Div. 4 volleyball: Frontier downed by Bellingham in state semifinals, loss marks Sean MacDonald’s final match with the program

Frontier head coach Sean MacDonald high fives Ariana Miller during a timeout against Baystate Academy earlier this season at Chicopee Comp.

Frontier head coach Sean MacDonald high fives Ariana Miller during a timeout against Baystate Academy earlier this season at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Frontier’s Olivia Machon (21) serves against Baystate Academy in the third set of the Western Mass. Class B girls volleyball final earlier this season at Chicopee Comp.

Frontier’s Olivia Machon (21) serves against Baystate Academy in the third set of the Western Mass. Class B girls volleyball final earlier this season at Chicopee Comp. STAFF PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

By HANNAH BEVIS

Staff Writer

Published: 11-14-2023 9:02 PM

Modified: 11-14-2023 9:01 PM


FITCHBURG – After falling 3-1 to No. 2 Bellingham in the MIAA Division 4 state semifinals, the No. 3 Frontier girls volleyball team spent a little extra time in their huddle postgame Tuesday night. 

As family and friends who traveled 90 minutes to watch the match hovered around waiting to console the players, the Redhawks kept their arms around each other as they debriefed for the final time. There were tears and laughs, and head coach Sean MacDonald was still misty-eyed as the team started to pack up for the bus ride home. 

Frontier dropped the final two sets against Bellingham in a four-set defeat (25-18, 21-25, 25-21, 25-16) in MacDonald’s 21st and final season at the helm of the Redhawks. During his time leading Frontier, the girls volleyball program won 11 state titles, the second-most of any program in Massachusetts. Though Tuesday’s match wasn’t how he hoped the season would end, MacDonald was immensely proud of his team and what they accomplished this year. 

“I don't think it's really hit me yet. I get into business mode, trying to figure out what rotations they're gonna run out of so for the last few days it's just been Bellingham. But when you get in a circle and there's a lot of tears, you get a little emotional,” MacDonald said. “I think it'll hit me later, maybe at the banquet, but they’re just such amazing young women. It's not something that I have to do, it’s something that I get to do, to work with these amazing women every day and to watch their growth.” 

Bellingham (20-3) advanced to play top-seeded Ipswich in the Div. 4 final at a date and time to be determined.

Tuesday’s match ultimately came down to which team made the most mistakes, and that ended up being Frontier. The team was significantly different from last year’s state championship team – five of its starters graduated – and the Redhawks were also playing stiffer competition after moving up to Division 4. 

Frontier finished the match with 22 attack errors and 16 service errors, both uncharacteristic statistics for the Redhawks. After about a set and a half, Frontier and Bellingham started to settle into a groove, but by that point the Redhawks had already dropped the first set and had to play catch-up. 

“We made silly errors. I feel like they got to run their offense very effectively and smoothly, gave us really hard hits, and we were not really running our offense. I think that says a lot about them as a team,” said Frontier’s Caroline Deane, who finished with 10 kills and 16 digs. “I definitely feel like we fell victim to a bit of nerves. I'm still really proud of my team, but I think we all know that it was definitely a high error game which we could have won.”

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The Redhawks (19-6) were able to win a hard-fought second set to tie things up at one set apiece. This time, it was Frontier that capitalized on Bellingham’s errors, jumping out to a 7-4 lead. The higher seed did roar back and briefly take an 11-9 lead, forcing a Redhawks timeout after a 6-0 run. After that timeout, Frontier had a short 4-0 burst to retake the lead, which it would maintain for the remainder of the set. 

Setter Allie Pierce tossed up 18 assists and was a staple in the back court with 17 digs. Gabby Adams added seven kills and nine digs for Frontier.

After Frontier scored the first point in the third set, Bellingham tied it then held the lead for the remainder of the frame, though the match did get heated. Bellingham coach Steve Mantegani was given a yellow card for his behavior on the sidelines. The higher seed ultimately won by four points, and the Redhawks had four service errors in the third set.

The fourth set was a similar story – Frontier scored the first point, but Bellingham raced back to take the lead. The Redhawks were able to steal the lead back and build up as much as a 13-9 lead, but Bellingham went on an 11-0 run to jump out to a 20-13 lead and effectively put the set and match away. 

It was a tough time to have an off day, but the Redhawks were still able to reflect on a remarkable season. Frontier finished the season as Western Mass. Class B champions and state semifinalists, and grew significantly from the start of the season to the end. 

“I feel like this is one of the top groups that I've worked with from where they started to where they are now. I wish the season was another month because we'd even be better but that's just the way it is,” MacDonald said. “We've got such a good group of people coming back. And I feel like I’m leaving it in good hands and in a good condition, better than I found it.” 

Hannah Bevis can be reached at hbevis@gazettenet.com. Follow her on Twitter @Hannah_Bevis1.