Freeport, Hampton clash for 4th time this season — in PIAAs

Monday, November 15, 2021 | 4:40 PM

The final hurdle between Freeport girls volleyball and returning to a state championship game is a very familiar foe.

In a rare occurrence, Freeport and Hampton will meet for the fourth time this season. This time it’s in the PIAA Class 3A semifinals 6 p.m. Tuesday at Fox Chapel.

The Yellowjackets and Talbots split in the regular season in Section 5 play. Then, Freeport defeated Hampton, 3-1, in the WPIAL title game.

Needless to say, the two teams know each other quite well.

“I don’t think there will be any surprises between us and Hampton,” Yellowjackets coach Tom Phillips said. “They know what we are going to do, and we pretty much know what Hampton is going to do. After playing somebody for the fourth time you should be pretty aware where people are going to be. It’s about taking the pressure of the game out of the equation. If you’re going to perform, your team has to step up and play like it is a normal section game and not be taken back by what’s at stake.”

What would be a surprise is if the match is a sweep.

In the first meeting Hampton won 3-2 and took the deciding fifth set 18-16. The rematch was another five-set thriller where Freeport took the decider 19-17.

The Yellowjackets took the WPIAL championship in four sets, but Phillips said it was every bit as difficult of a fight as the two regular-season meetings.

Freeport is seeking its second trip to the state final after winning gold in 2017. Hampton is aiming for its first trip to the state championship.

“Everywhere you turn Hampton has weapons,” Phillips said. “They’re good on the outside. They’re big in the middle, and they have an experienced setter. They have a lot that they bring to the table. It comes down to what you do well and then improvising on those things, whether it’s serving the ball well or staying in system. Hampton is a great team with lots of size and athleticism, so there are things we’ll have to do to try and slow them down a little bit.”

Freeport has only one senior in its rotation in Erica Lampus and at times features a lineup with multiple freshmen and sophomores.

The Yellowjackets’ youth hasn’t been a factor in the playoffs thus far, and Phillips doesn’t expect that to change Tuesday. Freeport is pretty deep as far as player rotation, so it has multiple options to go to when needed.

“We have instances and situations that we work on everyday where we eliminate that youth factor and maybe not put them in a precarious situation where they have to perform,” Phillips said. “The longer we go in the playoffs the more pressure kids put on themselves to perform. We give a lot of opportunities to a lot of kids. As a coach you must put it in the perspective of who’s playing well that game.”

In facing an opponent for the fourth time, Phillips isn’t going to overhaul on strategy. He plans on sticking to what has his team to the state semifinals and expects Hampton to do the same.

“You have to play to your strengths,” Phillips said. “That’s the key to winning any match. You can’t let the moment get too big for you. You have to slow the game down a little bit and put it in perspective, so you can see the game a little bit ahead. You can do that by not being too amped by the moment.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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