Freeport volleyball sets sights on 18th straight section title

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Monday, September 5, 2022 | 4:23 PM


The Franklin Regional girls volleyball tournament has established itself as one of the premier events in the early fall season, and Freeport, a regular participant, knew it again would be tested against some of the top teams in the WPIAL.

The Yellowjackets passed the test with flying colors. They swept Hempfield, Ambridge and Elizabeth Forward in pool play and then topped South Park in the semifinals and Penn-Trafford in the finals to capture the first-place trophy.

“It was an amazing feeling, and we played so well,” said 5-foot-10 senior setter/opposite hitter Cassidy Dell, a returning first-team All-WPIAL and second-team all-state selection who is deep in the recruiting process with schools in Division II and III.

“The final against Penn-Trafford was very close. It was back-and-forth. The tournament was a great opportunity to get some playing in before section play starts this week. We got to see a variety of teams from quad-A, triple-A and double-A, all the different levels of play. There were a few teams there we might see down the road at WPIALs.”

The tournament victory was another positive step for the six-time WPIAL champions, who hope to be at the top of the heap again in 2022.

Freeport, after two years in Class 3A, is back to its familiar position in Class 2A. It is ready to do battle with the likes of Shenango, Avonworth, Laurel and Beaver Area.

“We were one of the smallest teams in 3A, but the girls just went to work and met the challenges presented to them,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said.

“It fueled them to go out and show they were ready to win. We won two section titles and, of course, won the (WPIAL) 3A title last year. Last year, every match was a dogfight, and the girls felt accomplished.”

Freeport captured WPIAL Class 2A titles 2010, ’13, ’15, ’16 and ’19 and won the program’s first PIAA title in 2017.

“It was our choice to stay and play up in 3A or move back to 2A, and I talked to a lot of people, those who have mentored me and who I respect over the years, and also a lot of different athletic directors, and everybody told me the same thing: if the numbers say you are a 2A team, play a 2A schedule,” Phillips said.

“We’re in this for two years, and that is where we go.”

The first Western Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association WPIAL girls rankings were released last week, and Freeport found itself at the top in Class 2A.

North Allegheny, which has won four of the past five WPIAL Class 4A titles and is the five-time defending PIAA champion, again leads the rankings in the WPIAL’s highest classification.

The Yellowjackets tested themselves Aug. 29 with a trip to North Allegheny, and despite a 3-0 loss, Phillips said he saw a lot of positives.

“I think it was a humbling experience,” Phillips said. “We had a great summer playing in two leagues, and then we had great scrimmages against quality opponents who were as good or better than us. We really tested ourselves and did well.

“I reminded the girls that they were playing the best team in the state of Pennsylvania in any classification on their home court. But they were not afraid to go up there and play them. They exposed some things we were a little leery on, but we went back and worked on those things, and that will make us better in the long run.”

Dell is at the heart of a solid nucleus of returnees with starting experience who witnessed the ups and downs of the run to last year’s WPIAL title.

Also back are seniors Ava Solis (libero), Hadley Hellgren (middle hitter) and Natalie Volek (outside hitter); juniors Josie Russo (middle hitter), Grace Beach (setter), Autumn English (middle hitter) and Sydney Selker (outside hitter); and sophomores Alaina Whitlinger (outside hitter) and Leah Schrecengost (outside hitter).

Solis was honored last year with second-team All-WPIAL laurels, while Russo (first), Selker (second) and Volek (third) also picked up All-Section 5-3A selection.

“We’re still waiting for a couple of people to come back from some injuries we had from the summer,” Phillips said. “I like this team a lot. They work hard, and there is great leadership at the top.”

The team has rallied around injured senior defensive specialist and letterwinner Kayla Carnahan, who was most likely lost for the season after suffering a torn ACL during the summer.

“She was looking forward to a great senior season, and we had great plans for her,” Phillips said.

“She’s recouping right now and is way ahead of schedule. She comes to practice every day and helps out any way she can.”

Freeport hopes to capture an 18th straight section title, and they will attempt to do so in Section 5 against longtime rival Deer Lakes, as well as Apollo-Ridge, Burrell, Derry, Ligonier Valley, Neighborhood Academy and Valley.

“We pride ourselves in defending that streak of section titles,” Phillips said.

“The girls don’t want this to be the year to let that down. That is one of a number of things that drives them in the offseason and in preseason practices.”

The Yellowjackets open section play Tuesday at Apollo-Ridge and then host Deer Lakes on Thursday.

Apollo-Ridge bumped up from Class 1A, where it qualified for the WPIAL playoffs in 2021.

Freeport and Deer Lakes will play for the first time since 2019.

“This is a big week for us, and we want to start off section play right,” Dell said. “It will be nice to play Deer Lakes again. It’s always been a tough match against them.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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