LEOMINSTER, Mass. -- Every time Cassidy Stankowski went up in the air to unleash one of her powerful serves or spikes, the collective student section from Frontier Regional emphasized the moment with a loud chant of "BOOM!"
The fact that you could still clearly hear the sound of her hand striking the ball was indicative of the strikes the Red Hawks junior was delivering.
Stankowski dominated both offensively and from behind the service stripe, collecting 17 kills and seven aces as Frontier bested previously unbeaten Lynnfield in three straight, winning 25-17, 25-18 and 25-20, in Tuesday's Division 3 state volleyball semifinal at Leominster High School.
The Red Hawks (22-1) will look to defend their state title on Saturday (12 p.m.) at Algonquin High School against the winner of Wednesday's semifinal matchup between Case and Millis.
Stankowski's impressive game will undoubtedly be drawing the attention of college recruiters from elite level programs in the coming months, if it hasn't already. Her devastating serve starts from a spot near the back wall of the gymnasium, continues as she tosses the ball into the air with her right hand, then culminates after several steps as she unleashes her power through her strong right arm.
The key, she says, is in the toss.
"I just got my confidence back in my jump serve and to have that for the tournament really helps me out," Stankowski explained. "It's all in the toss. My toss before was everywhere all over the court, I finally got a pretty consistent toss down so it really helps."
Not only was she able to get her points, but Stankowski strong hitting also prevented Lynnfield (23-1) from getting settled into its offense for a return.
"I think Cassidy was the big difference," admitted Lynnfield coach Michelle Perrone. "Her ability to put the ball down offensively, serving and hitting. I think that makes a huge difference. I think we played well against them but she made the biggest difference.
A GAME OF RUNS
Despite the fact that Frontier swept the Pioneers, each of the three games was a match unto itself. In the opener, Stankowski served five straight points, including three consecutive aces, to kick off a 12-2 run that turned a 12-11 nailbiter into a comfortable 24-13 Frontier lead.
In the second, the Red Hawks took advantage of several Pioneers mistakes during a 7-0 spurt that again turned a one-point lead into a 15-7 margin from which Lynnfield was unable to recover.
Finally, while trailing, 11-10, in the final game, Stankowski had three kills during a game-changing 8-0 stretch. While the Pioneers certainly made the Red Hawks work for every point, those runs simply made Frontier too difficult to catch in the end.
"I just think the nerves started to smooth out a little bit," said Frontier coach Sean MacDonald when asked to explain his team's ability to bunch points together. "It's just a numbers game and a chance game at some point. You’re going to get some of those runs and you’re not going to get some of those runs. The first time you serve you might, and the next time you serve might not. Sometimes its just the luck of the draw, especially when you have a good team over there making it hard for you every time."
A 'CLASS" CLASS OF SENIORS
While Frontier advanced to the state championship game for the fifth time in seven seasons, Lynnfield was making its second straight appearance in the semis. Perrone took over four years ago for previous coach Robert Clearly, who left the job to become the school's principal.
This current group of seniors represents her first full class of graduates, a group that includes Cape Ann League/Northeast Conference MVP Julia Goldstein (team high nine kills) and fellow All-State performer Liz Vo.
"They’ve come so far not only as players but as young women," said Perrone in praise of her seniors. "The things they do on the court are amazing but the things they do off the court are even more amazing. We raise money for ovarian cancer and breast cancer every season, thousands of dollars. These seniors are leaders and they bring their team with them and their team responds. I’m so proud of them. I’m going to miss them."