Frontier hunting for 14th straight

  • Above, Frontier’s Sarah Zoly (12) serves the ball during her team’s semifinal victory over Turners Falls. Below, Lauren Davenport puts the ball back over the net. FILE Photos/Dan Little

  • Frontier's Lauren Davenport (2) sets the ball against Turners Falls in the second set Wednesday night in Northfield, Nov. 7, 2018. Staff Photo/Dan Little

  • Frontier setter Elizabeth Fuqua will be busy trying to get the ball to her hitters today during the WMass title game against Lee today at noon at West Springfield High School. FILE Photo/Dan Little

Staff Writer
Published: 11/9/2018 11:38:45 PM

Fourteen straight Western Massachusetts Division 3 Girls Volleyball titles. That’s what’s on the line today for the Frontier Regional School squad, which takes a 13-year title-winning streak onto the court at West Springfield High School at noon when it faces Lee High School.

The top-seeded Red Hawks (20-2) will face the second-seeded Wildcats (17-3) for the fourth consecutive year, as the two teams have become the top squads in western Mass. Division 3. Frontier has won each of the three title-match meetings, but will once again have its work cut out for it in order to keep the streak alive.

“I think Lee is the cream of the crop in the Berkshires for sure, and definitely one of the top programs in the west,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said. “They are impressive. We have a small school at Frontier, and Lee is even smaller than us. To see them put a quality product on the floor kind of reminds me of Turners softball. They are there at the end every year and its a credit to them and a credit to coach John Werner and his daughter Julia.”

Lee and Frontier have developed a bit of a rivalry in recent years. After losing to Athol in the semifinals in 2014, Lee has met Frontier in the finals each of the past three seasons. The Red Hawks beat Lee 3-0 in 2015, but Lee gave the 2016 team a run for its money before Frontier prevailed in five sets. Last season, the teams met late in the regular season and Lee beat Frontier, but the Red Hawks got revenge in the WMass title game with a 3-0 victory. The teams met again this season in mid-October and things were tight, as Lee forced a fifth set and even took an early lead in that frame before Frontier came back to win.

“We are going to have to pass well today, which is something we didn’t do as well as I would have liked when we met them in the close match in October,” MacDonald said.

Lee has some very talented players starting with senior libero Anna Wang.

“She is an All-State worthy candidate,” MacDonald said. “She is stellar. A great passer and great defender, and she will be sprawling all over the floor picking up balls that we hit at them.”

Senior outside hitter Bailey Thomas stands at 6-foot-2 and will be the main target of setter Suriana Lee, a junior. Senior Jayla Speers is a middle hitter who can also pile up kills. Thomas and Wang are the top servers on the team.

Frontier will counter with a team stacked with talent. Outside hitters Lauren Davenport and Olivia Deane can both get the job done, and setter Elizabeth Fuqua does a great job getting them the ball. Hailey Orloski is an opposite hitter, Ashley Telega and Sarah Zoly are middle hitters, and Reilly Isler is the libero

“If we play like us, I think we are tough to beat over five sets,” MacDonald said. “If we make mistakes, Lee will make us pay.”

MacDonald is not taking anything for granted, however, which is something that could happen for a coach who has been to 15 straight western Mass. finals (Frontier lost in the 2003 finals before beginning its current winning streak). 

“It doesn’t get old because I’m working with new kids every year,” he explained. “I’ve been to a bunch of these and have been fortunate to have a bunch of hard-working kids, but for many of these kids, this is new.”

Like Turners softball or any other successful program, the string of success can lead people to take a “ho-hum” attitude towards the Hawks playing in a western Mass. final, but MacDonald said it’s a culmination of a lot of hard work put in from very dedicated players. 

“It’s not easy to earn that seed and go through the playoffs and get to this game every year. It might look easy, but it’s not,” MacDonald said. “(Former US men’s national volleyball team coach) Hugh McCutcheon, who is being inducted into the Volleyball Hall of Fame (today), once said about the Olympics, ‘We work for four years so we can be good for two weeks, and win a gold medal in a match that takes two hours.’ You take someone like Lauren MacDonald, she has been playing for six years, goes to camps and plays year round, all so she can be her best in this game.”

It’s that commitment that has led to the current western Mass. winning streak. MacDonald said that he and the players don’t really talk about the streak, but he knows they do feel the pressure to keep it going.

“I  do feel like it’s a lot of pressure, but I also know it’s nothing anyone is going to cry for us about,” he explained. “It’s a pretty high bar, and I know the pressure is there, but I tell the girls that if they work hard every day and try to get better, the results will take care of themselves. What people did in the past doesn’t help you out in your next match. We are proud of the streak, but we don’t talk about it a lot.”

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