Freeport, North Catholic volleyball set for PIAA showdown
By: Michael Love
Saturday, November 10, 2018 | 12:30 AM
While preparing for Tuesday’s PIAA Class AA first-round match against Redbank Valley, Freeport volleyball coach Tom Phillips stressed to his team not to look ahead to a potential quarterfinal clash with WPIAL champion North Catholic.
The Yellowjackets heeded his advice and delivered a dominant three-game sweep over the District 9 champion.
“We played really relaxed and motivated (Tuesday), and we’re excited to be playing again,” senior middle hitter Haley Graham said.
Freeport, the No. 4 seed, now gets its opportunity against the undefeated Trojans.
“We’re down to the top eight teams in the state, and that’s no chopped liver, for sure,” Phillips said.
“There’s a big challenge in front of us. We’re not used to being in that underdog role. We’re going to take it and do whatever it takes to be competitive and see if we can’t come out of the match with a win.”
The teams play at 1 p.m. Saturday at North Allegheny.
“We all are really focused on doing our best to come out with a win (Saturday),” said freshman libero Erica Lampus, who is experiencing a Freeport playoff run for the first time this season.
“We’ve really worked hard in practice over the past couple of days. None of us want to get knocked out Saturday.”
North Catholic, 20-0 overall, rolled through Section 2 and captured the title with a 12-0 record. It added four nonsection victories, including a 3-0 triumph over WPIAL Class A champion Bishop Canevin.
The Trojans surrendered just one game out of 10 in the WPIAL playoffs and swept Frazier in the title game to capture their first WPIAL title.
Several Freeport players, including senior hitter Ally DeJidas, were on hand last week at Fox Chapel to watch North Catholic take the title.
“It was really weird being there and only watching, considering we played in that game the past three years,” DeJidas said. “But we knew we were still alive and had to come back for the state playoffs. We had another chance to reach goals we set for ourselves.”
North Catholic punched its ticket to the PIAA quarterfinals with a 25-16, 25-10, 25-13 win over District 5 champion North Star in the first round Tuesday.
The Trojans entered the season with four returning senior starters under first-year coach Amanda Fetter: setter Olivia Kaminski, libero Lauren Gaertner, middle hitter Gabriella Mudd and outside hitter Camryn Heitzenrater.
The team also got a boost with the transfers of sisters Dominique Felix (junior outside hitter) and Alana Felix (senior outside hitter) from Oakland Catholic.
“We’ve seen a few of their games this year and have gotten a chance to scout them,” Phillips said. “They have a lot of weapons. They come at you in waves. You can’t make very many mistakes or your chances of beating them are slim.”
North Catholic and Freeport competed at the North Allegheny Tournament on Oct. 20, but the teams didn’t face each other. However, it was another opportunity to scout each other for a potential playoff matchup. Now that potential has become reality.
Freeport, with its quest for a repeat state title, has reached at least the PIAA quarterfinals for the fourth time since 2013.
The winner of Saturday’s matchup will take on the winner of District 6 champion Bald Eagle Area and District 10 Corry in the PIAA semifinals Tuesday at a time and site to be determined.
Freeport defeated Bald Eagle Area and Corry last year on its way to the state championship.
Senior middle hitter Sarah Hettich has not played since injuring her right foot early in a nonsection match with Knoch on Oct. 10. Phillips said she continues to respond with light work in practices, but her chances of playing Saturday are minimal.
Junior defensive specialist Cora Crytzer missed Tuesday’s match with Redbank Valley after suffering a concussion in the WPIAL semifinals.
Phillips said Thursday her status for the postseason is in limbo as she waits to be cleared.
“The full and healthy team that we envisioned being on the floor this year never fully was realized, but it’s given a number of the girls an opportunity to step up into bigger and more significant roles, and they’ve certainly embraced that,” Phillips said.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Michael at 412-388-5825, firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @MLove_Trib.