Girls volleyball preview: Sean MacDonald prepares for final season coaching defending state champion Frontier

By HANNAH BEVISand THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writers

Published: 09-08-2023 8:00 PM

The Sean MacDonald era with the Frontier girls volleyball team is coming to an end at the conclusion of this season.

MacDonald — who has won 11 state titles with the Redhawks, the second most for any program in the Commonwealth — said he plans for this to be his final season leading Frontier, as he plans to focus on other things in the fall moving forward.

“This will be my last season with the girls,” MacDonald said. “I’ll be there in the spring [with the Frontier boys volleyball team] if they choose to have me. I just think it’s time. I love what I do and the people I do it with. Those things haven’t changed. There’s some other things I’d like to do in the fall and I have other priorities in life. I graduated from Mahar myself but I do feel like I’m a Redhawk for life.”

The Redhawks earned that 11th state title last season in dramatic fashion, storming back from a 2-0 deficit against Paulo Freire in the semis to move on to the finals, where it knocked off Mt. Greylock to capture the championship.

Five of the seven starters — Sydney Scanlon, Jillian Appanel, Eve Dougan, Brooke Davis and Samantha Baker — from the state title team graduated, with Frontier set to look much different this fall, though as it seems to do every year, a fresh batch of players will move into the varsity lineup and are ready to go.

Senior Caroline Deane, who was named to the All-State team last season, will be the top weapon on the outside for the Redhawks. Fellow seniors Kate DeMaio and Gabby Adams also had roles for the Redhawks last fall and will be asked to take another step forward this season, DeMaio as a middle hitter and Adams as an outside/middle hitter.

Senior Aliana Pierce has the task of replacing Scanlon, who finished her career with over 1,500 assists, as the setter. Olivia Machon, Ariana Miller, Abby Hernandez, Hannah Davis and Melanie Ring were a few of the other names that MacDonald said would be competing for roles this season.

“The four seniors will all play crucial roles for us,” MacDonald said. “Aliana will get the first crack at setter and she’s doing well so far. We’re definitely going to look different and we’ll work out the kinks. When we look good, we look good. Now we just need to see it against another team.”

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If the Redhawks plan to send MacDonald out with another state title, they will have to do so in a higher division.

Frontier moved up to Div. 4 from Div. 5 this season, though there won’t be any excuses with the step up in competition around South Deerfield. After all, the Redhawks compete in the Eastern League along with Longmeadow (Div. 2), Amherst (Div. 3), Westfield (Div. 2), Minnechaug (Div. 2) and recently added Springfield Central (Div. 1), all of which are in higher divisions than Frontier to begin with.

Throw in non-league matches against Turners, Nantucket, Nauset, Agawam, Melrose, Westborough, Dennis-Yarmouth and Athol and the Redhawks will be plenty prepared for what Div. 4 has to offer. Frontier went 2-0 against Nantucket and Nauset to open its 2023 slate last weekend.

“We play where they tell us to play,” MacDonald said. “When there were three divisions we ran into most of these teams. Rockland is in Division 4 and we played them in a state final. Case is Division 4 and we played them four times in a row in states. There’s some good teams in Division 4.”

When you win as much as Frontier does, the expectations are always going to be high. That’s the case once again this year, despite a brand new roster.

“We always want to win our league and win Western Mass.,” MacDonald said. “Our league will be tough... there’s some really good teams. We don’t want to shoot too low but we want to be realistic. We have a lot of new pieces. I could see us there at the end but you just don’t know. We have a lot of good volleyball players who are returning but a lot of these players haven’t been relied upon to really do it. They’ve been cheering on the bench and were put in games only in comfortable situations. They’ll be thrown into uncomfortable spots this year and we’ll see how it goes.”

Frontier

COACH: Sean MacDonald

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Eastern/4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 25-1

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2022 Class C Western Mass champions; 2022 Division 5 State champions

ROSTER: Seniors – Gabrielle Adams, Caroline Deane, Kate Demaio, Aliana Pierce; Juniors – Emilie Candelaria, Hannah Davis, Abigail Hernandez, Olivia Machon, Ariana Miller, Sophia Pinardi, Melanie Ring, Rozalyn Schempp, Parrish Stilla; Sophomores – Greta Hale, Caitlin Maio; Freshmen – Bailey Martin

Amherst 

COACH: Kacey Schmitt, 25th year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Eastern/Division 2

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 19-4

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2022 Class A Western Mass champions; Division 2 State Tournament Round of 16 (Fell 3-0 to Duxbury)

ROSTER: Seniors – Liza Beigel, Abigail Como, Lauren Joy, Emerson Joyce, Sophie Kawall, Shannon Klaes, Dayana Martin, Annabel Ogden, Talia Sadiq, Autumn Tarbox; Juniors – Ruby Austin, Eve Jacoby, Marianna Mendoza-Torres; Sophomores – Kiko Bhowmik, Ava Carey

OUTLOOK: The ‘Canes are always a formidable team in the Valley, and this year will be no different. Though they have big shoes to fill with the departures of players like Amalia Martin and Audrey Bowen, they have plenty of current seniors who have loads of varsity experience. 

Libero Liza Beigel will help lead the defense while Ruby Austin, Sophie Kawall, Shannon Klaes and Lauren Joy take charge on offense. On top of that, the ‘Canes return starting setter Annabel Ogden, which will be a big help for the new players who do slot in.

Belchertown 

COACH: Melissa Gramuglia, third season

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Southern/3

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-9

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: Qualified for Class B Western Mass Final (Fell 3-0 to Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter); Division 3 State Tournament Round of 32 (Fell 3-0 to Cardinal Spellman). 

ROSTER: Seniors — Jordyn Hunter, Bethany Lavoie, Paige Magner, Christina Santiago, Ava Shea; Juniors – Melina David, Gianna Picardi, Vivian Ross; Sophomores – Abigail Almeida, Sofia Cofone, Layla Liminski, Sophia Parro

OUTLOOK: This could be the year that the Orioles make a deep postseason run. Head coach Melissa Gramuglia is in her third season with the squad, and has a good number of players who have been with her since she first took over the team. The chemistry that everyone has developed over the last two seasons could give them a leg up this year, especially early on. 

Players to watch this year include Christina Santiago, Ava Shea and Gianna Picardi along with setter Vivian Ross. 

Easthampton

COACH: Molly Jacobson, 17th year 

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Southern/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 15-8

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: Class C Western Mass Final  (Fell 3-0 to Frontier); Division 5 Round of 16 (Fell 3-0 to Millis)   

ROSTER: Seniors – Diya Bhatia, Kaelin Damon, Kayley Downie, Sophia Faginski, Erin Teague, Katelyn Martin, Emersyn Nadin, Makenna Slate; Juniors – Lidie Buttrick, Kierra Carson, Aziza Menendez, Zamairy Salgado, Addison Sigda, Hailey Siv

OUTLOOK: Easthampton lost one of its very best last year with the graduation of middle blocker Maggie Barr, who did a little bit of everything for the Eagles. But this year’s senior class, many who were on the varsity roster last year, will make that transition a little easier for the team. 

Easthampton is poised to be a competitive team this year, led by players like libero Kayley Downie, offensive stars Kaelin Damon and Kierra Carson and setter Erin Teague. Last year’s group made it all the way to the Western Mass. final before running into eventual state champs Frontier, and made it to the second round of the postseason. They’ll be looking to do at least that again, if not go any deeper. If their early matches are any indication (2-0), they’re well on their way to making that a reality.

Granby

COACH: Stacy Bombard, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Metro/5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 2-13 

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: N/A

ROSTER: Ariana Beaulieu,  Lyla Bergeron, Madison Bombard, Annabella Brown, Katie Grabherr, Callin Kibbie, Sara Lessard, Audrey Pieisch, Adrianna Prim, Noel Summerlin

OUTLOOK: The Rams have struggled on the volleyball court in years past. This year they’ll have a new coach, Stacy Bombard, taking over the program in an effort to steer them back into the win column.

Holyoke

COACH: Paula Conway, 30th year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Central/2

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 10-9 

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: Division 2 State Tournament, preliminary round (3-1 loss to Stoughton)

ROSTER: Seniors – Kelsey Brainard, Yacelin Carabello, Aliesh Cotto Torres, Deniangeliz Luna, Yeseida Mercolino, Rebecca Romero, Zuleymi Santiago Vallejo; Juniors – Nayshaliz Gonzalez, Jayleen Guzman, Yohadlie Y. Pabon; Sophomores – Ashantylis Calderon

OUTLOOK: Longtime coach Paula Conway is back again for the Purple Knights, who have started the season with a 1-1 record. Last year’s squad missed out on the Western Mass tournament but won two clutch games at the end of the year to qualify for the state tournament. 

The team has three returners from last season’s varsity team – Aliesh Cotto Torres, Yeseida Mercolino, Jayleen Guzman – that should lead the team this season after graduating eight seniors last year. 

Smith Vocational

COACH: Ashley Clark, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Metro, 5

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 9-11 

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2022 Class C Western Mass Final (Fell 3-0 to Frontier)

ROSTER: Seniors — Jennifer Bouchard, Grace Clendenin, Josie Dubay, Annalise Kaczenski; Juniors – Abigail Desrochers, Jaelyn Kulas, Mikayla Trudell, Brook Wolcott; Sophomores –Roma Bentrewicz, Heidymar Diaz-Lopez; Freshmen – Leah Franklin, Irelyn Marcoux

OUTLOOK: The Vikings have a new coach in Ashley Clark this year. They lost a couple of their top players last year in Jaycee Beaulieu and Kora Kelly, but they returned one of their top performers in sophomore Heidymar Diaz-Lopez. 

The biggest thing Clark will focus on is making sure each player has a role they can fit into. Without Beaulieu and Kelly, players will need to step up to fill their shoes and new lineups will have to build chemistry.

South Hadley

COACH: Sabrina Bardwell, first year

LEAGUE/DIVISION: Western, 4

LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 0-18 

LAST TOURNAMENT APPEARANCE: 2021 Class C Western Mass Semifinal (Fell 3-0 to Paulo Freire Social Justice Charter)

ROSTER – Seniors – Evie Gingras, Destiny Patterson, Emily Piligian; Juniors – Lilly Castro Reyes, Gracie Levreault, Raquel Losty, Yarianiz Santiago, Isabella Schaeffer; Sophomores – Madison Bruso; Freshmen – Vivian Marion, Grace Matyszewski

OUTLOOK: The Tigers had nowhere to go but up after a winless season last year, and so far, they’ve started the year off with a bang. In their first match of the season, the Tigers downed Southwick in a five-set battle to get their first win since 2021. 

New coach Sabrina Bardwell is extremely well-versed in volleyball and is looking to create a new culture at South Hadley. The Tigers will be led by some of their upperclassmen, including junior Raquel Losty and seniors Evie Gingras, Emily Piligian, and Destiny Patterson.

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