Boys Volleyball Player of the Year Jesse Kurkulonis built Frontier program

By KYLE GRABOWSKI

Staff Writer

Published: 08-02-2023 6:15 PM

The Frontier Regional boys volleyball program wouldn’t exist without Jesse Kurkulonis.

Inspired by the success of his friends on the Redhawks girls team, which has won 11 state championships including last fall, he began inquiring with newly minted athletic director Carl Cyr in middle school about how to start a new team. He wanted to play for Frontier volleyball, too.

“Frontier is pretty good at volleyball,” Kurkulonis said.

Cyr eventually presented the idea to the school committee, and it approved the team in January of 2022 when Kurkulonis was a junior. He immediately began recruiting efforts so the Redhawks could take the floor for the 2022 spring season.

“I almost consider him a co-founder of the sport with me and (co-coach) Courtney (Parent). He’s just done a lot in school to pump it up and get more guys to come out and try it,” Frontier co-coach Sean MacDonald said. “He’s obviously a big factor for us on the court, as he has also been off the court trying to get some more interest in boys volleyball.”

Kurkulonis pitched a no-lose scenario. While the girls team faces the pressure of maintaining a streak of 17 consecutive Western Massachusetts titles and internal expectations, the boys team was gathering soccer players, basketball players and those without spring sports to try something new.

“I was able to convince kids by telling them there’s nothing to lose,” Kurkulonis said. “We have no expectations. It’ll be fun.”

They didn’t lose much. Frontier went 16-3 in its inaugural season and won the Class C Western Massachusetts title. The girls volleyball players that inspired Kurkulonis like Jillian Apanell, Eve Dougan and Sydney Scanlon served as managers and helped demonstrate skills and concepts in practice.

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“It wasn’t necessarily a surprise. I knew we were all athletic,” Kurkulonis said. “We all learn pretty quickly and know how to be coached and do what we’re told.”

It helps when MacDonald is the one doing the teaching. He started on Page 1 with most of the players last season, and they’ve improved rapidly over the past two seasons, few more than Kurkulonis. He spent the winter playing club for the Pioneer Valley Junior 18U national team, the club’s most competitive circuit.

“He’s one of our most complete players,” MacDonald said. “He’s not our biggest player, but you want him on the floor when things matter.”

The Daily Hampshire Gazette Boys Volleyball Player of the Year led Frontier with 197 kills while also pulling up 156 digs with 116 assists and 49 aces. His wide range of skills slotted perfectly next to teammates who had maybe only mastered one or two facets of the game.

“It’s so nice to have. You’re not afraid for the ball to come to Jesse. When things are going to plan or things are not going according to plan, he’s usually pretty solid for us,” MacDonald said. “We’re going to miss him. That’s the bottom line. I wish we had some more of him. I wish we had more time with the seniors that are graduating.”

Frontier repeated as Class C champions after a 19-3 campaign. The Redhawks reached the MIAA Division 2 Round of 16 after besting East Longmeadow in the state tourney’s opening round.

“It felt like what I’ve been imagining since middle school was finally able to happen. It’s nice to start a tradition and hopefully we can keep winning,” Kurkulonis said. “It feels nice that I can leave legacy that I can come back and see something I started is still thriving.”

FIRST TEAM ALL-STARS

Cam Buley, senior, Belchertown

Aleks Carey, junior, Frontier

Jake Gagnon, freshman, Granby

Willie Lopez-Morales, senior, Holyoke

Jesse Kurkulonis, senior, Frontier

Michael Swanigan, junior, Granby

Connor White, senior, Belchertown

SECOND TEAM ALL-STARS

Ty Bogdanovich, senior, Belchertown

Brady Burch, senior, Frontier

Brian Burns, freshman, Belchertown

Jedaur Colon, junior, Holyoke

Ngawang Deter, senior, Frontier

Rainer Kristensen, junior, Belchertown

Braeden Gallagher, freshman, Granby

Tavo Vincent-Warner, sophomore, Frontier

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