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D2 field hockey final: Frontier-Greenfield ready for new chapter

  • Greenfield’s Madyson Kuchieski takes a shot against Agawam earlier this season. Kuchieski and the Green Wave go for their fourth straight sectional title tonight at 5 p.m. in Holyoke when they battle rival Frontier. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

  • Frontier goalkeeper Skyla Burniske charges to block a shot from Greenfield’s Amber Taylor, right, earlier this season. Burniske and the Red Hawks take their shot at winning the program’s first WMass Div. 2 crown since 2015 tonight at 5 p.m. in a rematch with the Wave. STAFF FILE PHOTO/DAN LITTLE

Staff Writer
Published: 11/8/2019 6:53:59 PM
Modified: 11/8/2019 6:53:45 PM

Think Red Sox-Yankees circa 2004, and perhaps you’d find an apt comparison for the Frontier-Greenfield field hockey rivalry.

The powerhouse programs get reacquainted this evening for the fifth consecutive year in the Western Mass. Division 2 championship game, when top-seeded Frontier tries to halt No. 3 Greenfield’s three-year title run at 5 p.m. at Holyoke High School’s Roberts Field.

The Red Hawks won their last sectional title in 2015 when they knocked off Greenfield, 3-1. The Green Wave turned the tide the next three years, beating Frontier for the 2016, ’17 and ’18 crowns. From 2011-2015, the Hawks won three titles in a four-year span, and tonight’s game marks a ninth consecutive trip to the WMass final for the program. Whatever the outcome, the trophy will head back to one of the two most dominant schools in the Division 2 hockey scene over the past decade.

So what’s in store for tonight’s matchup?

For starters, the Red Hawks enter on a high note after a come-from-behind 3-2 win over No. 4 South Hadley in a wild semifinal game on Wednesday. While tonight’s final features yet another big game against Greenfield, Frontier coach Missy Mahar said her team isn’t spending time reflecting on old memories.

“There was no gimme that it was going to be a Frontier-Greenfield rematch,” began Mahar. “Both teams worked hard to get here. But we’re focusing on this year. The past is the past. What’s happened in the past is the past, it’s the 2019 finals and that’s what we’re focusing on. We’ve talked all season about that, focusing on the game that we’re playing right now and being present. From Day 1, we’ve tried to enforce that because it’s easy to get ahead of yourself in anything. It’s a good life lesson to be present.”

Greenfield graduated the bulk of its scoring from a season ago in Raegan Hickey and Audrey Bresciano, along with five-year starting goalkeeper Samantha Smith. Despite those departures, the Green Wave are right back in tonight’s final, looking for their fourth straight crown. They blanked No. 2 Smith Academy, 4-0, in Wednesday’s other semifinal, handing the Falcons their first loss of the season in the process.

“A lot of people didn’t think that we would get where we are because of what we lost,” Greenfield coach Erin Thayer offered. “I knew what I had coming back. I don’t think you saw the strength in some of the other girls coming back because of the strength that was all around them. Some of those girls were playmakers, too. You just didn’t see it because of the talent of a lot of those other kids. But we wanted to be back in that title game fighting for another championship.”

Frontier will rely on its standout senior class when the teams clash this evening. Midfielder Olivia Vecellio will play Division 1 college field hockey at Bryant University next year, and she stirs the drink in the center of the action for the Red Hawks. Fellow senior midfielder Grace Wesoloski is another veteran presence looking to get Frontier back on top, while classmate Lily Spencer does just about everything on the field for the Red Hawks as the team’s not-so-secret weapon.

Frontier has been without junior Amelia Sobieski for the bulk of the season due to an injury, forcing Mahar to shift Spencer back from a forward position. Several dominoes followed, but the Hawks (16-2-1) found a winning formula in capturing the Valley League regular season title. That included a pair of victories over Greenfield, and their only losses all season came to Longmeadow and Minnechaug, the two teams that will play in the Division 1 title game right after them tonight.

“It’s been a resilient team, and a lot of that comes from the leadership of our seniors,” Mahar said. “Adaptability has been one of our strengths. Being able to adapt to the loss of Amelia early on, she was a starting midfielder from last year and we had to adjust our system.”

Greenfield’s offense runs through junior Katie Haselton, though the team has several experienced vets with championship pedigree including Racquel Provost and Madyson Kuchieski. Still, the roster has no seniors and just three juniors, and in a lot of ways, the program is ahead of schedule in returning to the title tilt.

“We are so young,” explained Thayer. “It feels good to know that despite the success we’ve had in the past, that these girls are still going after it, they still want to win. They’re still pushing as hard as they can, keeping that tradition rolling.”

One quiet constant for Frontier throughout the season has been the play of junior goalkeeper Skyla Burniske. A starter since her eighth-grade year, Burniske has played in so many big games that Mahar doesn’t expect anything to faze her during tonight’s final.

“She’s seen it all,” the coach said of Burniske. “She’s come such a long way since her eighth-grade year in those pressure situations. She’s a huge factor to the success of this team, sometimes that gets overshadowed.”

Across the field from Burniske, Greenfield goalkeeper Ainslee Flynn is just an eighth-grader, but she’s impressed since Day 1 when Thayer named her the starter out of preseason camp.

“Without her, we aren’t where we are,” the coach said of Flynn. “She’s one heck of a competitor. She’s exceeded my expectations all season long. She’s 13 years old. She’s an eighth-grader. But we believed in her all year and she’s worked her tail off all season long.”

There’s no reason to think that tonight’s game won’t be a tight affair. The past four championship meetings between the two programs have either been one or two-goal margins. The 2017 final went to overtime, and the 2016 title game was decided in penalty strokes.

“It’s pretty cool to know that you have a rivalry so deep and so strong that it brings out the best in both teams,” said Thayer. “To know that when our teams meet each other at this point, you’re going to come out and see a heck of a field hockey game between two teams fighting to the end to win a championship. I feel like we bring out the best in each other.”

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