Hampton girls volleyball rallies past Freeport, reaches PIAA Class 3A final for 1st time

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Tuesday, November 16, 2021 | 9:37 PM


Two sets away from a trip to the state volleyball finals, perhaps the Freeport girls showed their age for the first time all season.

Hampton showed its poise.

With two freshman starters on the court, Freeport won Game 1 in Tuesday’s PIAA Class 3A semifinal, but the WPIAL champion Yellow Jackets saw Hampton win the next three, earning the Talbots their first trip to the state finals in team history. This was a rematch from the WPIAL finals, yet it ended with a different result.

“I just told them, ‘Girls, it’s time to step up,’ ” Hampton coach Annie Bozzo said. “We’re not expected to win. We’re the lower seed. … We just have to play hard. If we focus on our side of the net, I don’t know if there are many teams that can beat us.”

After losing the first game 25-17, Hampton won 25-18, 25-19 and 25-16 at Fox Chapel.

The Talbots advance to play District 3 champion Spring Grove in the PIAA finals at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Cumberland Valley.

“We came out strong,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “We had a great practice yesterday, and I think it amplified right into that first match. I think Game 2, our youth kind of showed itself a little bit. Sometimes in a game of this magnitude, your younger players get a little caught up on things, maybe didn’t perform as well as they have throughout the season.”

This was the fourth meeting between the section foes this season, so both teams knew one another well. They split two games in the regular season, so Tuesday’s win tied the series 2-2.

“We really wanted to take that next step really bad,” Phillips said, “but playing a team like Hampton four times isn’t an easy situation.

“We’re going to be a force for a few years. Games like this make a young kid more mature and more experienced down the road.”

Freeport was trying to reach the state finals for the first time since 2017. Instead, with a second-year coach, Hampton makes its first appearance.

“We’re so proud and so excited because Hampton volleyball has never made it this far,” Bozzo said. “They’d never won a state playoff game, and then to make it all the way to the finals, just shows how hard my girls work and how far they’ve come.”

Hampton had an experience in age with two seniors, but the Talbots also leaned on one of its younger stars. Sophomore Emmy Schrom, a 6-foot-1 outside hitter, had 26 kills including the winners in both the third and fourth games.

“I’m so proud of her,” Bozzo said. “She’s only a sophomore. She’s a really hard worker. The team relies on her. She’s our go-to, and she plays to win no matter what.”

Bozzo credited the aggressive play of her middles and setter Claudia Braun for freeing up Hampton’s attack.

“Those two key things really let my outsides shine,” she said. “It’s just that team effort. When those girls are really stepping up, it helps the other girls shine, because it keeps their defense honest.”

Freeport tried to adjust and rotated middle blockers, but it struggled to slow Hampton’s hitters.

“I don’t think our middles were as strong as what they needed to be tonight against this team,” Phillips said. “Hampton is a wonderful team, they really are. They come at you from all angles. They’ve got size, they’ve got great defensive players. They came prepared tonight to play.”

After losing the first game, Hampton opened the second with a 12-1 run behind kills from Schrom and seniors Kai Herchenroether and Claudia Braun. Freeport pulled within six points on a kill by freshman Alaina Whitlinger, but Hampton held on.

“We did a lot of uncharacteristic things,” Phillips said. “You can’t have that in a game like this, against a team like this.”

The third game was tied at 14 before Hampton outscored Freeport by six points down the stretch to win 25-19. In the fourth game, Hampton took a 7-1 lead and won 25-16.

“We just had to settle in,” Bozzo said. “It’s a really high-stakes game that we’re in. We’ve seen Freeport a few times and they had the (series) score on us 2-1 in the matches. We had to settle in and realize it’s just another match, just another section match.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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