Deer Lakes volleyball faces tough, familiar foe in top-ranked Freeport
In its two regular-season matches against section rival Freeport, Deer Lakes saw an opponent that made few mistakes.
As the No. 8 Lancers prepare to face the top-seeded Yellowjackets in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals 6 p.m. Tuesday at Fox Chapel, they are aware they must play a clean game if they want to knock off the two-time defending champions.
The Yellowjackets swept the Lancers in both matches this season, but Deer Lakes wasn't alone in that regard. Freeport did not drop a set in section play en route to its 13th consecutive title.
“We need to play exactly like they play, which is basically error-free volleyball,” Deer Lakes senior outside hitter Casey Buechel said. “We know what we're coming up against. We need to put the ball in play more. We need to make our first passes. We need to make our digs. Everyone has to play their role.”
The Lancers are coming off a 3-2 victory over Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic in the first round. It is believed to be the first postseason win in program history. Deer Lakes trailed 2-1, but rallied to win the fourth set 25-21 and the final set 15-13.
Buechel had 28 digs, and Karns Hazlett made 19 assists.
“The fact that we went to five games was pretty awesome,” Hazlett said. “It was literally back and forth. It's a feeling that I'll probably never forget. We basically made history for Deer Lakes.”
Freeport opened the postseason with a 3-0 sweep of Laurel. The Yellowjackets are ranked No. 1 in the state in Class AA by Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.
Freeport made the semifinals the last five seasons and has won the WPIAL title four times in the past seven years. The top of the bracket is a comfortable place for Freeport to sit.
“I feel like it motivates us to live up to everybody's expectations,” Freeport senior libero Claire Crytzer said. “Whenever we go in as the No. 1 seed, we know we have to play our game. We have to play Freeport volleyball. I don't think we care what seed we are. We just know we have to play our game.”
“It's just normal to me,” senior setter Courtney Grubbs said. “The intensity and focus that coach (Tom Phillips) expects from us is what you'd expect from a No. 1 team.”
Crytzer and Grubbs are part of a team that returns a wealth of experience from last year's championship run, which includes senior Hannah Mason, junior Ally DeJidas and sophomore Lauren Lampus.
Phillips sees a group that has bonded on and off the court.
“Everybody on our team has chemistry together,” Phillips said. “It's a unique bond that you don't see every year. If we have a bad play, nobody looks down on them and says, ‘Pick up your game.' It's all positive stuff, and that's the thing you have to have.”
Deer Lakes coach Terry Gaston said the Lancers have improved, but he knows they'll need to be at their best if they want to push the Yellowjackets. The Lancers want the competitiveness they showed in their win against North Catholic to carry over.
“(Freeport) is well-coached, and they're respected,” Gaston said. “My girls have nothing to lose because they are playing No. 1. All I can ask my girls to do is compete and limit the mistakes we made in our other two meetings. If we can limit our mistakes and control the ball a little better, we'll give them a battle.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.