Frontier guts out 13th straight crown

  • Frontier celebrates their WMass Division III championship win over Lee at Holyoke Community College Saturday. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Above, Frontier’s Lauren Davenport gets a kill past Lee blockers Jayla Speers (31) and Suriana Lee (10) in the second set of the Western Mass Division III championship Saturday at Holyoke Community College. Right, Frontier’s Selayna Bathurst (14) serves one up to the Wildcats. RECORDER STAFF photos/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier huddles up at the start of their match Saturday against Lee for the WMass Division III championship at Holyoke Community College. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Ashley Telega (8) tips the ball past Lee blockers Bailey Thomas (27) and Lydia Morawiec (18) in the second set of the WMass Division III championship Saturday at Holyoke Community College. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Selayna Bathurst (14) serves against Lee during the WMass Division III Championship Saturday at Holyoke Community College. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Ashley Telega (8) celebrates with her teammates Saturday after beating Lee for the WMass Division III championship at Holyoke Community College. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier celebrates after beating Lee Saturday for the WMass Division III championship at Holyoke Community College. RECORDER STAFF/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Sunday, November 12, 2017

HOLYOKE — Although it may have gone down as a sweep, lucky No. 13 was anything but easy for the Frontier Regional School volleyball team.

Second-seeded Lee High School pulled the score even late in all three sets, pushing the perennial powers of local volleyball to the brink. But like they have time and time again, the top-seeded Red Hawks rose to the occasion when necessary.

The result was a 25-23, 25-20, 25-20 victory over the Wildcats, lifting Frontier to its 13th consecutive Western Massachusetts Division III championship Saturday night at Holyoke Community College’s Bartley Center.

“It felt good that we had the ability to make those runs at the end,” explained Frontier coach Sean MacDonald, whose team beat Lee in the finals for the third consecutive season. “It showed we have some fight when things are on the line.”

The win extended Frontier’s impressive run of WMass titles, which dates back to 2005. The Red Hawks have now won 18 sectional championships, advancing to the MIAA Division III state semifinals and a matchup against North champion Academy of Notre Dame from Tyngsboro. The teams will meet Wednesday night at 7:30 at Fitchburg High School.

The victory over Lee mirrored last year’s postseason script. Frontier lost to the Wildcats in the regular-season finale just two weeks ago, but avenged the loss in the title match. That was also the case a year ago, when Lee entered the finals with momentum after a regular-season victory, only to fall in the championship match.

Frontier senior setter Ella Deane said her team’s loss to Lee (19-2) on Oct. 30 was not indicative of the squad she’s played for all season long.

“I don’t think we showed who we were in that match,” explained Deane, who registered 33 assists in Saturday’s win. “We were definitely really shaken by the loss. But we knew exactly what we needed to fix, the specific things that went wrong the first time. So we really cleaned those things up in practice.”

Frontier (15-8) received contributions from throughout the lineup to get the job done against Lee. With the score knotted at 22-22 late in the opening set, Deane and Hailey Orloski scrambled to keep a point alive that was eventually rewarded when Lee put the ball into the net on the other end. On set point, Orloski put down a kill with authority for a 25-23 victory that set the tone.

Junior Ashley Telega (six kills) helped Frontier climb out of a sizeable hole in the second set. Lee jumped out to a 13-6 advantage, but Telega recorded three kills in a four-point span, and added a block to pull the Hawks within 15-14.

With her play settling the offense down, junior Lauren Davenport got her swing on track late in the frame. Davenport, who finished with a team-high 13 kills, put down back-to-back kills to stake Frontier to a 19-18 lead.

With Deane at the service line, the Red Hawks would ultimately rattle off five consecutive points. Orloski closed out the set the same way she did the first, slamming a kill to give Frontier a 25-20 win and a commanding 2-0 advantage.

“We dug a big hole there in the second,” MacDonald offered. “That quick-set to Ashley was pretty effective. We really tried to deal with (Lee middle blocker) Bailey Thomas at the net, give her more things to worry about. We worked on all that stuff in practice and were able to put it to good use.”

Despite the big mountain to climb, the Wildcats didn’t go away in the third set, either. Lee led 20-18 after Ahna Schlaefer (11 kills) slammed one down. But Frontier answered with three straight points, all coming on Lee hitting errors that forced head coach John Warner to call timeout.

Frontier didn’t give up another. Davenport served up her only three aces of the night in the final four points of the match, including a championship-clinching ace that skimmed the net and fell helplessly in the middle of the Lee defense to seal a 25-20 win for WMass title No. 13. All told, the Hawks closed the match on a 7-0 run.

“We call those dirty aces,” said MacDonald of the final point. “It’s a tough way to lose if you’re Lee because there’s really nothing you can do about it. It’s a bummer that it ended that way for them.”

Lee’s inability to string together passes frustrated Warner, whose team fell in five sets to Frontier in last year’s final after being swept in the 2015 championship match. He said the team’s offense was unable to get going, and the Red Hawks took advantage.

“This is not a team that you can dump a ball on, because they’re just going to jam it right down your throat,” Warner said of Frontier. “And that’s essentially what they did.

“We didn’t come to play,” he continued. “That’s the bottom line. Nobody came to play. That was not our team tonight. It’s frustrating.”

Frontier senior Selayna Bathurst was solid at both ends of the floor throughout. Bathurst put down 10 kills and recorded a team-high 20 digs. Key contributions also came from the likes of Sarah Zoly (three aces, 15 digs) and Grace Randall (seven digs), while Abbe Roberts was a key serving option and Reilly Isler came off the bench to aid the back-row defensive effort.

“Listen, there’s not a guaranteed outcome here when we get to the western Mass. finals,” began MacDonald of the win. “(Lee) just beat us in five (sets). But the girls worked hard this year and I’m proud that they were rewarded with a title.”

Deane agreed that despite more than a decade of WMass dominance, the Hawks did not expect to simply be handed a title.

“We talk about how this has to be about us wanting to win and going out there and doing what we have to in order to do that,” she explained. “We carried that with us tonight.”

Frontier next meets a Notre Dame team that swept Ipswich High School in the North title match to improve to a perfect 23-0 on the season. Central Mass. champion Hopedale High School will play South champion Bourne High School in the other state semifinal. Bourne knocked off familiar foe Joseph Case High School in the South title match. Frontier and Case have played each other in each of the last three state tournaments.

“We don’t have an easy road ahead,” Deane admitted. “So we just have to attack it with the same mentality we’ve been using this season and continue to work hard at practice.”