Freeport girls ready to rebound in PIAA tournament
By: Jerin Steele
Monday, November 6, 2017 | 10:15 PM
Freeport girls volleyball coach Tom Phillips has been on the losing side in the WPIAL finals before, so while Saturday's 3-2 loss to Beaver in the Class AA championship match was tough, it wasn't a foreign experience.
For the girls on his team, however, the loss provided a new and bitter feeling after winning the WPIAL title the previous two seasons.
Phillips wasn't sure how they'd respond, but he liked what he saw Monday when the Yellowjackets reconvened for practice. The Yellowjackets dealt with defeat with what Phillips said was an “intense practice” as they prepared to play District 6 champion Bald Eagle Area in the first round of the PIAA playoffs Tuesday at Penn-Cambria in Cresson.
Phillips said Monday's practice had a different tone compared to the last two years. He actually called it 15 minutes early because he wanted his players to save their energy.
The intensity manifested from a desire to return to work after tasting defeat Saturday.
“The past couple of years we've gone in to states with what they call a ‘WPIAL high' because you're so excited that you won the WPIAL you can forget about the next game,” Freeport senior libero Claire Crytzer said. “Losing the WPIAL championship has made us all pretty angry. I feel like it gives us more motivation to go further into states and hopefully get a different gold medal than in past years.”
The winner of Freeport/Bald Eagle Area plays the Corry/Avonworth winner in the quarterfinals Saturday. Corry is the defending state champion.
When Phillips addressed his team before practice Monday, his main message was to not let Saturday's result derail what they've done as they turn their attention to the PIAA playoffs.
“I told them to not let two points ruin what they've worked for,” said Phillips about the 15-13 loss in the deciding set to Beaver. “The ball just didn't roll in our favor, and sometimes that happens. The thing that I have told them over and over is that Baldwin has won four PIAA championships, and all four times they lost in the WPIALs. It's about putting that game behind you and taking the next step forward.”
Freeport has qualified for the PIAA playoffs five consecutive seasons and eight of the last nine years, but never has advanced past the quarterfinals in the state tournament.
Bald Eagle Area has dropped nine sets all season and defeated West Shamokin, a former WPIAL rival of Freeport, 3-1 in the District 6 finals Saturday. Grace Hugar paced the Eagles with 20 kills.
Phillips said he has looked at some film on Bald Eagle Area, and like most teams playing in the state tournament the Eagles didn't have too many weaknesses.
“They're very fundamentally sound, and they're very well-coached,” Phillips said. “They've got a very good setter, a good outside hitter and a couple of good middles. Nothing like we've seen with (Beaver middle hitter Macy) McElhaney, but they will put the ball in play. When you get to this point in the year there aren't any wooden nickels out there. Everybody is good.”
Last year, Freeport fell in the first round of the PIAA playoffs to North East. The Yellowjackets have advanced to the state quarterfinals twice since 2012, when the PIAA went to a head-to-head format instead of pool play. They lost to Somerset in 2015 and Fort LeBoeuf in 2013.
Because winning a third consecutive WPIAL title was not in the cards, the seniors, which include starters Crytzer, Courtney Grubbs and Hannah Mason, want go out by making history for the program in the state tournament.
“Before practice I said I want Saturday to be my last loss wearing the Freeport uniform, and I think everybody agreed with that,” Crytzer said. “We don't want to lose any more.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.