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Frontier closes out Mahar for eighth straight volleyball title

Cassidy Stankowski of Frontier Regional spikes the ball against Mahar during the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament championship game Saturday at Holyoke Community College. Frontier won its eighth straight title with a 3-0 sweep.

Cassidy Stankowski of Frontier Regional spikes the ball against Mahar during the Western Massachusetts Division 2 Tournament championship game Saturday at Holyoke Community College. Frontier won its eighth straight title with a 3-0 sweep. MIKE PHILLIPS Purchase photo reprints »

HOLYOKE — Right when Mahar seemed to have Frontier Regional on the defensive, the Red Hawks stepped on the proverbial accelerator and raced away.

After struggling with uneven play during most of the first set, Frontier displayed its championship form during the final two sets en route to a 25-20, 25-7, 25-8 win over the Senators for their eighth consecutive Western Massachusetts Division 3 Girls Volleyball Tournament championship on Saturday afternoon at Holyoke Community College.

The Red Hawks (21-1) will continue their pursuit of a third straight state title Wednesday night at 7 at Hudson High School in a semifinal match against South champion Archbishop Williams of Braintree, a 3-1 winner over Holbrook.

Frontier grabbed a 9-2 lead in the opening set, sparked by two aces from Julia Wan (four kills, four aces, two blocks) and a four-point service run from Kate Harper (five assists). The Hawks built the lead up to 10 points (23-13) before senior All-State outside hitter Cassidy Stankowski missed a jump serve. Senator middle hitter Sabrina Silva stepped up and served for six straight points, while the Hawks committed four unforced errors in that stretch.

Junior outside hitter Sarah Woodward fired home a kill to break the streak and get Frontier to set point, and it finally put the set away on a missed Mahar kill attempt.

Frontier coach Sean MacDonald knew something was amiss in the first set.

“We made errors in every possible way — hitting errors, passing errors, serving errors, receiving errors,” he said. “I think nerves were part of it. This means a lot to them, they’ve worked all year to get here. I just tried to tell them, ‘hey, it’s just another game.’”

“I think it was lack of communication,” said Stankowski. “It may have been just first-set jitters. But the next two games we were able to step it up quite a bit.”

Did they ever.

The teams started the second set even, then Stankowski registered a kill to put Frontier in the lead, 3-2. Wan then stepped to the service line and reeled off six straight points, two of them aces, while Stankowski (12 kills, nine digs, three assists, three aces) finished two of the points with her trademark blasts to build a 9-3 advantage and prompting Mahar coach Sarah Woodward (no relation to the Hawks’ outside hitter) to take a timeout.

The led hovered between seven and 10 points until Red Hawk freshman Emily Woodward took the service line at 16-6 and ripped off six straight points — her older sister registered three kills in the run — to break the set open, 22-6. After Mahar got a point back, Wan and Stankowski had consecutive kills and Sarah Woodward’s serve on game point wasn’t returned.

Emily Woodward opened the final set by serving for nine consecutive points. Mahar could only close the deficit to seven before Frontier opened up a double-digit lead on Sarah Woodward’s serve and the Senators never got closer than nine. Sarah Woodward (match-high 14 kills) reeled off four consecutive kills on Stankowski’s serve to extend the lead to 21-6, then at 22-8, Ali Durant (five digs, three aces) served for the final three points, recording an ace to end the 1-hour, 3-minute match.

Coach Woodward praised her team in the face of adversity.

“We did some great things, and there was some stuff that wasn’t so good,” she said. “They have nothing to be ashamed about. They had a great season, and the seniors had a great career. We’re very proud of them.”

Emily Woodward led Frontier with 12 assists, while Emma Contois added seven assists and six digs.

When asked if this title was more special than any of the others, MacDonald said, “They’re all special, (because) you come here with different players every year. ... I think what’s special, and what stands out the most, is that this is Cassidy’s sixth (title) in a row. I don’t think there’s any other high school athlete who’s ever won six (in one sport).”

Stankowski felt it was different for another reason.

“It feels a lot of different, because it’s the last time I’ll play here in high school,” said Stankowski. “It doesn’t seem like it’s been six years already.”

Notes: Stankowski’s teams went 122-0 against WMass teams in her career, including 19-0 in the postseason. Stankowski’s teams are a combined 134-6 overall. ... The last time Frontier lost to a WMass team was Oct. 2, 2006 against Belchertown (28-26, 25-12, 25-13). ... Tournament Director Deb Loomer made a nice detour from the mundane MIAA pregame spiel to acknowledge longtime Agawam coach Patricia Demers, who received the Mintonette Medallion of Merit Award at the Volleyball Hall of Fame induction ceremony on Oct. 20. The Mintonette honors the sport’s extraordinary contributors to the game. Demers, who is still coaching at age 80, received a standing ovation.

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