Perennial power Freeport volleyball ‘work in progress’
Sunday, October 4, 2020 | 6:21 PM
The Freeport girls volleyball team on Monday begins a stretch of three games in three days and kicks off the second half of its Section 5-AAA schedule with a trip to Mars.
Yellowjackets coach Tom Phillips hopes the rematch of Thursday’s five-set loss to the Planets is out of this world for his youthful team, which is 4-2 in section play.
“The focus right now is directly on Mars,” said Phillips, whose team lost seven senior starters from last year’s WPIAL Class AA championship squad and consists of two seniors, three juniors, seven sophomores and nine freshmen.
“We had Mars as the team to beat in the section at the start of the year. They are such an experienced and skilled team with a lot of size at the net. We’re looking forward to the challenge. Hopefully, the result is different this time around.”
Freeport visits Highlands on Tuesday before hosting Knoch on Wednesday. The Yellowjackets swept the Golden Rams and topped the Knights 3-1 in the first week of the season.
Freeport, which moved up to Class AAA after years of dominance in Class AA, hopes to maintain its sights on the leaders in the section. The Yellowjackets are tied for third with Mars at 4-2, just behind Armstrong (5-2) and two games behind section leader Hampton (6-0).
Freeport swept Armstrong last Tuesday and suffered a five-set loss last month to Hampton.
The rematch with the Talbots looms Oct 15.
“After the loss to Mars, we all came back in the gym and regrouped and worked on a lot of stuff,” senior defensive specialist Emily Schmidt said.
“We want to go to their gym (Monday) and show them what Freeport volleyball is all about. We feel we still have a lot to prove to people. We have a lot of younger players, and they are starting to settle in a little more. We haven’t played our best match yet.”
The loss to Hampton snapped a section winning streak that dated to 2013. Freeport and Knoch split their section matchups that year and finished as co-champs.
The Yellowjackets went on to win one of their five WPIAL championships.
“Hampton, like Mars, is a pretty experienced team,” Phillips said. “There are a lot of really good teams in our section. In the two losses we have, we played hard and battled right to the end. We had our opportunities. A little bit of our inexperience and youth played into both. We have young players who are getting that experience in the high-pressure varsity matches and continue to learn how to win on a consistent basis.”
Phillips said the freshmen were slowed by not having a middle school season in the spring, and the team played catch up over the summer. No early-season tournaments — Freeport hosts an annual tournament and was scheduled for ones in Plum and Franklin Regional — also slowed growth, Phillips said.
But he credits the team for continuing to work on developing continuity and consistency in practice and matches, especially in the sweep of Armstrong.
“I knew going into the season there would be highs and lows with a learning curve as they got into the flow of competition,” Phillips said.
The rotation features Schmidt (defensive specialist); junior Erica Lampus (outside hitter); sophomores Kayla Carnahan (libero), Cassidy Dell (setter) and Natalie Volek (outside hitter); and freshmen Adelynn Rusek (6-foot-2 middle hitter), Josephine Russo (6-0 middle hitter), Sydney Selker (outside hitter) and Grace Beach (setter).
Dell saw time on varsity last year.
Lampus, who earned All-WPIAL second-team honors at libero last season, primarily has played at outside hitter this year.
“I thought she was one of the best liberos last year, and she stepped up well in the WPIAL title match,” Phillips said. “She does such a great job at multiple positions all over the court. She’s done a great job hitting for us. She’s not a big girl, but she’s got great jumping ability.”
Phillips said the team misses the on-court leadership and experience of senior hitter Gianna Dreher, a three-year letterwinner who is out with a concussion suffered during a preseason practice.
“Gianna came into the season as a proven commodity, but she hasn’t been able to be on the floor with these younger kids,” Phillips said. “Hopefully, before the end of the season, we are able to get her back.”
Junior Sam Wuyscik had been working into a role, but she is dealing with an ankle injury.
Phillips said versatility from a number of players has given him a chance to see the rotation from a couple of different perspectives.
“We’re kind of a work in progress,” Phillips said. “There are so many factors that go into planning what our rotation can look like. I am kind of like a mad scientist in experimenting with how things could be.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .
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