Div. 5 volleyball: Frontier rallies from 2-0 deficit, takes down defending champion Paulo Freire in 5-set thriller (PHOTOS)

  • Frontier players celebrate after defeating Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. From left are Brooke Davis (10), Eve Dougan (4), Kate Demaio (19), Caroline Deane (11), Samantha Baker (14) and Sydney Scanlon (2). STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Eve Dougan gets a kill for the winning point against Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier players celebrate after defeating Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Caroline Deane serves up an ace against Paulo Freire in the third set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Samantha Baker serves against Paulo Freire in the second set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Eve Dougan (4) gets a kill against Paulo Freire in the second set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Sydney Scanlon (2) pushes the ball against Paulo Freire in the first set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Kate Demaio blocks a shot against Paulo Freire in the first set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier players celebrate after defeating Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier coaches celebrate after defeating Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier players celebrate after defeating Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Samantha Baker serves against Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Samantha Baker hits against Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier celebrates scoring a point against Paulo Freire in the fifth set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier’s Sydney Scanlon sets the ball against Paulo Freire in the second set of the MIAA Division 5 state tournament semifinal Tuesday at West Springfield High School. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/15/2022 8:32:45 PM

WEST SPRINGFIELD — The fifth set felt like a formality.

Frontier’s Eve Dougan put down a pair of aces to close out the fourth set of the MIAA Div. 5 semifinal contest against No. 5 Paulo Freire, giving the Redhawks a 25-19 win. The Frontier bench erupted as the Redhawks had dug themselves out of a 2-0 hole to tie things up and force a fifth set. It was a comeback that seemed nearly impossible against the defending state champions Panthers, which had won 50 straight matches entering Tuesday and had dropped just one set all season. 

The celebration was just about on for the Redhawks — knowing they had all the momentum and were 15 points away from exacting revenge on the team that beat them in the state championship match a season ago. The Panthers looked dejected after squandering the 2-0 lead.

Frontier dominated the fifth set, racing ahead 10-2 before Dougan smashed three straight kills to close it out. The Hawks closed it out, 15-7, completing a five-set victory and earning a spot in the state championship match for the second straight year. 

“I’ve seen a lot of volleyball,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said. “I officiate volleyball, I played volleyball, I coach volleyball. When someone gets down 2-0, there’s probably an 80 percent chance that they’re not going to have a fifth set, never mind the team that lost the first two going on to win the next three. We knew our backs were against the wall. I was really impressed with how they responded.

“We haven’t had a comeback like that in a postseason game,” the longtime coach continued. “We’ve been down 2-1 a bunch but not 0-2. This one is right up there. People ask me if it ever gets old. Games like this never get old.”  

The Redhawks will take on No. 3 Mt. Greylock in the finals, who defeated No. 2 Hopedale, 3-1 in the semifinals. Frontier won its regular season match against the Mounties, 3-0. The date and time for the championship game is to be determined. 

Frontier had been waiting a whole year to avenge its state title loss. The Redhawks knew if they wanted to raise a banner in Goodnow Gymnasium, they’d have to find a way to end the Panthers’ half-century unbeaten streak. 

“This was the game we’ve been focused on all season,” Dougan said. “When the brackets came out, we were looking to see when we were going to play Paulo. We played them and played so well. The momentum we gained was worth losing the first two sets because we gained so much confidence.”

Both squads traded points throughout the opening set, with a Dougan kill ultimately tying things 20-20. Paulo turned it on late, with Natalie Acevedo closing out the frame with back-to-back kills to give the Panthers a 25-22 set win.

It was more of the same in the second set, coming down to the final couple points. A net violation by Paulo tied it 24-24, but a Redhawk miscue followed by a Yuleishka Alvelo kill lifted the Panthers to a 26-24 set win to take a commanding 2-0 lead. 

“During the timeout after the second set, we came together,” Dougan said. “Sean and all our captains [Caroline Deane], [Jillian Apanell], [Sydney Scanlon] and myself said we can do this. This isn't the end of our season. We’re going to keep pushing, we’re going to hustle and it’s going to go to five sets. They’re going to be tired, we’re going to be tired, but we’re not going to give up. I never had any doubt we could do it. We just needed to play how we can play and everyone focused hard. Paulo was going hard for balls but we did too.” 

With the first two sets being competitive, there were only slight tactical adjustments for MacDonald to make. 

“We felt like we had to play well,” MacDonald said. “In the first set we gave away 12 points. You give them 12 points and they’ll beat you. The second set was close. It was so close, I didn’t know if I wanted to change anything because we’re right there. I changed where we started our rotation which is something we didn’t practice. The last three sets was freelanced.”

It was an Apanell block that got Frontier going in the third set. The senior — who injured her knee in the semifinals a season ago and missed the championship match — made a block to give the Redhawks a 10-8 lead. Frontier ran with the momentum gained from that, with Deane closing out the set with a pair of aces as the Redhawks stayed alive via a 25-16 win. 

“To see Jill make such an impact was great,” MacDonald said. “That third set, we looked a little dead then Jill stuffed a kid. I looked over at the team and said ‘Jill Apanell has entered the chat.’"

The fourth set played out like the first two, coming down to which side could make the big points late. This time it was Frontier. After the Panthers tied things 19-19, the Redhawks closed it out by scoring the next six points, capped off by Dougan’s two aces to force a decisive fifth set. 

“One thing that really helped us was Paulo was getting frustrated at the end,” Dougan said. “Their coach is very vocal. They weren’t working as a team. Sydney distributed to every hitter, we were going after every loose ball. Being able to mesh and play cohesively was such a big part of our win today.”

With all the momentum on their side, there was little doubt about which side would win the deciding set. 

“I walked out and told them we were winning it,” MacDonald said. “They said ‘yes we are.’ We just had to not screw up and we were going to win it.” 

It was a dominating start to the final set, with Apanell stuffing four blocks to help the Redhawks take an 11-4 lead before Dougan closed things out with a trio of kills to send Frontier through to the state title match. 

The Redhawks always play a challenging regular season schedule and that paid dividends on Tuesday. 

“We’ve played a lot of five set games,” Scanlon said. “We had the stamina and we knew we could do it. We’ve played a lot of good teams, been down and come back to win. That helped us push through. We’ve been working on our mental toughness and we did that really well. Being down 2-0 is really hard but we pulled through. We had a lot of fight in us. We were ready.” 

Dougan led the way with 20 kills in the win. Deane tallied 13 kills, Apanell had 10 kills while Scanlon dished 40 assists in the victory. 


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