Div. 5 volleyball: Frontier prepares for Mount Greylock, seeking 11th state championship trophy

  • 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

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2022 5:37:38 PM

While Team USA’s upset over the Soviet Union in the 1980 Winter Olympics, commonly known as the Miracle on Ice, is a game that lives in lore, it didn't secure the U.S. a gold medal. 

That game was a semifinal, and Herb Brooks’ squad still had to beat Finland to finish the job and bring home gold. That message is one Frontier volleyball coach Sean MacDonald is relaying to his team after the Redhawks’ comeback 3-2 victory over Paulo Freire on Tuesday. 

It was a match none of the Frontier players will ever forget, falling behind 2-0 before storming back to win the final three sets and exorcise its demons against a Panthers squad that had robbed the Redhawks of an 11th state championship the season prior. 

Tuesday’s semifinal felt like a state championship match. Like the game against the Soviets, though, it was just the semifinal. Frontier now must refocus and turn its attention to No. 3 Mt. Greylock, which it faces in the MIAA Div. 5 championship match on Saturday at 5:30 p.m. at Worcester State University.

“We talked about refocusing today,” MacDonald said. “We’ve been thinking about Paulo for a year. We knew if we wanted to win a championship we were going to have to beat them. We need to get refocused on Greylock now. Everyone remembers when Team USA beat the Soviets but everyone forgets that that was just the semifinals and they had to beat Finland. Just because you beat the best team in the world doesn’t mean you get a medal.” 

With the new state tournament format, teams often end up facing opponents they’ve never seen before. That won’t be the case on Saturday. 

Frontier and the Mounties faced off in the Div. 5 semifinals a season ago, when the Redhawks came away with a 3-0 victory. The two squads met again this fall during the regular season, with Frontier cruising to a 25-11, 25-12, 25-20 sweep. MacDonald doesn’t think it’ll be at all easy to get past Mount Greylock (19-3) on Saturday, though. 

“Greylock is a good team,” MacDonald said. “They weren’t at full strength when we saw them. They had a rotation issue in the first set which threw them off. They were better in the second set. I’m expecting a good match from Greylock. I know they’ve been looking forward to playing us and they’ve seen us before. I’m expecting a tough match.”

Stopping the Mounties starts with finding a way to slow down junior outside hitter Celena Savage, who smashed 22 kills to lead Greylock to a 3-1 victory over No. 2 Hopedale in the semifinals. Savage isn’t the only weapon the Mounties have, as every player on the court is a threat to score at any time.

“They run a 6-2 [formation] because they have a setter [Charlotte Coody] who’s pretty tall,” MacDonald said. “The setter is left handed and she can set and hit. She puts up a big block on the outside hitters. Celena is a problem on the outside. They have a middle who didn’t play against us. They’re good. They have multiple weapons who can hurt you and a big gun with Celena. They have five hitters who you have to pay attention to.” 

Greylock opened the state tournament with a 3-0 win over No. 30 Norfolk Aggie. The Mounties then swept No. 19 Blackstone-Millville, 3-0, in the Round of 16 before getting a tough test against No. 11 Millis in the quarterfinals, with Greylock coming away with a 3-2 victory. The Mounties went up 2-0 against Hopedale in the semis, dropped the third set but recovered to win the fourth to earn a spot in the finals against Frontier. 

With the way the Redhawks have been playing down the stretch, they’re just focused on controlling what they can control on Saturday. 

“We’re going to put our all out there, try our hardest and do everything we can to win,” Frontier senior Sydney Scanlon said after the semifinal win against Paulo Freire.

After the comeback win against the Panthers, there’s no shortage in confidence on the Redhawks side. 

“We gained so much confidence,” senior Eve Dougan said. “Going into the state final I have so much excitement and confidence in our abilities. I trust every person that’s on the court and on the bench to continue what we’re doing.”

The championship match will also provide an opportunity for Frontier’s Jillian Apanell to make an impact in a title-tilt. The senior suffered a knee injury in the first set against Greylock in the 2021 semis, ending her season. Apanell had a big showing against Paulo Freire on Tuesday, something MacDonald was thrilled to see. 

“It was so cool to see Jillian have an impact on the game,” MacDonald said. “She’s looking forward to playing in the state title game. She’s still not 100 percent yet but she’s coming back and getting better every day. It’s great seeing her play and help the team and she’s looking forward to doing that again in the championship.” 

As was the case against Paulo Freire, the Redhawks seem to be gearing up to play nearly the same team that they saw in the semifinals a season ago, as nearly the entire Mountie team returned this fall. 

Both teams know each other inside and out, and MacDonald expects the game to simply come down to who plays better. 

“There’s a lot of familiarity but Greylock is a much better team than they were last year,” MacDonald said. “You can be as familiar as you want, you still have to play the game. It’ll come down to who’s going to execute. It doesn’t matter what’s happened before, it’s going to be about who plays better on that day.” 

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