by Jim Fenton, The Enterprise
BROCKTON, Mass. ---- The goal that she had for the first Massasoit Community College volleyball season in 33 years was a modest one.
"To be honest,″ said Warriors coach Patricia Francis-Ryans, "I was just hoping to get the program on the road. I just wanted to get the name of the program out there, get people interested and let them know Massasoit has a program and they can start off a college career at a two-year school, play and transfer.
"That's all I was planning on doing for the first year.″
Massasoit, which is competing in women's volleyball for the first time since 1986, has done much more than that this fall.
The Warriors have won the program's first Region 21 championship since 1984, defeating Northern Essex Community College, 3-1, for the title last Sunday.
And now, Massasoit will be hosting the three-team, round-robin Northeast District Division 3 tournament at the Asiaf Field House on Saturday.
The Warriors open at 10 a.m. against the nation's fourth-ranked team, the Fashion Institute of Technology (25-1) from New York, and will then play Queensborough Community College (20-5) at noon.
FIT then faces Queensborough at 2 p.m., and if all three teams are 1-1, a championship game would be played at 4 p.m. with tiebreakers used to determine the two finalists.
Two of the three teams will be heading to Rochester, Minnesota for the 12-team National Junior College Athletic Association tourney Nov. 14-16, so if one team is winless, a title game will not be necessary.
"I didn't think we'd be where we are now,″ said Francis-Ryans. "But when the girls started taking me over every hump, I was like, 'This can really be something special.‴
It has been a magical ride for Massasoit since the brand new team gathered for practice in August leading up to the opener on Sept. 9 at the Community College of Rhode Island.
The Warriors got off to a 3-2 start with both losses coming against the Fashion Institute of Technology at the CCRI tournament, but they are 14-1 since with the lone loss in that span coming to CCRI on Oct. 1.
Francis-Ryans credits the dedication and focus of the 12 players who have built the program from the ground floor in a hurry. Massasoit had a volleyball team from 1983-86, coached by current athletics director Julie Mulvey, and won that one Region 21 title.
"It's been an amazing journey,″ said Francis-Ryans, a Randolph resident who played volleyball and basketball at Mississippi Valley State. "The girls are always giving me hope that there's a possibility that we can always keep moving on to the next level.
"They have just been committed. We've hardly had anyone missing practice. They're there because they love it and are committed and fully dedicated.
"I really thought coming in it was going to be more like a high school effect where I'd have to develop them, teaching them the actual fundamental skills of the game. As I saw the girls who were showing interest in the program, their consistency of showing up, it gave me more hope that there's a possibility the development of the program was going to happen.″
Massasoit's top players include back Colleen Luongo of Plymouth, outside hitters Stephanie Pierre-Louis of Brockton and Delaney Nagel of Stoughton, setter Emmanuella Paul of Brockton, middle blocker Lexi Frithsen of West Bridgewater and outside hitter Caroline Curtis of Holbrook
"These girls are a family,″ said Francis-Ryans. "They are a tight-knit group. They help each other studying. They help each other on the court. They have really bonded. They've been really consistent. It's been really fun.″
There is a Region 21 banner to be hung in the gym and still more to accomplish for a volleyball team that quickly came together starting last summer when new players were introduced to each other to get the program going.
A strong showing this weekend would send the Warriors to Minnesota next month to play with the best NJCAA Division 3 teams in the country.
"Just being able to get this far is amazing,″ said Francis-Ryans. "To be able to be one of the top two teams (from the district) to go to nationals, that would be something big to live up to.
"Just winning the Region 21 tournament is a high bar they've set for me in the coming years. To go to the nationals would be amazing.″