Beaver again thwarts Freeport’s bid for WPIAL volleyball 3-peat

Saturday, November 4, 2023 | 5:00 PM

The last time Freeport had a chance for three girls volleyball titles in a row was in 2017 and Beaver ended up thwarting that attempt.

Despite a furious rally by the Yellowjackets on Saturday after dropping the first two sets, history ended up repeating itself.

Beaver regrouped and got a big fifth set from sophomore middle hitter Kailyn Connelly to dethrone the Yellowjackets, 3-2, for the WPIAL Class 2A championship at Peters Township’s AHN Arena.

The Bobcats took the deciding set 15-13, finishing off a thrilling, hard-fought match and earning their second WPIAL title.

“Going into that fifth set, I just told them that we needed to play our volleyball game that we’ve been playing all year,” Beaver coach Susan Pollins said. “It was just about taking one play at a time, taking a deep breath when we make a mistake and relaxing. Overall, we just told them to go out there have fun and our mental toughness will win it for us.”

In 2017, Beaver also beat Freeport, 3-2, and it was a standout middle hitter, Macy McElhaney, who led the Bobcats to victory in the fifth set.

This time it was Connelly, a 6-foot-2 sophomore, who gave Beaver its spark.

Connelly had three kills during a 6-0 run that pushed Beaver (20-0) out to a 9-2 lead in the fifth set. She had five kills in the frame. Alaina Whitlinger had three kills and an ace to get the Yellowjackets (19-2) back to within one point, but a hitting error clinched the match for Beaver.

Connelly finished with 19 kills.

“Kailyn struggled in the semifinals and you could tell she was nervous,” Pollins said. “She’s only a sophomore, but she’s had a lot of big moments in her career. We talked, and we told her we needed her to be successful, and she really stepped up today. I’m proud of her. That’s the Kailyn Connelly I know, and people need to start recognizing who she is.”

Behind strong swings from Whitlinger, Sydney Selker and Josie Russo, Freeport started its comeback with a 25-18 win in the third set. The Yellowjackets led throughout. Selker sent a shot off Beaver’s block attempt and out of bounds to finish off the win.

The Yellowjackets rolled that momentum into the fourth set and cruised to a 25-13 win. Leah Schreckengost had consecutive kills to clinch the set.

Though the comeback attempt fell short, Freeport coach Tom Phillips was proud of how his team responded to adversity.

“They play hard. They really did,” Phillips said. “The effort was there from our standpoint today. Sometimes it goes in your favor and sometimes it rolls the other way. We had a couple of critical errors in the fifth set, but those critical errors didn’t make us lose this match today. I’m proud of our girls and the heart they showed coming back from being down two sets.”

Beaver controlled the first set. After a brief 11-11 tie, the Bobcats led the rest of the way. Connelly had six kills.

Chloe List took center stage in the second set.

She had six kills, a block with Alaina Malobabich and an ace to help Beaver secure a 25-19 win. Freeport led 11-10, but the Bobcats used a 15-8 run to pull away. Jaedyn Brown had a few kills during the run and Malobabich finished it off with a kill.

In 2017, Freeport ended up playing Beaver again in the state semifinals and went on to win its first state title.

The Yellowjackets still have a state title to defend and they’ll begin that journey Tuesday against District 10 champion North East. Beaver plays District 10 runner-up Corry.

“We just have to get back in the gym, see where we have to go and take it one step at a time,” Phillips said. “I told our girls to hold their heads up, because today was a great match.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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