SOUTH DEERFIELD — Last year’s loss in the MIAA Division 5 State Finals left the Frontier Regional women’s volleyball team unsatisfied.
Every season at South Deerfield aspires to add trophies to the deal. The Redhawks won a Western Massachusetts championship for the 16th straight season. They reached their ninth state final in the last 10 tournaments (with eight state championships in that streak) before falling to Paulo Freire.
“Last year didn’t end exactly the way I wanted it to, and there’s a lot of unfinished business,” said Sydney Scanlon, senior setter for Frontier.
Frontier has become accustomed to defending state titles over the past decade. The seasons have become exercises in maintaining motivation amid sustained excellence. Tokens do not grow off the shoulders of champions.
“A Frontier volleyball team that has something to prove is definitely very dangerous,” Scanlon said.
The Redhawks have seven seniors who have played together most of their lives. Four were freshmen on the 2019 state championship team: Scanlon, Jillian Apanell, Samantha Baker and Eve Dougan. They played small enough roles that they wouldn’t consider it “their” title. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has wrecked the 2020 season for another team laden with seniors who harbored well-founded championship aspirations. No tournament took place this fall.
“It was so special, and it was so terrible that they couldn’t play a real season,” Apanell said. “Now here we are, we have this special group again. I’m excited to see where this takes us.
Frontier won’t bring the biggest team into many games, but the Redhawks will try to compensate with an abundance of skill and flexibility. Players regularly train in different positions during scrums and split-team drills to increase training competitiveness.
“We’re going to have depth, we’re going to have a lot of interchangeable parts,” Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said.
These parts know how to communicate and avoid confusion even in a different position. The Redhawks grew up together and play both club volleyball and other sports like basketball or softball.
“A lot of the time we don’t even say anything on the pitch, we just move a certain way,” Apanell said.
That confidence extends to the bench. MacDonald’s blood pressure will not increase in certain rotations. He won’t pray that a serve won’t find a player on the floor, and that won’t change when he goes to his bench.
“Anyone could be a sprained ankle or a COVID cough far from a starter,” he said. “Someone is going to run out of time. We have to have that versatility.
CROSS A PATH – Graduated five seniors from a state tournament team has a silver lining at Amherst Regional. Almost all positions are available for the taking.
“Some years you just know who’s going to play where and other years it’s like ‘show me what you got,'” Amherst coach Kacey Schmitt said.
This has spawned a healthy competitive spirit within the team, a breath of fresh air where things can get stale without an opportunity.
“Last year I think people were really well positioned in their positions, and there was a way of doing things and there was training,” Amherst senior Juliana Shepard said. “While we will miss the seniors and they were amazing players and we loved having them in the team, I think it’s a great opportunity to have new people trying new things and really make things happen.”
While most Hurricanes have known each other for years, nothing shakes them like new blood. Senior Amalia Martin, the daughter of UMass men’s basketball coach Frank Martin, joined the team almost immediately after moving to Amherst. The family arrived on a Sunday and they were in summer league training the following Wednesday.
“I connected instantly with everyone and it was awesome,” Martin said. “Volleyball has always been very important to me. So now, moving and immediately having the opportunity to continue playing has been great for me and has kept me energized.
The speed with which she has integrated into the team is a testament to both her character and hers.
“That’s kind of who they are as people…a really friendly, respectful bunch,” Schmitt said. “She’s outgoing, she’s vocal. She is positive. And everyone immediately understood his energy. They are ready to accept her because she takes the risks correctly and accepts the situation with such maturity.
Maturity might define hurricanes more than any other trait. They have eight returning players, four seniors and 14 upper classes. Amherst reached the Western Massachusetts Class A Finals last season.
“We expect you to leave your troubles at the door,” Shepard said. “You come in and you play and you smile and you laugh. You just get better because your heart is in it.
BATTLE TESTED – Easthampton (Division 5 Round of 32) and Holyoke (Division 2 preliminary round) reached the state tournament last season. The Eagles have graduated seven seniors, but main striker Maddie Barr is back.
The Purple Knights have also lost a large senior contingent (six). Their roster was also filled with five juniors, including libero Erin Gauthier, who benefited from this experience.
BUILDING BLOCKS – Smith Vocational qualified for the playoffs for the first time in club history last season. The Vikings reached the Western Massachusetts Class C quarterfinals and the state’s 5th Division preliminary round.
Granby made its varsity debut in 2021 and went 5-15.
UNMASKED – Volleyball players were among the last to compete in masks last season as indoor athletes. There are no such restrictions in 2022, much to the relief of all concerned.
“I’m so excited to see everyone’s facial expressions, like when someone gets a good kill or a crazy save, I’m so excited to see the look on their faces,” Frontier’s Jillian Apanell said. .
The return to normal will benefit both coaches and players – on and off the pitch.
“We can get along better, communicate better,” Amherst coach Kacey Schmitt said. “They were able to have a more normal year, so people are going to have a bit more headroom.”
Kyle Grabowski can be contacted at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @kylegrbwsk.