HUDSON, Mass. -- When his youngest daughter Cassidy was in the fourth grade, Jack Stankowski took her over to Amherst College for a college volleyball tri-match. Father and daughter hit back and forth for a while until Dad said, “Hey Cassidy, why don’t you go over and try some serves?”
Recalling the scene, Jack Stankowski remembered thinking to himself that Cassidy had a better jump serve -- as a fourth grader -- than most of the college kids that took the floor that day.
“I started coaching so I had access to the gym and every Saturday morning it was, ‘Hey Dad, can we go to the gym? Can we work on this, work on that?” remembered an emotional Jack Stankowski, now in his eighth-year as an assistant coach with the Red Hawks. “Baskets and baskets of balls ... serving, passing, you name it, she wanted to do it.”
Nowadays, a Cassidy Stankowski jump-serve is usually followed by a chorus of “BOOM!” chants from the Frontier Regional High School fan section, as are each of the thousands of devastating spikes she has slammed down over her stellar career.
After spending six years as a starter with the Red Hawks varsity squad, Stankowski’s high school resume is one game away from being complete as the senior capped an emotional Wednesday with 16 kills and seven digs to lead Frontier in a 3-0 sweep of Archbishop Williams in the Division 3 state semifinals at Hudson High School.
The two-time defending state champion Red Hawks (22-1) will try to make it a three-peat on Saturday when they face Lynnfield for the title at Algonquin High School (nLyoon).
A two-time All-American and reigning Gatorade Player of the Year, Stankowski’s day began with a special ceremony at the school where she signed her National Letter of Intent to continue her volleyball career at the Division 1 level with Central Connecticut State. It was an emotional afternoon with her parents and school officials and coaches.
"When I signed my National Letter of Intent, my mom started crying, so that made me cry," Stankowski admitted. "But then, I knew what I had to focus on, and that was this big game. I knew I had to get prepared for that -- stop all the crying, stop all the emotions - and just get focused for the game."
Added Jack Stankowski, “That kid has worked so hard. It was nice to see her finally get rewarded for all the work she’s put into it. It was kind of a culmination of all her years of hard work. She’s been on the varsity for six years and its just been a great ride. A lot of times kids don’t want their parents to be involved.”
Stankowski paused for a moment to choke back the tears welling up in his throat before continuing, “And I was just lucky enough she let me be a part of it."
While the 5-foot-8 Stankowski routinely makes the headlines for the tremendous offensive numbers she puts up, it’s her play in the defensive end that makes her even more valuable to the Red Hawks. Against Archbishop Williams, Stankowski spent a large chunk of her time in the back row, collecting the Bishops serves and delivering perfect passes to setter Victoria Whitney (to work the ball around to Frontier’s other dynamic hitters).
“Her defense, I think, is one of the things I think people miss,” agreed Frontier coach Sean MacDonald. “She is just as good at that as she is at hitting the ball in the front row. The front row looks flashy and sometimes the defense is just keeping the ball off the floor.”
“I always say how we were down in the state finals last year and we caught up with her in the back row,” MacDonald continued. “She was keeping balls off the floor, making perfect passes to our setters so we could run the offense with our other hitters. She does a lot of good stuff to help us, not just getting kills.”
Win or lose on Saturday, Stankowski leaves behind a resume matched by few athletes in any sport. In six years with Stankowski on the varsity, Frontier has compiled a record of 136-6 and has not lost a match against any team from Western Massachusetts. Her older sister Alyssa won a pair of state titles with the Red Hawks, a number Cassidy has a chance to surpass on Saturday.
“It’s going to be the best finish to my senior year if we can have a three-peat,” Stankowski stated. “That would just make my career so much better. I love this team and that makes it so much better for me.”