Lee volleyball ready for another clash against Frontier with Western Mass. D-III title on the line
The Lee volleyball team knows what's coming. It's something the program has seen four times in the previous four seasons.
The question is, can the Wildcats stop the runaway train that is Frontier Regional School?
The 14-time defending Western Massachusetts champions are once again in the cross-hairs for the the No. 1 Wildcats, as the two programs collide for a fifth-straight Western Mass. Division III championship match today at West Springfield High School.
As the No. 2 Red Hawks' impressive streak shows, the Wildcats haven't come out on the positive end of the previous four matchups. What's changed this year? Besides the typical roster matriculation on both sides, Julia Warner has stepped into the head coaching role in Lee, replacing her father, John.
The Warners' familiarity with Frontier coach Sean MacDonald runs deep, including Julia playing for, and coaching with MacDonald at various points, but Julia said the goal is the same as it was for her dad.
"Sean and I, and Sean and my dad have gone back quite a ways," Warner said. "He's a great guy, he's a great coach — and I want to beat him."
The matchup today will not be the first time these two teams have met this season. Back on Oct. 22, the Red Hawks defeated the Wildcats in South Deerfield, 3-0. The set scores were 25-18, 25-15, 25-22.
Both coaches, though, touched on how the first battle doesn't mean anything when the first serve goes up Saturday.
"I'm expecting a real fight with Lee, because whatever happened here a few weeks ago doesn't get us anything on Saturday," MacDonald said after his team's win over Lenox in the semifinals. "We're starting with the score 0-0, and I'm expecting Lee to put up a really good fight and I'm expecting us to do the same."
"The big thing that we say is 0-0, it's game time," Warner said. "It's time to go, it's time to show up. We have to show up, we have to be ready at 0-0.
"And all of those points that were played at Frontier a few weeks ago were good experience, they were good to have. We learned from our mistakes and grew from there. But other than that, it was another match."
What should fans watch out for? The outside hitters on both teams are a good place to start. Frontier's Olivia Deane has had an incredible season for her Red Hawks and has Jalen Sullivan on the other side of the court to spike balls at the Wildcats. In the win over Lee, Deane had 16 kills, and Sullivan had six along with a strong serving effort. On Lee's side of the court, Warner said the defense will have to be up to the task. That unit is led by senior setter Suriana Lee and sophomore libero Rachel Wendling, who dug out 19 balls in the semifinal win over Mount Greylock.
"Both of their outside hitters are great. Their libero [Reilly Isler] also, and they have a good defense. They are able to convert even poorly passed balls into some offensive pressure.
"Looking at our side of things, having a solid defense, being able to pick up a few extra balls, and coming at them with some pressure of our own will definitely help."
Kylie Joyce had seven kills in the loss and Lizzy Brown had five. When the Wildcats rallied to beat Mount Greylock in the semifinals, Joyce had 13 kills, Brown had 10, and Suriana Lee had 21 assists getting the offense set up.
Lee will also have to cut down, if not completely eliminate, any unforced errors against a Red Hawks team that makes opponents pay for mistakes.
"We go on some little streaks sometimes where we hand the ball over, and when you hand the other team half of the points they get in a set, it's tough," Warner said. "Against good teams who are going to earn those points by themselves, handing points away definitely isn't going to win us very many sets, let alone many games."
And while it's easy to get lost in Frontier's long run, MacDonald noted that all of his teams are unique, and this year's squad as gone through its own share of growing pains.
"A lot of people expect [a finals appearance], and when we are in the gym sometimes, and working through a lot of ugly volleyball, there's nothing guaranteed here," MacDonald said. "I think sometimes people on the outside lose track of how hard these girls work during the season to get there every year."
Yet here the two teams are again. History might be against the Wildcats, but Warner's crew will enter ready to try and rewrite the books.
"It will be a good battle," Warner said. "And we'll be ready at 0-0."
Geoff Smith can be reached at email@example.com, @GSmith_Eagle on Twitter and 413-496-6254.
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