Tested Red Hawks wary of undefeated Notre Dame

  • Frontier’s Hailey Orloski (4) can make things happen at the net for the Red Hawks volleyball team. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Sarah Zoly (12) sets the volleyball while Selayna Bathurst (14) looks on during the WMass Division III championship game. Tonight, it’s on to the state semifinals. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Lauren Davenport (2) is a versatile Red Hawk on her way to state-semifinal volleyball action. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Ella Deane (20) can do a little of everything for the Red Hawks, who will play in the state Division III volleyball semifinals tonight. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

Recorder Staff
Tuesday, November 14, 2017

A season of challenging independent matches will hopefully pay dividends for the Frontier Regional School volleyball team.

The Red Hawks, who captured their 13th consecutive WMass title Saturday, embark tonight on their quest for a ninth state championship. Frontier meets North champion Academy of Notre Dame of Tyngsborough (23-0) at 7:30 p.m. at Fitchburg High School in a MIAA Division III state semifinal match.

Frontier has won seven consecutive state-semifinal matches, with its last loss coming in 2009 against Joseph Case High School. Last year, the Red Hawks played central Mass. foe Millbury High School in the semis, earning a 3-2 win, before falling to Case in the championship.

“Some of them have been really, really tough matches,” admitted Frontier coach Sean MacDonald of the impressive streak. “I feel like it looks dominant but when you dig down, there’s some really close ones that all went our way to get that seven in a row.”

Frontier (15-6) challenged itself during the regular-season, playing the likes of Melrose High School (North Division II champion), Hopkinton High School (Central/West Division I champion) and Westborough High School (Central Mass. Division II champion) along with league foe Minnechaug Regional High School, the West Division II champion.

“That’s three matches against sectional winners,” MacDonald offered. “We definitely played a tougher schedule than (Notre Dame).”

Notre Dame reached the state tournament after sweeping Ipswich High School in the North title match on Saturday. The top-seeded Lancers lost two matches this season to Ursuline Academy of Dedham, but both contests counted as exclusion matches leaving their record officially at 23-0.

A big boost to Notre Dame’s sectional championship came when Lynnfield High School moved up to Division II this year. Lynnfield defeated Notre Dame in three of the last four North Division III title matches, but their departure cleared the way for the Lancers to advance to the state tourney.

“A lot of their team is back from last year,” said MacDonald of Notre Dame. “That combination of them getting better plus Lynnfield leaving, they felt like they got over the hump. They’ve been in the (sectional) finals a lot, knocking on the door, and now they finally won it.”

Offensively, Notre Dame is led by senior Alexis Kirkland, who has amassed 233 kills on the season. Classmate Emma Thompson is also over 100 kills for the year with 116. The Lancers rotation is comprised of seven seniors.

“They’ve got some nice pieces and I think it’s obvious their best player is Alexis Kirkland,” MacDonald explained. “She seems like a pretty good all-around athlete. She’s one of their best passers, servers, hitters. A year or two ago, she was their main setter. So they have her do a number of things.”

The experienced Lancers also have senior setter Kate Scarano, who has 351 assists on the year. Fellow senior Emily Richard is tops on the roster with 38 blocks.

Despite a talented Notre Dame roster, MacDonald said the main factor once the state tournament rolls around is making sure his team is ready to go.

“I feel like it’s tough to turn yourself into a new team based on what the other team does in a couple of days,” he explained. “My goal is usually to find out what the other team does well, and try and take it away and force them to do something different. I think for us, let’s play like us. Let’s do the things that we do well. If we do them enough, I think we’ll be right in it.”

While some teams struggle to refocus after winning a sectional tournament, Frontier’s success over the years lends itself to a measured approach. The Red Hawks have their eyes set on a bigger prize.

“I think for us, the goal was to be playing this coming Saturday,” said MacDonald of the date for the state title match. “I don’t think there’s much of a refocus, just a continued focus. These are all steps and obstacles you have to overcome to get to the ultimate goal of playing (in the finals).”

On the other side of the tourney bracket, South champion Bourne High School (24-2), which defeated Case in the South sectional final, will meet central Mass. champion Hopedale High School (21-2) in a state semifinal tonight at Algonquin Regional High School in Northborough.

Minnechaug and Melrose open up the night at Fitchburg with a Division II state semifinal at 5 p.m. The gymnasium has been a source of success for the Hawks, which most recently won back-to-back state titles in 2014 (Case) and 2015 (Lynnfield) on the court at Fitchburg High School.