By Adam Levine
The Framingham State Rams defeated the MCLA Trailblazers 3-2 in the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Tournament Championship game Nov. 11.
After five grueling sets, the fourth-seeded Rams upset the third-seeded Trailblazers to claim the MASCAC Tournament title.
Head Coach Richard Casali said, “It feels great.
“It makes all the hard work worth it,” he added.
During the 2022 season, the Rams entered the MASCAC Tournament as the top seed, but lost in the semi-final game.
Sophomore Stella Bailey said, “Last year, it was incredibly disappointing to lose so early on.
“This year, we were able to turn that disappointment of the loss into success. This year, we knew what it was like to lose, and we knew we didn’t like the feeling. We learned to outwork the teams that we play - not just in the game, but in the practices leading up to the game,” she added.
Anna Szymanski, a captain and a graduate student, served as a key to the Rams’ offensive dominance during the tournament and earned the Tournament Most Valuable Player (MVP) award.
“The MVP award was such an honor. I am so thankful for my team and everything they have done to support me in receiving it,” Szymanski said.
She said her goal this season was “to lead this team to a victory.
“This was extremely meaningful to me because it felt like everything and all the years of work had paid off,” Szymanski added.
“I left nothing on the court,” she said. “I gave those girls every single ounce of energy and motivation I had in me. It wasn’t important that I played my best game - it was important that I was the best captain I had ever been.”
Szymanski said, “We were by far the hardest-working team in the MASCAC this year and we worked every single day for this to pay off.”
Senior captain Hailey Sanders said, “I am just proud of this team overall.
“Although it is great to win the MASCAC, I would have been really satisfied if we didn’t, with this group of girls,” she added.
During their path to victory, the Rams defeated the fifth-seeded Bridgewater 3-0 Nov. 7 and the first-seeded Westfield 3-2 Nov. 9.
Sophomore Carly Beaulieu said losing to Westfield and MCLA during the regular season “really opened our eyes,” and the team entered each game with “determination” and “confidence to play more aggressively.”
Casali said, “It's fantastic to beat anybody. I knew that we could beat them - just as they could beat us. It was a question of how we would perform those days.
“The big question was, ‘Did the players feel that they could beat them this time?’ They did!,” he added.
Sanders said, “The last two games, especially, we had so much energy and so much willpower. I am proud that we were able to tap into that and get it done.
“I think this title proved to everyone in the MASCAC, and ourselves, that even though we are young, we are still very talented and able to work together phenomenally,” she added.
Framingham won their semifinal game and final game in the fifth set, which is played until one team scores 15 points.
Coach Casali said, “The success in the fifth set comes from our ‘Never Say Die’ attitude. I told them if they did their best and never quit, that we could live with either result.”
Szymanski said, “We have no problem going to a fifth set. We thrive in the fifth set.
“The team’s success came from their mindset that we were not going to go home and we were going to end the night with medals around our neck,” she added.
Freshman Natalie Reynolds said, “The fifth set has become our specialty. We love a great competition.”
Framingham began this season with a record of 1-2 before piecing together an impressive 10-game win streak Sept. 9 to Sept. 26.
Despite their win streak, the Rams concluded their season with an overall record of 18-10.
Szymanski said, “Throughout the season, the growth was varying as with most sports.
“We had some really great ‘Ah-ha’ moments where it seemed like it was all coming together and then total opposite moments.
“The most important part of the season was the end, and that was when it all came together. Our hitters were smarter and our defense was the strongest it had been,” added Szymanski.
In addition to Szymanski’s MVP-performance during the tournament, Framingham had the most members of any team on the MASCAC All-Conference First Team and Second Team.
Sanders and Szymanski are members of the 2023 MASCAC All-Conference First Team.
Sanders finished first in the MASCAC in kills per set (3.34), first in kills (371), and first in hitting percentage (.341). Szymanski finished second in kills per set (2.88) and second in kills (308).
Szymanski said, “As captains, our success was so important because we need to lead this team by example. There is no better way than being one and two in the league for kills.”
Bailey and Reynolds are members of the 2023 MASCAC All-Conference Second Team.
Reynolds was also named 2023 MASCAC Rookie of the Year (ROY).
Reynolds finished sixth in the MASCAC in kills per set (2.54), third in kills (282), and third in hitting percentage (.302).
“It feels amazing to win ROY,” Reynolds said. “I really could not have done it without my teammates and coaches.”
Bailey recorded 1,030 assists through the regular season and MASCAC Tournament. She finished first in the conference, 458 ahead of the next highest.
“Obtaining over 1,000 assists in one season was a huge accomplishment,” Bailey said. “I cannot say it is as much of a personal accomplishment, but more of a team accomplishment. Without good passes and amazing hitters, then kills can’t happen.”
Sanders and Szymanski both leave Framingham State volleyball with a MASCAC Championship in their final season.
Szymanski said, “It was unbelievable to end my FSU career with a championship win. This is every athlete's dream and I could not ask for a better ending to my volleyball career.”
As of press time, Nov. 17, the Rams concluded their season with a loss to the Ithaca College Bombers 3-0 in the opening round of the NCAA DIII Tournament Nov. 16.
Despite their season coming to a close, the Rams have hope for next season with a young roster.
Coach Casali said more freshmen played this season than the previous season. “It's hard to show up as a freshman and be a big contributor to the team. Last year, we were an older team and it didn't take quite so much time to gel.”
Beaulieu said, “I think we’ve made a statement being such a young team.”
Reynolds said, “Being such a young team is giving us ample time to grow and build throughout the years. The chemistry will only continue to grow.”
Bailey said, “To have such a young team find success so early is incredibly exciting.
“We are all hopeful of the success that the next few years will hold for us, while still understanding that absolutely nothing will be handed to us. We are ready to work hard and grow together as the years go on,” she added.
Szymanski said, “You can expect that these girls will continue to give everything they have all the time.
“If there is one thing we taught them, it was that,” she added.