Maybe foes will finally catch up with Frontier

  • Turners Falls junior Sienna Dillensneider was one of the Indians’ better players last season and that doesn’t figure to change in this year’s Northern Division wars. RECORDER FILE PHOTO/MATT BURKHARTT

  • Mamou Samake, of Greenfield High School, bumps the ball during their game against Pioneer Valley Regional School Monday evening. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Mohawk 22 Nelly O'Connell. Recorder/Paul Franz

  • Mohawk 2 Lexi Mazza Recorder/Paul Franz

  • Sienna Dillensneider, of Turners Falls High School sets the ball during their match against Pioneer Regional School Wednesday September 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Hailey Whipple, captain for Turners Falls High School, serves to Pioneer Regional School during their home match Wednesday September 30. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Hannah Buedinger, of Pioneer Valley Regional School, bumps the ball during their home game against Greenfield High School Monday evening. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

  • Frontier Regional School volleyball players celebrate after defeating Lee High School in their Western Mass Division III volleyball championship at Holyoke Community College's Barley Center Saturday, November 14. Recorder Staff/Matt Burkhartt

Recorder Staff
Published: 9/2/2016 5:46:24 PM

There could be a distinctly different look to the area’s girls’-volleyball circuit this season.

Frontier Regional School, coming off and unprecedented championship run that includes 11 consecutive Western Massachusetts titles and eight state crowns (the last six straight), is facing its most difficult rebuilding challenge since before Sean MacDonald took over 13 years ago.

Just qualifying for the Western Mass. Tournament could prove to be a daunting task with the brutal schedule the Red Hawks put together once again.

The PVIAC Northern Division, meanwhile, could see a three-way battle for the title with co-champions Turners Falls High School and Athol High School contending along with Mahar Regional School. Although all three look closely matched on paper, the Indians may have a slight edge in height and overall depth.

Even though the aforementioned trio appears solid, one can not sleep on Pioneer Valley Regional School or Greenfield High School, both of whom could cause problems. Mohawk Trail Regional High School is struggling with numbers early and will try to rebuild after a rough 2015 season.

Franklin County Technical School is also on the rebound from a quiet 2015 season and needs to replace a number of graduated players.

Frontier is scheduled to open its season Tuesday and the rest open Wednesday, except for Greenfield, which opens Friday.

Here’s a closer look at all eight area teams:

East Division

Frontier

Sometimes championships come with a price. The Red Hawks were able to win another state title last season, but graduated their top eight players.

Add in the fact that there are no seniors on this year’s roster and head coach Sean MacDonald will spend most of his time trying to put the best lineup on the court.

Granted, no other teams are feeling sympathy for Frontier after all the hardware this juggernaut has stashed in the trophy cases over the past decade. MacDonald isn’t expecting any, but this will be one season where everybody will be learning on the fly.

“It was a big hit, losing those eight players with no seniors coming back,” said the 14th-year mentor. There’s a lot of uncertainty.”

“Absolutely everything is on the table — who plays, where they play, and how much they play,” he added. “I’m looking at this a whole bunch of ways.

One thing that the Red Hawks won’t have as an issue is depth. MacDonald will carry 14 players, seven of whom played on the varsity in a variety of roles, albeit limited ones.

Most of the experienced juniors play a variety of positions. Selayna Bathurst is the top candidate to start at outside hitter, Grace Randall will see the majority of her time at middle hitter (she’s also a capable setter), Ella Deane — who played the most points during the postseason — will be one of the primary setters and Brianna Thurber will is the top option at libero.

MacDonald also has three sophomores with match experience — Lauren Davenport will be one of the main options at outside hitter, Ava Harper is a capable hitter whether from the middle or outside, and Hailey Orloski is expected to see time at both setter and opposite hitter.

Four other sophomores are also in the mix and should provide Frontier with some much-needed depth. They are Elizabeth Fuqua (setter/right side hitter), Penelope Hosley (middle hitter), Ashley Telega (middle hitter) and Sarah Zoly (setter/outside hitter).

Three other players who could see action at some point include junior Emily Tourigny (middle hitter/setter), freshman Jalen Sullivan (outside hitter) and eighth-grader Olivia Deane (outside hitter).

“We’ve got some good people coming up but they’re just a little on the green side,” said MacDonald. “We don’t have a lot of game experience and no tourney experience, so it’s going to be a little different of a year for us.

“We need to realistic,” he added. “I’m not sure if we can go too high or too low (with expectations), but it’s going to be different. We’re going to put up a fight. I just have to figure out the pieces of the puzzle and how they will fit in different ways.”

North Division

Turners Falls

This is the kind of team the Indians used to have for years — one that returns a wealth of experience after qualifying for the postseason and is arguably the favorite for the league title.

Head coach Kelly Liimatainen isn’t predicting a title but she’s certainly happy about the team she’ll send to the court.

Nine upperclassmen will likely comprise the core of the squad and the senior class carries a wealth of offensive capabilities. Jordyn Fiske is slated to start at one of the outside-hitter spots, while Tess Hunter returns in the middle. Melissa Hersey will switch between right-side hitter and middle hitter (depending on the alignment and personnel), and Maddy Johnson returns as an outside hitter.

“The seniors should bring a lot of power to the starting lineup,” said Liimatainen.

Sienna Dillensneider is the top returning junior to the mix, and she developed into a capable setter in 2015. Emma Miner gives Liimatainen another outside hitter as well as a second setting option, and classmate Chloe Ellis provides plenty of height at either middle or right side hitter.

Abby Loynd can play outside hitter or in the back row, while Adrianna DiMaio will serve as the libero.

Junior Skylar Thompson (middle/right side), and Sarah Waldron (right side/outside) and Hannah Welles (middle) will all see action up front. Welles is also another option at setter.

New senior Kaili Lynch will see time as a right-side hitter.

“I think we’ll be OK,” said Liimatainen. “We have a lot of depth. We’ll work hard, we’ll have fun and win some games.

“They’re willing to learn and try new things to make us better as a whole,” she added. “They all want to do things the right way. They work well together, and they want to win.”

Athol

If the Red Raiders aren’t able to win or share the North title this season, it won’t be for a lack of effort.

“I don’t know if we’re going to be a great team, but this group is very ambitions and self-driven,” said head coach Amber Parker. “We may play teams with more talent and we may not get to the Western Mass. finals, but no one will outwork us.”

Athol’s squad won’t be deep — Parker only expects to keep nine players on the roster — but they have the talent to qualify for the postseason and make things interesting in the North.

The Red Raiders’ offense has the potential to be as good as anyone in the North. Senior co-captains Hope Parker and Jess Soucie both return along with classmate Julia Ramos, who will run the offense as the main setter.

Paige Truehart is the only other full-time varsity returnee, and she’s the Raiders’ top defensive specialist.

Two players from the JV who will make Athol’s attack even stronger are senior opposite hitter Hannah Arsenault and junior middle hitter Hannah Lajoie.

Senior Abby Leadbetter moves up to take over at libero, junior Haylie Baker is another defensive specialist, and freshman middle hitter Alexis Carrasquillo will add depth up front.

Coach Parker said she’s sticking with nine for now because no one is ready to move up. But she’s happy with what she has right now.

“This is a really cohesive team,” she said. “They like each other, they’re really competitive and they bring out best in each other. We’re going to be competitive.”

Pioneer

The Panthers lost a few graduates but four unexpected defections have turned a potential run for the league title into more of a rebuilding process for head coach Jake Schillinger.

He does have five veterans who should help keep the Panthers in the North title conversation, although the lack of depth may ultimately determine their fate.

Most of his veterans are front-row players.

Madison Tyson will open as the middle hitter, Samantha LeDuc is starting option at either outside middle hitter, and Lizzie Fuller and Hanna Buedinger are both outside hitters. All four are seniors.

Caroline Merkle, the other returnee, will quarterback the offense as the squad’s primary setter.

Schillinger also has an intriguing newcomer on the team — Serife Kus, who is a Turkish exchange student. She is being looked at as an outside hitter.

“Numbers are a little lower this year, but we have a strong senior core with a couple years of varsity experience,” said Schillinger.

Mahar

After a miserable 2015 season, Senators head coach Sarah Woodward and her squad a ready to forge ahead.

“We can only get better from last year,” she said, referring to their nightmarish 3-15 campaign. “We have some players who played club ball and summer ball and think we have a good chance to prove ourselves this year.”

She has the depth to contend for the North, and the added bonus is that all of the returning players are underclassmen.

Middle hitter Maeve Powell and outside-/right-side hitter Sophie Smith are the only returning juniors, and both will be counted on for their leadership as well.

Sophomores Jordyn Berry and Ava Santana give Mahar one of the deeper front lines in the North. Both are outside hitters, although Berry can slide over and play in the middle.

Aria Flematti has been tabbed as the starting setter, and Lauren Henne will be the libero.

Senior Serenity Eastman, who missed the entire 2015 season due to injury, is a second option at setter as well as right-side hitter.

Senior Alissa Alden (DS) and sophomores Alivia Liberty (right side) and Carissa Johnson (DS) will also fit into the rotation.

Woodward’s depth extends to the four players, all of whom will be new to the varsity squad.

Sophomore hitter Kassidy Thompson comes up from JV, as do senior defensive specialist Naomi Cope and eighth-grade utility player Quincey Drew. Sophomore Ariana Sargent is a newcomer from Lunenburg who also shows promise. Woodward’s other varsity player is eighth-grader Keanna Thompson.

“I think the girls are definitely ready to learn,” she said. “A lot of them are really coachable, there has been good energy and the practices have been pretty good. We’re excited about starting fresh, forgetting about last season and moving forward.”

Greenfield

The Green Wave is heading in the right direction and head coach Lisa Moore is hoping that the upward trend results in a postseason berth.

“If we can finish .500, I’d be thrilled,” said Moore, whose squad went 4-14 overall last season. “We’re not that deep but everything for us is a unified effort. They’re focused on helping each other and the leadership is excellent.”

That leadership includes five seniors who could vault Greenfield back into the playoffs, and it includes a veteran front line of Molley Duclos, Mackenzie Morey and Emily Maloney.

Duclos, who’s nearly 6 feet, will alternate between middle and outside hitter, Morey will take her swings from the middle, and Maloney can be either a left- or right-side hitter.

Emily Cavender can also play the right side, and she’s also one of the Wave’s defensive specialists.

Amy Muniz will anchor the back row as either the setter or a defensive specialist, and she’ll be joined back there by juniors Casey Noyes (libero/setter) and Jennifer Ortega (DS/libero).

Raven Graves, another returning junior, will add depth up front as a left-side hitter.

Depth may be a problem at first but Moore has three players coming up from junior varsity — all sophomores — who will fill some key roles. They are Zahri Smith (middle hitter/right-side hitter), Caitlin Moore (setter/DS) and Lexi Rowell (setter/DS).

Mohawk

After a four-win 2015 campaign, Warriors second-year head coach Katelyn Gaffigan Gamelli is hoping her squad can continue its upward climb and challenge for a tourney berth.

Only three varsity players return to the roster and all three will provide Mohawk with solid offensive options. Senior Olivia Dubrule and junior Lexi Mazza are both middle hitters and senior Hayley Lowell will be the top outside-hitting option.

Four players will come up from the JV to play a significant role on the team. Ashley Reynolds will be the primary setter, Gabby Shean is slated to play right-side hitter, Jordan Rice is the libero, and Erikka Henry will play a variety of roles.

All are sophomore except Henry, a freshman.

Mohawk is already dealing with a key injury — senior Emily Page turned her ankle and is expected to miss at least the first week of the regular season.

Despite the losses to graduation, Gaffigan Gamelli got some good news — senior Mackenzie Mayhew returns after missing all of 2015 due to injury, and senior Sara Powell returned to the school after a stint at Franklin Tech.

Mayhew will alternate between libero and outside hitter and Powell is another option at setter.

“I’m seeing a lot of hard work, which is really good,” said Gaffigan Gamelli, who is assisted by Maura Crossman. “The atmosphere is so much better this year. Olivia has been a great leader, and the team is working really well together.

“We really want to make tournament,” she added. “If we can put it all together, we can make it.”

Metro Division

FC Tech

Second-year head coach Jade Cuevas is hoping to earn a few more wins this year.

There are some pieces with which Cuevas will be able to rebuild the squad, and there are only two seniors on the roster.

Juniors Jocelyn Holloway, Cobi Harden and Ryleigh Barton are back, as is sophomore Reagan Fiske. All are penciled in as outside hitters except for Hardin, who will play in the middle. Sophomore Summer Gaudreau is the only other varsity returnee, and she’ll play middle hitter.

The top player up from JV is sophomore Kimmie Petrowicz, who will also play middle hitter.

Cuevas also has four newcomers: seniors Cassie Harris (setter/outside hitter) and Savannah Card (outside hitter), junior Leah Wozniak (outside hitter) and freshman Izzy Duga.

“The attitude is very positive, and they’re starting to gel as a unit,” said Cuevas. “The cohesion is getting there, even though there aren’t a lot of them there right now, and they’re a great bunch of girls.”




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