Freeport volleyball celebrates special season
By: Michael Love
Monday, November 20, 2017 | 10:03 PM
The Freeport girls volleyball team scheduled its season-closing banquet for Sunday evening no matter how far it advanced in the WPIAL or state playoffs.
It just so happened the Yellowjackets had to make a quick turnaround from a history-making Saturday about 65 miles east in Johnstown.
When the players and their families and friends gathered at Cooper's Station in Sarver, they were able to celebrate a PIAA Class AA championship victory over Delone Catholic at Richland High School.
“The last couple of days have been like a dream for me, and I know it's been like that for others,” said Freeport coach Tom Phillips, who received numerous emails, calls and texts of congratulations from community members, school faculty, former players, fellow coaches and others since Saturday's win.
“It was such a special time at the banquet. The senior speeches were so emotional.”
Freeport's run to the state title featured four wins against four district champions. It was the first PIAA team championship in the history of Freeport athletics.
The team returned Saturday evening to an escort down Route 28 from Kittanning to and through Freeport Borough and then back to the school campus.
Those performing a school play, and those in the crowd, at the middle school at the time stopped to applaud.
On Wednesday, the team will make a celebration tour through all of the schools in the district, and it will ride in the Freeport Christmas parade Dec. 2.
The Yellowjackets also accepted an invitation for a March visit to Harrisburg to tour the state capitol and be honored by the governing body.
“People everywhere have reached out in so many ways to celebrate the team,” Phillips said. “It's a well-deserved thing for these girls to go through.”
The five seniors — Courtney Grubbs, Claire Crytzer, Ashley Sullivan, Mallory Stopko and Hannah Mason — put on the Freeport volleyball uniform Saturday for the final time.
“It is a bittersweet feeling that it (was) my last match (Saturday), but I wouldn't want to go out any other way,” Mason said.
Phillips added: “These five girls have contributed so much to Freeport volleyball over the past six years. They helped their teams succeed on the court, and they became great leaders on and off the court. The thing I tell people is that when you are part of this volleyball family, you're a part of it forever.”
At the same time, the returning players already are looking forward to next fall and the chance to make another run at PIAA gold.
“I'm confident we can do it again next year,” junior middle hitter/blocker Haley Graham said.
There were times Saturday when Freeport had three juniors and two sophomores together on the floor.
“I've said many times that while we lose valuable and talented seniors each year, the cupboard is never empty,” Phillips said. “There are always younger players who come back with a year of good experience. That's the case this year with those waiting in the wings ready to accept that responsibility of an increased role.”
The junior varsity team finished 20-1 with a pair of tournament victories.
A good chunk of the squad, close to 40 percent, Phillips said, will transition to Junior Olympic club volleyball, and the tryouts were Sunday.
“They love the game, and they want to keep playing,” Phillips said.
Phillips said a strong group of eighth-graders are ready to make the move up next fall. The top junior high team just completed a 12-0 season and three tournament titles.
“The girls were already talking about missing practice (Monday) and wishing they could get together,” Phillips said. “It was a weird feeling for me (Monday) just coming home after work instead of meeting the girls at the school. It's a bittersweet feeling having the season end, but the finish was fantastic.”