MIAA tourneys: Frontier-South Hadley soccer, Frontier-Paulo Freire volleyball on tap for Tuesday

  • Frontier’s Nico Fasulo (5), right, takes a breakaway shot defended by South Hadley’s Timmy Laporte (24) during a game between the two teams earlier this season. The Moriarty League foes meet in the MIAA Division 4 semifinals Tuesday night in West Springfield. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/14/2022 7:00:20 PM

The MIAA Division 4 Boys Soccer Tournament has been filled with unfamiliar opponents and film searching for South Hadley coach Eric Castonguay and Frontier’s Evan Horton. Both Western Massachusetts teams have faced three teams from the eastern or central part of the state in the tournament’s first three rounds. Now the Moriarty League mates are each staring at an all-too-familiar face in the state semifinals.

No. 1 South Hadley and No. 5 Frontier will meet for the sixth times in the past two years at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday at West Springfield High School’s Clark Field. Frontier holds a 2-1-2 edge overall, but the Tigers are 1-0-1 this season in a pair of regular season meetings.

“It certainly is helpful. Amesbury and Boston Tech, I couldn’t find anything,” Castonguay said. “Both our teams are familiar with how we operate. I somewhat know what to expect for them, but I know they know what to expect for us. I don’t think we’re going to be able to roll out the same way.”

The sensation rings familiar for the Redhawks (14-4-3), which faced Easthampton four times last season en route to a state final appearance. They were sick of the Eagles by that point. South Hadley (18-2-2) represents a more exciting rematch.

“The two games we played them were pretty tight,” said Horton, referring to a 2-2 draw and a 2-0 Tigers win. “There’s a lot of mutual respect. It’s hard sometimes when you play the team you’ve seen a lot. I’d rather see a team that I have seen than I haven’t.”

There are no secrets between the league rivals. Frontier knows it has to key on South Hadley senior strike Charlie Anischik. He’s tied the Tigers’ single-season record with 33 goals this year and has 11 assists. Both are tops for South Hadley. No other Tiger has more than eight of either.

“The only way you’re going to beat South Hadley is you’ve got to stop Charlie. We’ve played them twice, and he’s scored three times on us. It’s not like we’ve had the answer,” Horton said. “The challenge for us is to recognize that he’s their focal point, but we have to do something about it.”

The Tigers aren’t a one-man team, however. Their defense has posted nine shutouts this season and allowed more than two goals just once.

“They’re bigger than most teams. They’re dangerous on anything in the air,” Horton said. “It’s going to come down to physicality. That’s their bread and butter – if we want to have any chance, we’ve got to match that.”

Frontier’s bread and butter is its skill, speed and experience. The Redhawks retained a large portion of last year’s squad that reached the state final. They’ve won six games in a row and allowed just two goals in that stretch.

“There’s a level of confidence in us at the point. We don’t need to have those conversations about the seriousness,” Horton said. “The last couple games I feel like we’re playing with a level of confidence we didn’t have a month ago.”

Brady Burch paces Frontier with 22 goals, while Nico Fasulo and Devin Niles have scored 10 each. Fernando Saravia has dished out eight assists.

The Redhawks will be playing on turf for the first time since the Western Massachusetts final against Mount Greylock. They’ve won three games in a row on their football field, which actually sometimes works against Frontier with how it likes to utilize space because the field is so narrow. The team has played four games on turf this year (3-0-1 record).

“With our speed and our skill, having more field will help us,” Horton said.

The Tigers live and breathe on turf. They’re playing away from home for the first time since the Western Mass. Class B final, their only loss in the past 16 games. 

“We’re comfortable playing away,” Castonguay said. “It benefits us to play on turf.”

Girls volleyball

Unfinished business adorns Frontier Regional’s volleyball team shirts this season.

Tuesday’s MIAA Division 5 semifinal against No. 5 Paulo Freire is why. The Panthers ended No. 1 Frontier’s run in the state final last season. They'll meet again with a berth back in the finals on the line at 4 p.m. at West Springfield High School, the site of last year’s final.

“I watched last year’s state final for the first time in a year. It was tough to go back and watch that. We made a ton of errors in some of those sets,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said.

Frontier (23-1) only graduated three seniors and has a not-so-secret weapon: outside hitter Jillian Apanell. The senior missed last year’s state championship match with an ACL injury she suffered in the state semifinal almost exactly a year ago (Nov. 16, 2021).

“I have been waiting a literal year,” Apanell said. “I want this more than anything. I want to show them, you didn’t see me last year, so you don’t know what’s coming.”

The all-state selection last season leads the Redhawks hitting .310 and has 88 kills in 48 sets. Apanell missed the first six matches of the season and has worked her way back into a key role.

“It’s obviously a physical piece. She’s tall, she can hit hard and she can block. She’s a nice asset to have on the court,” MacDonald said. “She’s also our captain and one of our leaders.”

The teams combined for eight International Volleyball Hall of Fame first-team all-stars, while the Panthers put three on the second team. Paulo Freire (24-0) has won 50 matches in a row dating back to Nov. 12, 2020. The Panthers have lost just two sets in the past two years: against Frontier in the state final a season ago and against No. 4 Turners Falls in the quarterfinals last week.

They have a senior-laden squad and brought back most of their team as well.

“We don’t really feel the pressure for once, which is different. We’re used to being that state champion and having our backs against the wall and needing to perform,” Apanell said. “It’s usually a much bigger deal for teams to beat us than for us to beat them, but it’s a reverse role. They’ve never lost to us and we’ve never beaten them.”

Frontier will counter with all-state setter Sydney Scanlon (569 assists), threats all over the court, danger from the service line and a history and culture unmatched in Western Massachusetts volleyball.

Both Caroline Deane and Eve Dougan average more than three kills per set. Four Redhawks (led by Dougan at 2.5) pull up more than two digs per set. Frontier serves an ace 19 percent of the time as a team, led by Scanlon’s 57.

The Redhawks have won 10 state championships since 2005 and played in three other state finals. They’ve been to the state championship match every year there’s been a tournament since 2019.

“A lot of times we go into a state semifinal or state final and it’s like, ‘hey if you don’t win, you’ve screwed up something. You’ve made some kind of error.’ When we didn’t win the state final it was like ‘what happened?’” MacDonald said. “My team knows a little bit about the pressure of streaks.”


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