Frontier shoots for rare title three-peat

  • vbFro7SarahConlisk6SarahWoodwardPF-GR-110912
  • vbFro13CassidyStankowskiPF-GR-110912
  • vbFrontierVolleyBallPF-GR-110912
  • vbFro8KateHarperPF-GR-110912

It would be a fitting end to what has been the most prolific career for a local volleyball player.

Today, senior Cassidy Stankowski and the Frontier Regional School girls’ volleyball team will try to win their third consecutive MIAA Division III state championship. The Red Hawks (22-1) travel to Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough today at noon to take on North Sectional champion Lynnfield High School.

Stankowski is in her senior season at Frontier after having played at the varsity level since she was a seventh-grader. She now leads her Red Hawk teammates onto the court for one last time in her high school career.

“If I do cry, it’s not because I’m sad that she’s leaving, but it’s the end of an era and it’s been special,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said. “Cassidy has been here first as a fan, then as the team statistician, a young libero and then a nationally respected player. If that all hits me in the space of 10 seconds after the match, I’m going to be in trouble.”

While the Central Connecticut State University-bound Stankowski does make a lot of headlines, she is far from the only weapon on the team. Stankowski enters the match with 28 kills in her past two matches, including 16 in the three-set win over Archbishop Williams High School (25-14, 25-9, 25-14) in Wednesday’s state semifinal match. Junior Sarah Woodward has progressed through the season and become another force up front, registering 19 kills in her past two matches. Senior middle hitter Julia Wan, who joined Stankowski on the All-State team, collected eight kills and three blocks in the semifinal victory, while players like Kate Harper, Tori Whitney and libero Ali Durant are each solid contributors.

MacDonald said that he believes in his squad and that if they play to their potential, the Hawks should spend Saturday afternoon and evening celebrating a state title.

“I think we just need to do what we do and do it at a percentage that’s high enough to win,” he explained. “I think Lynnfield is going to have to do some things different. Although we don’t see a lot of teams that have a potent right-side attack. Our blockers are usually used to going one direction. We practiced that today with our defense and our blockers.”

Lynnfield (21-3) comes into the match ranked second in the state in Division III according to MaxPreps, trailing only Frontier. The team is led by senior outside hitter Caroline Shannon, one of two All-State selections on the Pioneers. She is joined by fellow All-State selection Abby Norwood, second on the team in kills and leading in hitting percentage. Amanda McQueen is the third top player on the Pioneers.

Lynnfield was defeated by Division I North Andover High School and lost twice to Division II Bishop Fenwick High School of Peabody during the regular season for its only three losses. The Pioneers were seeded third in the nine-team Division III North bracket and beat No. 6 St. Joseph Prep High School of Boston in the quarterfinals, then knocked off second-seeded Shawsheen Valley Regional High School (Billerica) in the semifinals before taking down top-seeded Academy of Notre Dame (Tyngsboro) in the championship. If that name sounds familiar, it might be because Frontier’s lone loss on the season came at the hands of Notre Dame Academy (Hingham), but the two schools are different.

Lynnfield did not lose a single set in its three North tournament matches, but finally dropped a set in the state semifinal match against Millbury High School on Tuesday, when the Pioneers advanced to the championship match with a 25-6, 22-25, 25-22, 25-10 victory.

Frontier, meanwhile, has not had a close match in tournament play this season, winning each match handily in three sets. All those easy wins could make a team complacent, but according to MacDonald, he tries to make sure that every player takes every match seriously, and he has had no problem doing it.

“That’s my job and sometimes they look at me funny when I get upset about something,” he began. “Even in a match in the middle of the season when we have a big lead, if we’re doing something dumb, I let them know. Every game, every practice, we’re practicing for the last five matches of the year. That’s our goal, and everything we do through the year is preparing for those last five matches. Sometimes it might look unsportsmanlike when I get upset about a mistake when we are up big, but we need to get it in our head that we need to fight for every point, because you need to think that way.”

The formula could lead to a third straight state title for Frontier. This marks the second time the Red Hawks have had the opportunity to win three straight, the last time being in 2005, 2006, and 2007, but Frontier fell in the 2007 state title game to North Reading High School. Should the Red Hawks win their final match of the season, they would join the Turners Falls High School softball team as the only area team to win three straight state championships. But talk of three-peats and Stankowski’s career can wait — right now, the only thing MacDonald said the team is focusing on is Saturday’s match.

“I think that we’ll think about that stuff around 2 or 2:30 on Saturday afternoon,” he said. “We are just focused on playing the best that we can. I like our chances. And if we win, it will be the exclamation point on an amazing career by a player that has won six WMass championships and three state titles.”

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