Lee, Frontier volleyball programs to renew rivalry in Western Mass. D-III championship match

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The Lee volleyball team will face Frontier in the Western Massachusetts Division III championship on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Holyoke Community College. The match is the third straight championship installment of the budding rivalry between the powerhouse programs. Last season, Frontier defeated Lee 3-2, giving the Red Hawks their 12th Western Mass. title in a row and second straight championship win against Lee. In 2015, Frontier recorded a 3-0 sweep over Lee.

Lee and Frontier are true programs in every sense of the word. From the way the coaches teach the game, to how they develop their players. Both Lee's John Warner and Frontier's Sean MacDonald have been at their respective schools for well over a decade and there's a clear mutual respect between the two.

Frontier's path back to Holyoke seemed almost predestined, while Lee's ability to rebuild on the fly was tested.

The Red Hawks returned nearly every player from last year's squad, increasing their regular-season record from 7-11 to 12-6 this year, en route to the top seed in Division III. Lee improved on last year's 18-2 season with a 17-1 record this year. Lee's lone loss came at the hands of Division I power Longmeadow, but the Wildcats capped their regular season with a 3-2 win over Frontier.

Warner said he was a little surprised to not be the top seed, but throughout the postseason his team has been anticipating a rematch with Frontier.

Before they played in the regular season, MacDonald watched Lee defeat a scrappy Lenox team 3-0 in mid-October. It's unclear if MacDonald gained anything useful from taking in the matchup against the Millionaires, but after facing off against Lee, the Wildcats new players left an impression on the longtime coach.

Players such as Suriana Lee, Ahna Schlaefer and Lydia Morawiec have stepped into larger roles. They've excelled at their respective positions, and their performance throughout the season put the rest of Western Mass. on notice.

"I'm impressed with how much they've lost and they are just as good as last year," MacDonald said at the Western Mass. volleyball seeding meetings in late October. "Their top four or five people, Bailey [Thomas], Lydia, Ahna, Anna [Wang] and the new setter [Lee], those five are all better than last year.

"That's why they beat us [in the regular season.] ... I hope to turn that around and we hope to do better the next time we see them."

Laura Davenport, Ashley Telega and Selayna Bathurst lead Frontier's offense. Ella Deane is the team's top passer. Thomas, Jayla Speers and company will have to stay well-positioned to block Frontier's powerful hitters.

Confidence is high on the Lee side. Warner said defeating Frontier and playing tough tournament games against Wahconah and Lenox will benefit his squad ahead of Saturday's championship game. Lee is used to high-pressure situations, but facing off against Frontier for the title could be nerve-racking for some of the younger players.

Akeem Glaspie can be reached at aglaspie@berkshireeagle.com, at @TheAkeemGlaspie on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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