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Freeport setter Courtney Grubbs uses 'sixth sense' to set up her hitters

| Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, 7:45 p.m.
Freeport's Courtney Grubbs digs a shot against Deer Lakes during a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal match Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.
Louis Raggiunti | For the Tribune-Review
Freeport's Courtney Grubbs digs a shot against Deer Lakes during a WPIAL Class AA quarterfinal match Tuesday, Oct. 31, 2017.

Freeport setter Courtney Grubbs is a fan of the animated movie “Finding Dory,” and after watching the beluga whales in the film use echolocation to communicate, she started using the term to describe her ability to sense where her hitters are on the court.

Grubbs can tell by listening to her hitters' voices where they are along the net before she sets them up for a kill.

“When a beluga whale knows where another one is, that's what it's like for me on the court with my hitters,” Grubbs said. “When they say something, I can tell where they are at with how loud or how urgent they are. I don't know how to explain it, but it just clicks in my mind. When they say something, I know where they are and where to put the ball.”

Whether Grubbs has enhanced hearing or a sixth sense, it's clear she and her hitters are on the same page. Grubbs' sets were precise, and Freeport's hitters were on point in Tuesday's 3-0 win over Deer Lakes in the WPIAL Class AA quarterfinals.

The top-seeded and two-time defending WPIAL champion Yellowjackets hope to carry that momentum into their semifinal match with No. 4 Serra Catholic at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.

“Courtney's always talking about her echolocation, so I can say, ‘Hey, right here,' and then she puts the ball right there,” outside hitter Hannah Mason said. “I did that a couple times (Tuesday), and it worked.”

Grubbs, a senior, played last year behind starting setter Maggie Ward and was on the floor when Freeport rallied for 10 consecutive points to steal the first set 26-24 over Beaver in last year's WPIAL final victory.

“Courtney is a very smart setter,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “She knows when to dump the ball over the net. She can drive teams crazy. She set two clicks in our rotation in the WPIAL finals last year, and I think having that experience has helped her as a leader. Our three seniors Hannah (Mason), Courtney and Claire (Crytzer) are all great leaders that rarely leave the floor. Courtney has good hands, and she runs the show really well out there.”

Grubbs said Ward was a good role model, and one of the lessons she learned from her was to talk to each hitter about where they like their sets. Like a catcher in softball or baseball studies each pitcher to learn their nuances, Grubbs wants to know what each hitter's preferences are.

She has plenty of options. Mason and Lauren Lampus on the outside along with Ally DeJidas, and middle hitters Sarah Hettich and Haley Graham all have the ability to spike the ball with force.

“It doesn't matter if I'm setting the outsides, the right sides or the middles. I always ask them if that was a good set because every hitter is different,” Grubbs said. “Hannah likes them super tight, whereas Lauren likes them a little off. It comes down to each individual hitter and what they like.”

Lampus, a sophomore, is appreciative of Grubbs' court sense. She became acclimated with being on the court with Mason and Grubbs in summer workouts and has developed into another weapon who Grubbs can set for a kill. Lampus had eight kills in the win over Deer Lakes.

“During the summer, I played with them all the time,” Lampus said. “We were always in the gym doing something. I just learned to play with them, and they accepted me on the court. It felt good because I was a little nervous being the youngest girl on the court, but they make you feel comfortable.”

The rapport the Yellowjackets built shows. They work in unison and communicate, especially when play becomes hectic as it sometimes does when a team is trying to get the ball back over the net.

“When I feel like Courtney is stuck and doesn't know where to set it, I'll say something awkward on the court like, ‘I'm available,' just to maybe get her to think about me if I'm open,” Mason said. “She's great at putting the ball where I want it.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.

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