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Freeport girls volleyball motivated by playoff loss

| Sunday, Sept. 8, 2013, 10:27 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Freeport senior libero Brittney Bianco receives a serve against Ford City while sophomore outside hitter Zoe Pawlak (24) looks on during the girls volleyball season opener for both teams on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, at Freeport High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Morgan Ruppersberger spikes the ball against Burrell's Makenzie Okopal during a volleyball game Thursday, September 5, 2013, at Freeport High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Zoe Pawlak looks to score a point during a volleyball game Thursday, September 5, 2013, at Freeport High School.
Christopher Horner
Shaler's Paige Quinn pressures North Allegheny's Meg Morningstar during their Section 3-AAAA game Monday in Shaler. Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Knoch's Celina Sanks celebrates with her teammates after scoring against Freeport earlier this season.

An uncharacteristic upset in the WPIAL playoffs last year might help the Freeport girls volleyball team return to form this year.

The Yellowjackets racked up a 17-2 record and No. 2 seed yet were beaten in the quarterfinals by No. 7 seed Ambridge. Freeport coach Tom Phillips and his players lamented the team looked past Ambridge and toward a possible rubber match with Section 4-AA rival Mars. Now, they can't get that loss out of their minds.

“I think it made us realize that we really need to work hard,” Freeport sophomore standout Zoe Pawlak said. “I don't really think we expected to lose that early. We did get a rude awakening.

“I really think it helped us buckle down. We know we need to work really hard so we can do better than last year.”

Freeport (2-0, 1-0) is off to a good start. They have won both matches this season in straight sets.

In addition to Pawlak, senior Alexis Schrecengost — an all-WPIAL selection last season — is back. Young talent abounds, as well. Phillips said this is the best group of freshman he has ever had. The junior high team, also coached by Phillips, finished 13-0 last season.

“They're the kind of people that they don't want to sit on the bench,” Phillips said. “They're pushing the older girls, and you like to see that.”

The blend of old and new has created a perfect storm of competition and cultivation. The younger players vying for time are being groomed by upperclassmen fighting to keep their spot.

“I think it's important not to have any animosity on the team,” senior libero Brittany Bianco said. “If you want to be on the court, you need to push yourself on the court.”

The No. 3 ranked Yellowjackets split the section title with Mars last season to keep alive a streak of section championships dating back to 2005. They won the WPIAL crown in 2010 and were finalists in 2009 and 2011. The recent dominance doesn't mean the team will rest on its laurels. Phillips has stressed to his players that history won't win games for them this year. In fact, it could make it harder as each opponent will be trying its best to knock them off.

“We have to go out and prove it day in and day out,” Phillips said. “We have a pretty strong schedule in front of us.

“I'm really happy with this team this year. I think these girls have put in a lot of hard work and a lot of effort through the summer. I tell them they can't quit now. They have to keep getting better and better.”

That attitude should fare the Yellowjackets well. In addition to Mars and Knoch in the section, Phillips knows there is competition elsewhere in Class AA that could turn up in the playoffs. And if it comes to that, don't expect Freeport to take anybody lightly.

“Double-A is a real shootout this year,” Phillips said. “There are some big hurdles. It's going to be fun.”

Ed Phillipps is a freelance writer.

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