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Frontier volleyball cruises as Cassidy Stankowski works her way back into top form

Cassidy Stankowski of Frontier Regional, standing by a mural Wednesday at the school, has been named Gatorade Massachusetts Volleyball Player of the Year.

JERREY ROBERTS Cassidy Stankowski of Frontier Regional, standing by a mural Wednesday at the school, has been named Gatorade Massachusetts Volleyball Player of the Year. Purchase photo reprints »

WILBRAHAM — Coming off a knee injury, Cassidy Stankowski says she feels 100 percent healthy.

The Frontier Regional volleyball senior standout certainly looks like the same dominant force that has led the Red Hawks to two straight state Division 3 titles and won the Massachusetts Gatorade Player of the Year as a junior.

But after a 16-kill, 12-dig performance in Monday night’s 3-0 win over Minnechaug, Stankowski said she’s still knocking the rust off from missing extended time.

“I need a lot more work,” said Stankowski, whose team won 25-14, 25-18, 25-16 against the Falcons (14-1). “Being out for two-plus weeks really set me back. I’m frustrated. Timing, positioning, I just need to keep working hard.”

Frontier coach Sean MacDonald downplayed his stars relative struggles since returning to the starting lineup.

“She’s going to be fine,” he said. “She’s just a little rusty. Her timing is a little off. She’s hitting the net on the way by on the ball, and that’s like a one-hundreth of a second difference on her swing. I’m not worried about it.”

Stankowski, who is committed to play on scholarship at Division I Central Connecticut State last year, was hampered by tendinitis in both knees from overuse and was forced to first severely limit her playing time and then sit out completely for two weeks in order to recover.

“I feel good now,” said Stankowski, who is also going to physical therapy to help the problem. “Every now and then I have a little soreness, but I just have to ice. I feel 100 percent out there. The adrenaline is flowing and I don’t feel anything.”

Including in her games missed was Frontier’s 3-1 loss to Notre Dame Academy on Oct. 6. The loss snapped a 25-match winning streak and was the Red Hawks’ first home loss since Oct. 2004.

Stankowski either sat out entirely or only served in seven games beginning with a 3-0 win over Pioneer Regional on Sept. 24. She finally returned in full attack mode for the team’s match against Pioneer — another 3-0 win — on Oct. 15.

While Stankowski was out, the team had to get production elsewhere and there were plenty of extra repetitions to go around.

Junior outside hitter Sarah Woodward, who had eight kills and six digs Monday, said the extra work has paid off.

“We learned a lot about ourselves having to play without one of the best players on our team,” she said. “It’s like a comfort having her on the court. Playing with more pressure on you really helps.”

MacDonald also liked what he saw.

“Sarah Woodward definitely stepped up during that time and took a bigger chunk of the offense,” he said. “She’s kind of the complementary player when Cassidy is on the floor, and she was kind of the lead player when Cassidy wasn’t on the floor and she did a nice job. Even in the loss to Notre Dame, I thought she played well (eight kills, 12 digs). I think that’s going to help her going through the playoffs this year and next year when she might be the stud.”

Stankowski, meanwhile, has been stellar in the four matches since returning, posting a total of 52 kills and 24 digs, including a strong performance Monday against the Falcons, who are a true WMass Division 2 title contender.

Still, there is work to do for the Red Hawks, whose goal is to win a third straight state title.

“She’s struggling a little bit in her own head,” MacDonald said. “It doesn’t look that bad to me or to anyone else, but it’s not up to what she can do. That’s what bothers her.

“It doesn’t really bother me that much. Her at 80 percent is better than almost everyone in the state. I know it is going to smooth out. Whether she’s at 50 percent, 80 percent or 100 percent, if it is 24-24 in the state finals, I want us setting the ball to her.”

The team has two regular season matches — Thursday at Greenfield and Monday’s senior night at home against Division 2 champion Longmeadow — to prepare for the postseason.

“I think we are getting there. I still feel like I’m a week or two behind because we had a couple injuries with Cassidy out for a while and Kate Harper (ankle) out for a while,” MacDonald said. “So, at this point, we’ve usually been running what I would call plan A for a month or so, and we haven’t really been using plan A because we haven’t had everybody available.

“It’s coming, but usually we’ve smoothed out more stuff by now. But I feel OK. I feel like we are getting there and we are getting better in practice every day.”

Jim Pignatiello can be reached at jpignatiello@gazettenet.com.

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