Freeport volleyball’s stellar defense must step up vs. Corry

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Thursday, November 9, 2017 | 10:59 PM


The Bald Eagle Area and Freeport girls volleyball teams were going back and forth early in the third set of Tuesday's PIAA Class AA first-round match when an Eagles hitter pushed a ball over the net.

The ball appeared headed for a certain destination of the hardwood floor at Penn Cambria High School as it was falling into what seemed like no-man's land.

But that's when Courtney Grubbs knifed into the play, extended her body and slid her hand along the floor just in time to greet the ball and keep it alive.

The “pancake,” as senior libero Claire Crytzer called it, helped the ball find its way to junior opposite hitter Ally DeJidas, then to Crytzer, who played the ball over the net. The Yellowjackets eventually won the point, and it led them to win the game and ultimately the match.

“I think that stunned (Bald Eagle Area) a little bit,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said.

Freeport's defense, as it did in Tuesday's 3-0 victory over BEA, has made its mark throughout a season-long run to another section championship, a WPIAL runner-up finish and what it soon hopes is a run to a state championship.

The Yellowjackets continue that charge Saturday with a quarterfinal contest against District 10 champion and defending state gold medalist Corry at Slippery Rock High School.

“Against Bald Eagle, there were a lot of long rallies,” Crytzer said.

“That hustle, mentality and focus to not let any ball fall hit the floor is what we work on every day at practice. We have a drill we do that's called offense-defense. One team is scoring all the points, and the other team's playing defense. If you let a ball hit on your side, all of your points are taken away. It really stresses the importance of keeping the ball alive.”

Bald Eagle Area had only one ace in Tuesday's match, and the Freeport defense frustrated the Eagles' by turning their top hitters' spikes into playable passes.

Sophomore Grace Hugar, BEA's leading hitter, had 10 kills Tuesday but went a long stretch between the second and third games without a kill on several attempts.

“We tried to channel our block to where everything was hit at Claire, including the hits by Hugar,” Phillips said. “We knew Hugar was a pin hitter where she liked to hit the ball down the line. We took that shot away from her. She had some swings down the line, but the more the game got going and the more we closed up that block, we made her hit angle, and it was too our benefit.”

Defensive communication, from the back row to the front at the net with the likes of middles in juniors Haley Graham and Sarah Hettich, improved throughout the season, Crytzer said.

“Before every play, Sarah and Haley are saying where the setter is and how many hitters are in the front row for the other team,” Crytzer said. “All of us in the back row are talking on serve-receive if the ball is in or heading out or calling ‘mine' on a ball so we don't crash into each other. The defense is at its best when we are effectively communicating with each other.”

Graham and Hettich led the block parade against BEA. The duo combined for 10 blocks.

“I think I'm more of a defensive blocker,” Hettich said. “I always try my best to close the block and help the defense so it's easier to pass the ball and set up for a hit, no matter where it comes from.”

It will be all defensive hands on deck Saturday, Grubbs said, given the firepower Corry possesses.

“The games, we expect, will be close, and an extra effort on a defensive play can and will make the difference,” she said. “Attention to detail is vital, and that's what we expect from each other every second we're on the court.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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