Boys volleyball notebook: Defending WMass champion Frontier still growing in 2nd season

By THOMAS JOHNSTON

Staff Writer

Published: 04-14-2023 8:13 PM

Was anyone surprised that co-coaches Sean MacDonald and Courtney Parent were able to take a group who had never played volleyball before and in just a few months turn them into Western Mass. champions? 

With the success MacDonald and Parent have had with the Frontier girls volleyball team, it shouldn’t have been too much of a shock. 

In the inaugural season of the Frontier boys volleyball program, the Redhawks went 16-3 while winning the Western Mass. Class C tournament and clinching a spot in the state tournament. 

Frontier will look to build on that success, graduating six but still bringing a good chunk of its roster back from last year. The program’s coaches know that the bar was set high during the inaugural season. 

“We haven’t talked about being the defending champs,” MacDonald said. “We’ve just been talking about how much work we need to do to smooth things out. It was a storybook first year. To take a team from scratch, go 16-3 and be competitive in every game, win the Western Mass. tournament and have a banner sitting in our gym now is awesome. That bar is high and it’ll be tough to repeat that every year but we have some really good pieces on this team.” 

While the Redhawks have new players coming into the program, it has plenty of returning players where MacDonald and Parent aren’t starting with the basics like they did a year ago. 

Still, with it being every player’s first or second year in the sport, there’s plenty of teaching going on at Goodnow Gymnasium.

“It’s a little less than last year but still not everyone knows rotations and all the positions on the floor,” Parent said. “There’s still some teaching but it’s not as fresh as it was last year. The returners are remembering things and picking things up fast. They show up and work hard. We’re looking good so far.” 

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Three seniors — Jesse Kurkolonis, Ngawang Deter and Asa Jackson — return from last year, with all three set to be featured this spring. Brady Burch, who helped lead Frontier’s soccer team to the Div. 4 semifinals this fall, is a new addition to the roster, showing well in his short time on the court. 

Juniors Aleks Carey and Jack Carey will both play prominent roles with Frontier once again while Tavo Vincent-Warner returns as the Redhawks’ setter. Owen Babb, who stands at 6-foot-6, is another new addition the coaching staff is excited to work with. 

“In a week or so we’ll look a lot smoother,” MacDonald said. “I like the group. We have a lot of options. We’ll start to solidify things and sort out the starting lineup and our depth pieces.” 

What are the goals for a team that went into last spring with no expectations and had a season for the ages? To continue to grow, improve and show well in the state level, which is no easy feat in boys volleyball with just two divisions. 

“We want to see how we can do in the MIAA tournament and see if we can win a game there and move on,” MacDonald said. “With only two divisions we’re in the same group as Westfield, Agawam, Ludlow and other really good schools that are three or four times our size. It’s not apples to apples. You look at our girls team, we’re in Division 5 and our only loss this year was to the Division 2 state champions. I’m proud that we have a small school that can compete with anyone in the state no matter how big they are. That’s something we’d like to move toward on the boys side, being able to punch above our weight.” 

KNIGHTS ARMED FOR RETURN – Holyoke only graduated two seniors from last season’s Division 2 Sweet 16 team. Though the Purple Knights will have to replace Jairam Rodriguez’s multi-faceted game, they possess enough depth and experience to forge ahead.

Senior Willie Lopez is a threat passing and attacking, while Jeduar Colon plays as well in the back row as he does the front. Nathan Lewis helps move the offense along as another setter, while Gedeon Ortiz is a steady presence in the back line. Adrain Centeno’s serve is a weapon.

TESTED EARLY AND OFTEN – Belchertown will face a challenging schedule as it builds a program that includes defending state champion Westfield as well as area powers Ludlow, West Springfield, Agawam, Westfield, and Chicopee Comp.

“Our schedule hurts, so we’ll get beat up early,” Orioles coach Chris Shea said. “I feel we will be competitive in our league.”

AIC commit Connor White will lead the Orioles and provide them with firepower at the net. Setter Rainer Christensen exudes calm and stabilizes Belchertown in the chaos.

“He’s the foundation of the team,” Shea said.

ONLY GETTING OLDER – Granby’s players are growing with the program. In their second varsity season, the Rams have seven seniors.

Junior Michael Swanigan can play all over the floor but stands out hitting the ball.

“Seriously pounds the volleyball, hits hard and very consistent,” Granby coach Chad Gagnon said. 

Granby will still lean on freshmen in key places, however. Freshman Braeden Gallagher is in the libero spot, while Jake Gagnon handles most of the setting duties and is adding to his defensive repertoire.

Staff writer Kyle Grabowski contributed to this report.]]>