Freeport’s run to PIAA volleyball finals gives junior middle hitter chance to get back on court

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Friday, November 18, 2022 | 5:41 PM


Autumn English was a key part of the Freeport girls volleyball team’s early-season surge and its rise to the No. 1 spot in the Class 2A state rankings.

It then all came apart for the junior middle hitter.

English broke a bone in her foot near her ankle during warmups before a Section 5-2A match against Ligonier Valley on Sept. 22.

“I was blocking, and I landed on a teammate’s foot,” English said. “My ankle went inwards, and I went down. I was hoping it wasn’t as serious as it turned out to be. But it ended up being pretty serious.”

English was in a walking boot for several weeks as the bone healed. All the while, she was doing the best she could to root on her teammates as they marched through section play to the program’s 18th consecutive title before rolling through the WPIAL playoffs to a seventh district championship since 2010.

Freeport swept District 10 Corry and WPIAL foe Quaker Valley in the first two rounds of the PIAA playoffs. English then got the call she had sought for a while.

On Monday, she was cleared to return to action. She was on the court Wednesday at Punxsutawney as the Yellowjackets defeated District 6 champion Philipsburg-Osceola, 3-2, to punch their ticket to Saturday’s PIAA championship game against District 3 champ York Catholic (23-1) at Cumberland Valley High School.

“My orthopaedic doctor didn’t think I was going to be able to play before the end of the season,” English said. “I was just hoping we would make it super far so I could play. I was so grateful to my teammates for playing so well and keeping us alive.”

English said nerves kicked in during Wednesday’s warmups as she wondered how she would play.

“But I was just happy to be there and able to play,” she said. “When we won, all the emotions hit me at once. Everyone played so well. That was such a big win for us. We can’t wait for Saturday.”

Freeport (22-2) went five sets with P-O, only the third time all season it was forced to go that long in a match. It also went the distance in a win over Mars and a loss to Seneca Valley.

The Yellowjackets have won 21 of 24 games in the postseason, and they will play for a state championship for the first time since beating Delone Catholic for the 2017 Class 2A crown.

Friday marked the five-year anniversary of Freeport’s win over Delone at Richland High School in Johnstown.

“Literally since June with all of our cross-fit workouts, summer league games and countless hours in the gym, we dealt with injury, adversity and all the highs and lows of a season,” said senior libero Ava Soilis, also a member of the girls basketball team who will, regardless of Saturday’s result, be in the gym for a basketball practice Sunday.

”But we stayed together as one team, and it has taken a lot of focus and hard work to be in a position to get what we want, and that’s a state title.”

When sophomore hitter Leah Schrecongost put down a pair of hits to close out Game 5 against P-O on Wednesday, coach Tom Phillips leapt off his chair and thrust his arms in the air. He said his players executed a strong gameplan and came away with the win in an instant classic.

“For anyone who bought a ticket to that game and (felt they) didn’t get their money’s worth, shame on them,” Phillips said. “It was a very exciting match, and one that could’ve gone either way. P-O had momentum after winning Game 4, but we took it away early in that last game.”

Scouting the Fighting Irish

Soon after the team bus pulled into Freeport’s campus late Wednesday and the players and coaches dispersed, Phillips began to research York Catholic, which unseated three-time defending District 3 champ and 2021 state finalist Trinity to claim the district’s only PIAA berth.

The Fighting Irish punched their tickets to Saturday’s state final with a 3-1 victory over District 11 champ Notre Dame Green Pond on Tuesday evening. They will be making their first appearance in a state championship match.

“I went home and was kind of keyed up a little bit and couldn’t sleep,” Phillips said. “I started to study a little film on them. I just wanted to get a quick look at things and start to prepare a gameplan. They are such a talented team, and we know it will be a great challenge.”

York Catholic won 15 of 17 games over five postseason victories. Its only loss on the season came to Delone Catholic, 3-2, on Sept. 29.

Saturday’s 1 p.m. matchup features the top two teams in the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association Class 2A rankings. P-O is ranked third.

Like Freeport, York Catholic features a number of hitting weapons in a deep lineup.

Senior Adeline Phillips put down 19 kills and also recorded 18 digs and three blocks as the Fighting Irish rallied from losing the first game to Notre Dame Green Pond.

Fellow senior Avery Heist also was strong at the net with nine kills and six blocks.

Junior setter Beitris Boyreus-Millar provided 23 assists in her team’s semifinal win.

“In the playoffs, whether it is in the WPIAL or the state tournament, to be the best, you have to beat the best,” Phillips said. “I talked with (the players) and reminded them that we’re not going to change anything with their games and that we hope to continue to play our game at a high level.

“Everybody’s a little bit sore and a little bit tired, but these girls have what it takes to rise above all of that. The opportunity is there to do great things and make history.”

Carnahan stays positive

Kayla Carnahan had high hopes for her senior season.

The defensive specialist was set to contribute as the Yellowjackets began a journey of high expectations at the end of the summer.

But the beginning of the summer turned bleak for Carnahan.

During an open gym workout, she suffered a severe knee injury that ultimately would end her season before it started.

“I jumped to hit a ball, and when I came down, my knee just snapped,” Carnahan said.

“But I thought I was OK. I started to get up. I thought someone might have landed on me. I turned to look, and no one was there. I wasn’t sure what just happened. I went to try and serve a ball right after, and it snapped again.”

Pain in the knee persisted, and she sought a medical assessment.

“The doctor said before any MRIs that it might just be a meniscus tear because I said it didn’t hurt that bad. He said not to worry that it would probably heal on its own. But after the MRI, he came in, shook my hand, looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘You tore your ACL completely.’ That was tough to hear.”

Surgery followed, and fast forward in her recovery to now, she is to where she is lightly jogging and jumping.

“I feel good,” she said. “There still is a little pain right at the stitches. I am progressing well, but it sucks that I am moving fast and the season is almost over. I was hoping to make it in at the very end. But it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.”

Carnahan said that despite not being able to play, she has enjoyed the postseason ride she is on with her Freeport teammates and hopes they can finish off their season expectations Saturday and capture the program’s second-ever state championship.

“I am so proud of my team. It’s humbling to sit in here (at practice) and watch them work hard and get ready to play,” she said.

“During my senior speech at our banquet, I told everyone that I would give anything to be on the court with them, but it’s amazing to watch all of them work so hard. I don’t know if they realize just how much effort they are putting in, but I’ve seen it every day.”

Carnahan has contributed some special moments to the season through her voice as she has performed the National Anthem numerous times, including before Wednesday’s PIAA semifinal match with Philipsburg-Osceola at Punxsutawney.

Whether or not Carnahan sings Saturday has yet to be determined, but she’s grateful her singing gift has been a part of the Freeport volleyball experience this season.

“When I sing, I think it pumps the team up and helps give them a little bit extra going into a match,” she said.

“I just want them to have the most energy possible.”

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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