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Sylba returns to head coaching as Freeport girls brace for Class AAA

| Wednesday, Nov. 28, 2012, 12:20 a.m.
Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Jessica Aulicino drives to the hoop during practice at Freeport High School Monday November 26, 2012 Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch
Valley News Dispatch
Freeport girls Head Coach, Paul Sylba instructs players during practice at Freeport High School Monday November 26, 2012 Bill Shirley | For The Valley News Dispatch

Paul Sylba has returned to the head coaching ranks after three relatively quiet seasons as an assistant and will help the Freeport girls take on arguably their greatest challenge in recent years — a jump from Class AA to AAA.

Sylba, 54, guided the Riverview girls for nine seasons before serving as an assistant at Kiski Area for two years and Freeport last season. He's excited about the battles awaiting the Yellowjackets.

“If we can stay healthy and injury-free, I think we'll compete,” Sylba said. “Do we have the firepower to match up? You never know. We'll see. We have to play our ‘A' game all of the time.”

Last season, Freeport finished with a 10-12 record, including 7-7 in Section 1-AA, and lost in the preliminary round of the WPIAL playoffs.

After the PIAA enrollment-based realignment, Freeport resides in Section 1-AAA with Hampton, Highlands, Kittanning, Knoch, Mars and Valley. The Yellowjackets are familiar with many of those teams. They defeated Highlands and Valley and lost to Kittanning and Knoch in nonsection play last season.

The last time the Freeport girls were members of Class AAA was in the early '90s.

Sylba was hired in April to replace Bill Burkart, who was head coach for five seasons before the school district opened his position.

Sylba welcomed back three starters, including one of the Alle-Kiski Valley's top frontcourt players — senior Jessica Aulicino. The 6-foot center/forward averaged 14.3 points and 7.7 rebounds per game last season.

“She's about as complete a basketball player as we have,” Sylba said. “She's a good leader. She brings a hard-nosed demeanor. Inside the lines, she's very aggressive.”

The other returning regulars are junior forward Michaela Bowser and sophomore guard/forward Macy Smolic.

Sophomore Haley Connors is the likely starter at point guard, but senior Nicole Miller could challenge for that role.

Other players competing for starting spots or significant time off the bench include senior guard Alicia Grabiec, twin junior guards Dava and Erica Jack, and junior guard/forward Carly VanTine.

Sylba envisions a more up-tempo style of play.

“We have a lot of girls with good quickness,” he said. “I'd like to utilize that and move the ball up and down the court. I think we can go eight or nine deep. I think, last year, they were more of a set-it-up team (on offense). We can still use that at times. I think we'll also use more man-to-man defense, as opposed to zone.”

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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