HOLYOKE >> Despite being seeded only one spot lower, the No. 2-seeded Lee volleyball team entered Saturday's Western Massachusetts Division III championship game with an upset-minded mentality. Lee showed no signs of intimidation early, but Frontier withstood the Wildcats' opening punch, pulling away for a 25-21, 25-11 and 25-20 sweep. The win gives Frontier its 11th straight Western Mass title.
Trailing two sets to none, the Wildcats continued to battle, tying the set at 17-17 off a Haleigh Richardson kill. They would not get closer, however, as the Red Hawks closed on a 7-3 run.
"They had nothing to lose and they'd seen us before," Frontier coach Sean MacDonald said. "I saw them doing different things than the last time [we played] and they weren't intimidated at all."
Early on Lee did a good job of blocking Frontier's hitters. Richardson, Bailey Thomas and Ahna Schlaefer put themselves in great position at the net, keeping the Red Hawks off balance. A Thomas block sparked a 4-0 rally in the first set but, the five-time defending state champions responded, taking a 19-17 lead on a Katherine Conlisk ace. Lee cut its deficit to 21-22, but a bad serve, an unforced error and an Emily Woodward ace sealed the set.
"They're a multi-faceted offense and they bring it at you from every direction," Lee coach John Warner said. "They use slides and shoots, and it's a well-oiled machine.
"We initially came out and our strategy was to serve really strong. Nobody was allowed to tip, everybody came out swinging. We played with them the first game and we hung with them the third game as well. All-in-all [Frontier is] just phenomenal."
Frontier's ability to adjust shows how cohesive the senior-heavy team is. Senior Remi Quesnelle led Frontier with 13 kills and 12 digs. Seniors Rachel Cialek and Conlisk added eight each kills each.
Despite the loss, Lee's underclassmen-heavy team took a lot of positives away from playing the powerhouse program.
"Everyone on [Frontier] is very good and can start on almost any program," Lee's Kendra Williams said. "Their hits are harder than a lot of girls and their serves are harder. They have excellent passers and their setters are amazing. They have a good program for the young girls too, so they're able to bring back players every single year."
Williams led Lee with nine assists, three aces, two kills and two digs. Courtney Picard had eight digs, five assists and five kills. Shenna Tyer had eight kills. Anna Wang added nine digs.
The Wildcats remained upbeat after the loss. They have good reason to be confident in their ability to return to the postseason, as all put one player will return next season. Their bright future helped keep Saturday's loss in perspective.
"We're a very young team. We had two freshmen, a sophomore, two juniors and one senior on the court," Warner said. "We'll be back. We're going to be a force to be reckoned with. I'm proud of the way the girls played. ... They really held up to the seed they were given."