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Freeport volleyball boosts schedule

| Sunday, Sept. 2, 2012, 12:23 a.m.
Ashley Sample finishes a spike to Lauren Frazetta during volleyball practice at Freeport High School on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport girls volleyball coach Tom Phillips talks to his players before practice at Freeport High School on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Brittney Bianco bumps the ball during volleyball practice at Freeport High School on Monday, Aug. 27, 2012. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

After three consecutive trips to the WPIAL Class AA finals and a championship in 2010, Freeport makes a strong case for being one of the elite girls volleyball programs in Western Pennsylvania.

To push his players to the next level and better prepare them for the PIAA playoffs, coach Tom Phillips will lead the Yellowjackets on several long road trips to challenging tournaments this year.

Phillips hopes to show his players how much they must improve to capture another WPIAL title and reach their ultimate goal — a state crown.

Last year, Freeport was runner-up to Hopewell in the WPIAL and participated in pool play at the state tournament but didn't advance to the semifinals.

The Yellowjackets, No. 4 in Class AA in the state by Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association, opened their season at the invitation-only Williamsport Tournament on Saturday. They also will compete in tournaments at State College (Sept. 29) and Sharpsville (Oct. 20), in addition to hosting their own event on Sept. 22.

“We'll be seeing some strong teams,” said senior outside hitter Ashley Sample, who earned Class AA All-State honors last season. “It's definitely helpful.”

Before the postseason, however, Freeport could be challenged during its quest for an eighth consecutive section title. After realignment, Section 4-AA now includes Knoch and Mars, who finished in a three-way tie with Ambridge atop another section last year.

“Knoch and Mars are going to elevate things,” Phillips said. “There was nothing bad about the old section, but we feel Section 4 should be one of the strongest in Class AA.”

Other key players for Freeport are seniors Danika Durand (right-side hitter) and Lauren Frazetta (middle hitter); juniors Brittney Bianco (setter), Emily Toy (setter), Alexis Schrecengost (outside hitter) and Megan Sweeny (outside hitter); and freshman Zoe Pawlak (outside hitter).

Pawlak was one of 55 players across the country named to the USA Volleyball Girls' High Performance Select A1/A2 Program this summer.

Locally, Knoch and Kittanning also appear ready to make an impact in Class AA.

Knoch reached the WPIAL quarterfinals last year and returns a solid core of players. Junior outside hitter Celina Sanks, who received All-WPIAL Class AA third-team recognition, leads the Knights. She drew attention from Division I Georgetown while playing for a club team this summer, according to Knoch coach Diane Geist.

Kittanning welcomes back the entire lineup from a team that finished second to Freeport in the section last season. But there won't be another battle for the title this year, because the Wildcats were realigned to Section 3-AA.

All three local Class AAA teams — Fox Chapel, Kiski Area and Plum — made the playoffs last year.

Kiski Area's players and coaches enter the season with a heavy heart following the death of former assistant coach Jaime (Vick) Moran on Aug. 6 after a lengthy battle with leukemia.

The Cavaliers plan to honor Moran in a number of ways, including wearing warm-up shirts bearing her picture and possibly a uniform patch. The Cavaliers will host a fundraiser called “Jam the Gym 3” for cancer-related charities during their match against Butler on Wednesday. Christa Harmotto, a member of the Olympic silver medal-winning volleyball team and Hopewell graduate, plans to attend.

“I think the girls have been empowered by her message of strength,” Kiski Area coach Ellen Toy said of Moran. “They've grown. They're doing a lot of good things.”

The Cavaliers took second place in Section 1-AAA last year. They will be built around senior middle hitter Maddie Antone, a WPIAL third-team pick. Antone, who also is a standout in basketball and softball, could emerge as a Division I prospect in volleyball, Toy said.

Fox Chapel and Plum tied for the Section 4-AAA title in 2011, but Fox Chapel has been realigned into Section 3. Experience-laden Fox Chapel features defensive standout Marcy Meinert, a WPIAL Class AAA third-team selection last year.

Plum lost several key players to graduation but returns senior outside hitter Alyssa Samarco, who could be one of the top players in the new Section 4-AAA.

In Class A, Riverview appears to be on the rise after finishing second in Section 1-A and reaching the quarterfinals for the first time since 1989. Senior outside hitter Arden Fisher, a D-I Robert Morris recruit, should be a force at the net again after earning Class A All-state honors in 2011.

Elderton, last year's WPIAL Class A champion, has closed, but many of its players have gone to West Shamokin. That could make the Wolves the team to beat in the section and, perhaps, the WPIAL.

Leechburg tied Greensburg Central Catholic for the third and final playoff berth from Section 1-A last year. The Blue Devils rally around a group of seniors who have started or played significant roles since they were freshmen.

Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at pkogut@tribweb.com or 724-224-2696.

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