). ... Tournament Director Deb Loomer made a nice detour from the mundane MIAA pregame spiel to acknowledge longtime Agawam High School coach Patricia Demers, who received the Mintonette Medallion of Merit Award at the Volleyball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Oct. 20. The Mintonette honors the sport’s extraordinary contributors to the game. Demers, who is still coaching at age 80, received a standing ovation.

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