Jaywalking: Frontier bonanza

  • Frontier fullback Bryce Dobosz (24) and his Red Hawks got upended in the WMass Division VII championship by Wahconah Saturday at Roberts Field in Holyoke, but the Red Hawks had a good season nonetheless. RECORDER file photo/DAN LITTLE

Monday, November 13, 2017

No local athletic department is having a better fall season than Frontier Regional School.

It’s not uncommon for a school to have one or two strong teams during the same season, especially not if you have one good boys’ team and one good girls’ team. That’s the nature of the beast these days in Franklin County, where there were just are not enough students to support each team. Each school still wants to offer all sports, but it tends to result in one or two really strong teams and other teams that are weaker.

What is common in most schools, for example, is that the field hockey team and boys’ soccer team might be good, but the girls’ soccer team, football and girls’ volleyball team are not so strong. Or you have a bunch of runners go out for a strong cross country team, but the soccer teams struggle.

Frontier totally bucked that trend this fall, when every single team was not just above average but quite good. The Red Hawks have actually had good success during the fall over the past few seasons, but this was the first year that every team qualified for the WMass tournaments.

Frontier has just 192 boys and 185 girls per the enrollment data used by the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association from 2015. It should stand to reason that even if you took all of the best athletes in the school and put them onto one team, there still shouldn’t be enough to make up more than one or two quality squads. It makes what Frontier has done all the more notable.

“It really tells you that we are deep athletically,” Frontier athletic director Marty Sanderson said. “I think the big thing is when you combine quality athletes with good coaches, you are going to have success. That’s where we are right now. We have a deep pool of athletes and they are well coached. For our size, for the number of sports that we put out, it’s really very good.”

For the 13th straight season the Frontier girls’ volleyball team won a WMass title. If you’re having trouble putting that in perspective, think about this: Any seniors from that first title during the current streak are now potentially 30 or 31-years old. Players could be showing back up to matches with families, knowing that the streak of titles is ongoing. Now the Hawks set their sites on a state title.

Frontier’s run to the WMass title included a victory over Turners Falls High School in the semifinals last week. I had one person from Turners Falls remark about just how strong the Frontier program is. Seemingly unbeatable. They then paused for a moment.

“I guess that’s how people see our softball team,” this person said.

It’s true.

You may figure that since the Frontier volleyball team is so strong that the field hockey program might be just average. Well, you would be wrong. For the fifth consecutive season, the Red Hawks played for a WMass Division II championship. I’m not sure when the last time any local field hockey team had a streak similar to that, but five straight appearances (and two titles) is impressive. Frontier’s three losses during that streak came in 2013 to Smith Academy (led by Division I player Danielle Duseau) and in 2016 and 2017 to GHS led by all-time leading scorer Raegan Hickey and (soon to be second on that list) Audrey Bresciano.

The Red Hawks met defending-champion Greenfield High School in Thursday’s final and just as all of the recent meetings have been between the programs, it was must-see field hockey. Frontier beat Greenfield earlier in the season and then tied the Green Wave on a last-second goal in the season-finale. In the finals, the teams played to a 2-2 tie through the end of regulation. The game-deciding overtime goal came on a controversial penalty stroke called early in the first OT, when Bresciano buried it for the Wave’s second straight title. But make no mistake. Frontier could just have easily been celebrating that night, and by the looks of what the team returns, as well as the strength of its program, the Hawks should be right back in the conversation again next season.

Surely, with two great girls’ programs at the school there is no room for more. Or is there? While not on the same level as the other two programs, the Frontier girls’ soccer team also put together a tremendous campaign, losing just three times in the regular season and then winning its first-round tournament game before getting eliminated in the quarterfinals. As for the Frontier girls’ cross country team, it was no slouch, either, finishing third in the Pioneer North during the regular season and picking up a 10th-place finish over the weekend at the WMass Division II meet.

Perhaps Frontier just has a really strong crop of girls. Could that be it? No way the boys’ teams are anywhere near as good. Wrong again.

The Frontier football team is days removed from playing for the WMass Division VII championship, where the Hawks dropped a 45-20 decision to defending state runner-up Wahconah Regional High School. The tournament appearance marked the fourth consecutive season that Frontier had qualified, and this season the team got past the semifinals and into the title game, where they were certainly underdogs to the perennial powers from Dalton. Despite the lopsided final score, Frontier did not seem overmatched in all facets of the game. The Red Hawks were able to move the ball on Wahconah but turned the ball over three times. The difference was in the passing game, where Wahconah picked apart a Frontier defense that had not seen anything all season like the throws that Wahconah QB Tim Clayton was making. Frontier’s defense was solid against the run, but in the end the turnovers and Wahconah aerial assault were just too much. Still, a fourth straight appearance proved the strength of that program.

All the while that the Frontier football team has remained successful, the boys’ soccer program has quickly become a WMass power. The Hawks entered the fall as the two-time defending WMass champions and were poised for a three-peat. The two titles were the first two WMass soccer titles ever won by a Franklin County school. The Hawks put together another great year despite getting moved up to the Moriarty Division, where they lost just three games all year and won the league crown. Frontier wound up falling to Southwick-Tolland Regional High School, 1-0, in the semifinals, concluding another great season.

The good times don’t end there for the boys’ programs. On Saturday, the Frontier boys’ cross country team finished second in the WMass Division II race to qualify for the state race as a team. That’s not something that happens every year for a local program, and in order to do so it takes a solid corps of runners. Led by Carsten Carey (second overall at WMass) and Alex Sharp (fourth), the Red Hawks won the Pioneer North title in the regular season, and now have more reasons to celebrate.

As if that all wasn’t enough, the Frontier golf team also had a successful year, winning the Suburban West Division and qualifying for the WMass meet.

The success of each program really is a testament to the dedication of not only the athletes and coaches, but also the programs offered throughout the district that introduce young athletes to these sports. Could it also be a testament to the athletic director who runs it all? Sanderson laughed and said: “I don’t think of my role as too important. Other than getting buses to bring them to the games, having an opponent once they get there, and having officials to officiate the games, my role is pretty easy. Once those things happen, it’s the quality athletes and coaches who do all the rest.”

Am I the only person who was a bit perplexed that upon arrival for the WMass football championships Saturday in Holyoke I was unable to get a roster at the door?

The MIAA is happy to charge parents and other fans $10 to get into the game but can’t even provide a piece of paper with names and numbers on it at the very least? I asked the gentleman working the booth and he said they had no rosters to hand out that day. When I gave him a look of astonishment, he smiled and said he was only there to deal with tickets. I told him I was sure it wasn’t his fault, but someone dropped the ball.

Although in hindsight, I’m sure if the MIAA did print up rosters they would have probably charged a couple of bucks. So maybe it was best for all to just not have them.

Jason Butynski is a Greenfield native and Recorder sportswriter. His email address is jbutynski@recorder.com. Like him on Facebook and leave your feedback at www.facebook.com/jaybutynski.