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Fall sports preview: Frontier volleyball retooling in pursuit of 14th straight WMass championship

  • Olivia Deane, right, lunges for a ball during the Frontier girls volleyball preseason practice in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Sydney Scanlon, right, tips the ball as Reilly Isler jumps to block during the Frontier girls volleyball practice Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Olivia Deane serves during the Frontier girls volleyball practice Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Sydney Scanlon sets the ball during the Frontier girls volleyball practice Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Eve Dougan sets the ball during the Frontier girls volleyball practice Friday afternoon in South Deerfield. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 9/6/2019 1:00:59 PM
Modified: 9/6/2019 1:00:47 PM

SOUTH DEERFIELD — The expectations are impossible to ignore, as unfair as they are.

The Frontier Regional girls volleyball team has won 14 straight Western Massachusetts Division 3 championships. Nine state championships populate that run that began in 2005. Players on the 2019 team were infants and toddlers when it started.

“How do you live up to that? You can’t control your history, you can control now,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said. “It’s nice that other people were successful, but what are we going to be?”

The Red Hawks still want to keep it going. They understand what it means to play Frontier volleyball and what it takes.

“There is a certain sense of pressure that comes with wanting to continue the streak and continue the legacy. None of us think that it’s guaranteed we’re going to keep that up,” Frontier junior Reilly Isler said. “It’s something we work super hard for. We make it a goal every year, but we know this isn’t going to get handed to us.”

Frontier graduated five starters from last season’s sectional champion – the Red Hawks fell in the state semifinals against Bourne. Only Isler, the libero, and Olivia Deane remain. It has been an adjustment figuring out the 2019 lineup.

“I have no clue what Plan A will be,” MacDonald said. “We don’t have the exact right fit of pieces. It’s not optimal distribution of positions, but we’ve been making it work.”

Thankfully for the Red Hawks, they’re not starting from a blank slate. Many players participated in the Pioneer Valley Juniors summer league and finished second. That time allowed them to begin to develop the level of communication necessary to succeed.

“We pick up these nonverbal queues that we get from spending so much time on the court,” Deane said.

That has manifested itself in a renewed focus on the defensive side of the net. Frontier probably won’t be able to put the ball down with as much consistency or ferocity as in recent years, so the Red Hawks will try to keep it up. Isler has taken ownership of the defensive intensity since the start of camp.

“As the libero you’re tasked with running the defense,” she said. “This is your job to make sure this is a smooth running machine.”

Olivia Rosewarne will receive the first turn with the keys of Frontier’s offense at setter. She played in 44 sets last year and delivered 157 assists working with graduated senior Elizabeth Fuqua. Rosewarne will also be working with an entirely new group of hitters. Only Deane is back from the Red Hawks’ top four attackers. They have to adjust to her as much as she needs to adjust to them.

“The biggest factor is consistency and effectively communicating with your setter,” Deane said. “You need to acclimate new setters to the way you play.”

Deane has taken the lead teaching the new Red Hawks to the way Frontier plays. She will occasionally remind players, “that’s not the way we do things.”

“She’s taken a little more ownership of the team and how it acts and operates,” MacDonald said.

That connects the Red Hawks through the eras more than a title streak can. Each older generation of players passes on the lessons and tenants of the program it learned from its predecessors.

“We’ve been talking a lot about who we are, what’s our identity? We know part of it. They know that they’re part of Frontier Volleyball,” MacDonald said. “We know what our basic, over-arcing principles are. We’re going to play hard, we’re going to play smart, and we’re going to do the fundamentals well.”

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