Freeport girls volleyball set to wrap up season in PIAA title game
By: Michael Love
Friday, November 17, 2017 | 12:12 AM
The Freeport girls volleyball team will hold its final practice of the season Friday afternoon.
For the team members, it is expected to be a bittersweet feeling.
“Practice is where we come together as a team,” senior libero Claire Crytzer said. “It's where we work to get better every single day. It's tough knowing that we won't be gathering like that after (Friday). But at the same time, we're excited because we're playing for a championship (Saturday).”
All of those practices from August until now and all of the games and matches that were reflections of the work in practice have led Freeport to the cusp of state-championship gold.
The Yellowjackets will take on District 3 champion Delone Catholic at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Richland High School in Johnstown.
“It's hard to believe that my (senior) year is ending, but I'm happy we've been able to extend it as far as we have,” senior setter Courtney Grubbs said.
It is the first time a Freeport team will play for a PIAA championship.
“It's been a storybook ride,” Yellowjackets coach Tom Phillips said. “Now, we're looking for that storybook finish. It's up to the girls, but I know they will be prepared and ready.”
In the team room across the hall from the gym at Freeport Middle School, a dry-erase board contains six steps, or goals, the team planned out before the season.
Step five is to succeed in the state-playoff journey and make it to the title match. Crytzer crossed that step off Thursday.
“It signified all the hard work paying off,” she said.
The final step the team hopes to cross off is bringing home the first-place trophy.
“We're not done yet. There's one more opportunity to give it our all,” Crytzer said.
A banner — four feet by six feet — now hangs on the wall in the hall just outside the gym at the middle school. It celebrates Tuesday's 3-1 win over WPIAL champion Beaver at Seneca Valley High School that wrapped up the western region title.
Phillips said a machine at the school crafted the banner and also produced one several times larger that, on Friday, is expected to be placed near the entrance to the high school-middle school complex on Route 356.
The team, Grubbs said, hopes to replace that one early next week with a state-title banner.
“We're still enjoying the moment because we're making school history,” Grubbs said. “The banners mean a lot to us. It shows our success to the community. We take pride in that.”
Crytzer and Grubbs, along with senior outside hitter Hannah Mason and senior defensive specialists Mallory Stopko and Ashley Sullivan, will put on the Freeport uniform for the final time Saturday.
Both Stopko and Sullivan have battled injuries throughout the postseason. Phillips said while both continue to recover, they are able to get on the court if and when their name is called.
“It's tough to see injuries happen to anyone, but both Mallory and Ashley have worked so hard to get back,” Phillips said. “They want to contribute any way they can, whether that's on the court or leading the support on the bench. They've both played for me for six years, and I have a lot of faith in them. They've been true team leaders through no matter what we've asked of them.”
The team will take a coach bus to Saturday's game as opposed to the school bus that transported the team to their matches and tournament.
The driver for all of those trips is a woman named Patty. Although she won't drive Freeport to Johnstown, team members are making sure she will accompany them.
“We love Patty,” Crytzer said. “Every time we got on the bus, she greeted us with a smile. She loved to watch our matches. We wanted to keep our routine, and she's a wonderful part of our routine. There wasn't a question that she had to be there.”
Phillips said the support from the community and school has been tremendous all season, especially for the team's run through the WPIAL and state playoffs.
He said a large and spirited crowd energized the Freeport players Tuesday against Beaver, and he hopes the same can happen Saturday.
“As excited as we are for this (match), we can't let our emotions get carried away,” Phillips said. “We have to do our best to treat it as just another game and play the way we've been playing that got us to this point. I'm excited. It should be a competitive match.”