Freeport volleyball braces for another district champion in bid for 1st PIAA title
By: Michael Love
Saturday, November 18, 2017 | 12:00 AM
At the time the Freeport girls volleyball team played District 6 champion Bald Eagle and District 10 champ Corry in the PIAA Class AA first round and quarterfinals, respectively, both opponents were undefeated in matches decided by best-of-five sets.
Tuesday, the Yellowjackets faced a WPIAL-champion Beaver squad that had tasted defeat just once all season.
That was until Freeport gained a measure of revenge from the WPIAL title contest and posted a 3-1 victory over the Bobcats to remain alive in their ultimate quest for state-championship gold.
Now, the Yellowjackets will have the chance to take down another one-loss squad as they face Delone Catholic for the PIAA title Saturday at 1 p.m. at Richland High School in Johnstown.
“They are a very strong team. We won't expect anything else,” Freeport senior setter Courtney Grubbs said.
“On Saturday, we have to bring our best game. Want to go in and play our game and see if that is good enough to win.”
The team is the first in Freeport history to play for a PIAA championship and the first Yellowjackets squad to compete for a state title since 2007.
That year, the Freeport ice hockey team won the PIHL Penguins Cup Class A title, 4-1, over Quaker Valley before falling to West Chester Henderson in the Pennsylvania Cup state championship.
“The girls have to go with the mindset that it's just another game even though there is so much on the line,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “We want to keep playing like we have been playing. The Beaver win on Tuesday was a real high point for us. All three matches in the state playoffs have been dynamic wins. The girls have been playing really well.”
While Freeport's trip to Richland will take about 90 minutes, Delone Catholic's journey is close to three hours from Adams County near the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.
The Squires will arrive at states with a 21-1 record. Their ride in the state tournament includes a 3-0 win over District 12 champ Mast Community Charter, a sweep of District 2 titlist Holy Redeemer and a 3-0 victory over District 6 runner-up West Shamokin on Tuesday in the semifinals.
Phillips said Delone Catholic, in the state finals for the first time since winning the 2013 Class AA title, goes in as the slight favorite according to the latest AA rankings from the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.
“They have a pretty dynamic right side player (Maddie Clabaugh),” Phillips said. “She's their tallest player and is only a sophomore. But they are also experienced with eight seniors, so senior leadership really helps them along. Their setter (senior Chloe Kindig) is very active and moves the ball around a lot. She also hits outside on one of their rotations.”
Phillips said a key for his team will be trying to slow down Delone's up-tempo style of play.
“They play at a fast pace and try to take you out of your game,” Phillips said. “If we can slow them down and figure them out, we can get matchups that we need.”
Freeport (24-3) will not be alone when they make the trip to Johnstown on Saturday.
Two other squads — Knoch in Class AAA and North Allegheny in Class AAAA — also will represent the WPIAL in the state finals.
Freeport and Knoch have experienced a connection in this year's WPIAL and state playoffs that extends beyond the schools' proximity to each other, their former relationship as section rivals and the fact several players from each team are teammates on the same club volleyball squad.
Saturday will mark the fourth time this playoff season — the WPIAL championship day and the PIAA quarterfinals and semifinals are the others — that Freeport and Knoch will play back-to-back at the same location. As with the previous two occasions, both teams hope for consecutive triumphs.
Knoch, the WPIAL Class AAA champion, will take on District 11 champion Allentown Central Catholic at 3 p.m.
“(Knoch and Freeport) had a really good nonsection match during the regular season, and it's nice to see them also have the success they've experienced in the playoffs,” Phillips said.
Veteran Knoch coach Diane Geist is a Freeport graduate.
The Class AAAA title will pit WPIAL winner North Allegheny against District 1 champion Bishop Shanahan at 5 p.m.
“The girls have worked so hard all season and deserve this experience,” Phillips said. “The journey has been so special. I am proud of them all.”