Freeport girls volleyball aims for 3rd consecutive WPIAL title
Hannah Mason knows what it's like to go head-to-head in an intense battle with the Beaver girls volleyball team.
The senior outside hitter and her Freeport teammates overcame a fierce challenge from the Bobcats in last year's WPIAL Class AA final.
It took a Game 1 rally of monumental proportions — 10 consecutive points to come from down 24-16 to win 26-24 — and a late run of five points in the fourth game to snap a 20-20 tie and wrap up the Yellowjackets' second WPIAL title in a row.
If Freeport hopes to three-peat Saturday, it will have to again hold off Beaver.
The Bobcats and Yellowjackets will play for this year's AA championship at 2 p.m. at Baldwin.
“These are the intense, back-and-forth games and matches that we live for as volleyball players,” Mason said. “It was an amazing feeling to win the (WPIAL) titles the last two years. We know that feeling. We want it again.”
Freeport and Beaver also met in the 2015 quarterfinals, and the Yellowjackets won 3-0 en route to capturing a WPIAL crown.
The top seed in this year's tournament, Freeport swept its way past Laurel and section rival Deer Lakes in the first two rounds before defeating No. 4 Serra Catholic on Thursday in a 3-0 triumph at Cardinal Wuerl North Catholic.
On the same court before the Yellowjackets faced Serra, Beaver (16-1) outlasted its Section 2 rival Avonworth, 3-2, to punch its ticket.
“It's what we play and practice for year-round, moments like these,” said senior libero Claire Crytzer, who had five aces in Thursday's semifinal victory. “It's great to get back to Baldwin and have a chance at another title.”
Freeport, which won its 13th consecutive section championship this season, is ranked No. 1 in Class AA in the WPIAL and state by Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association.
“We want to go in confident, but not overconfident because we know what Beaver has and what they can do,” said sophomore outside hitter Lauren Lampus, who delivered the final point in Thursday's match with Serra.
Beaver, the No. 2 seed, swept Burrell in the first round and scored a 3-1 win over Derry in the quarterfinals before beating Avonworth.
The Bobcats' quarterfinal win didn't come without bad news as standout senior setter Cortney Lambert suffered a leg injury and will not return this season.
Eden McElhaney, a freshman outside hitter, replaced Lambert in the lineup.
“Doing something like this (beating Avonworth) is going to build our confidence,” coach Charlene Horwatt said after Thursday's semifinal victory.
“What's going on between your ears is going to have an effect on what you do as far as the touch on the ball. Mentally, it proved to ourselves that we can fight and battle. We're going to need to do that with every point (against Freeport). We can play good ball, no matter the situation.”
The Yellowjackets know the Bobcats feature several talented players, including senior middle hitters Macy McElhaney (6-foot) and Alexa Mamone (5-10).
McElhaney and Mamone were at the heart of Beaver's run to last year's WPIAL title game.
“They are very strong in the middle with those two very good hitters,” Crytzer said. “They play pretty good defense, so it will be another tough battle between us and them.”
Freeport coach Tom Phillips said he was impressed with Beaver's fight in their semifinal match and expects the Bobcats to raise their game Saturday.
“It comes down to six people playing together as one,” Phillips said. “Taking a player out like Cortney, yeah, it's a factor, but they have other players ready to step up.”
Looking past Saturday's title game, the WPIAL champion will play the District 10 runner-up — Corry or Sharpsville — in the first round of the PIAA playoffs. The District 10 title game is Saturday at 6 p.m.
The WPIAL runner-up will face the District 6 champion — Bald Eagle Area or West Shamokin. The District 6 final is Saturday at 3 p.m.
The state tournament begins Tuesday.