Beaver defeats Freeport in 5 sets to capture 1st WPIAL volleyball title
Macy McElhaney rose up at the net, blocked a kill attempt and the ball fell to the other side of the court and with it came the end of Freeport's run as the WPIAL Class AA girls volleyball champions.
It was a fitting way for Beaver to score the match-clinching point, given how the lanky 6-foot middle hitter had been a driving force all game.
McElhaney had 23 kills, five blocks and a pair of aces to help No. 2 Beaver knock off the two-time defending champion and top-seeded Yellowjackets, 3-2, in a five-set thriller Saturday at Baldwin.
Beaver won the fifth set 15-13, clinching its first WPIAL girls volleyball title. Freeport was seeking its fifth title since 2010.
In a rematch of last year's title game, Beaver changed its fortunes with strong play from middle hitters McElhaney and Alexa Mamone. Mamone had 14 kills.
The Bobcats also got a lift from senior setter Cortney Lambert, who was playing on a sore ankle after missing most of the quarterfinal match with Derry and the semifinals against Avonworth.
McElhaney and Mamone caused damage throughout the match, and their presence was felt in the fifth set. Freeport led 10-8 in the fifth backed by kills from Hannah Mason, Courtney Grubbs and Ally DeJidas, but a trio of kills kept Beaver in it. Mamone had a pair of kills sandwiched between a block by Emilee Hohenshel to tie the score at 11-11. The teams traded points back and forth before McElhaney scored the final two points.
“You have to give Beaver credit,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “I knew in the rotation when we were ahead that McElhaney was going to rotate to the front row. I knew where the ball was going. I think everyone in the gym knew where it was going. Slowing her down is a tough task. You have to slow her at the net. You can't dig shots like hers from the back row.
“It was a good match. A couple of points here or there, and it could've gone either way.”
One of the main differences from last year's match to Saturday's was that McElhaney and Mamone stayed on the floor when they were rotated to the back row. Last year both went to the bench, and Beaver coach Charlene Horwatt said both improved their ability to pass in the offseason, which allowed them to stay in the game.
“I know that everyone sees the swings, but the best thing about my two middles is that they can now pass the ball in serve-receive. It gives us a weapon in the back row,” Horwatt said. “That's something we didn't have last year. That's the biggest thing that gave us a chance to win today was that their passing became better. Last year, it was three rotations and out. This year, they could play all the way around.”
Freeport started the match with an 11-1 run and never trailed on its way to 25-18 victory. The Yellowjackets fed off of 15 hitting errors by Beaver and only surrendered two kills from McElhaney.
The Bobcats found their footing in the second. Behind eight kills and two aces from McElhaney, Beaver jumped out to a 17-12 lead and held on for a 25-21 victory.
Mamone took center stage in the third, tallying four consecutive kills from the middle as the Bobcats pulled away for a 25-18 victory.
DeJidas helped Freeport stave off elimination in the fourth set with seven kills. Two of her kills and an ace came in the middle of the set, which gave the Yellowjackets a 13-9 lead. Hannah Mason smashed a kill off of McElhaney that careened out of bounds to force a fifth set.
“We changed our rotation from what they were used to, and after the third game we put a little bit more of a twist on it,” Phillips said. “I only wish I had changed it up a bit earlier, but I liked the matchup so I was reluctant to do that. When Ally was outside, she was able to swing one-on-one and it was a good thing.”
Freeport fell to 4-3 in the finals since 2009. The Yellowjackets have been in the finals more than any other team in Class AA. Freeport opens the PIAA playoffs against Bald Eagle Area, the District 6 champion, Tuesday at a time and site to be announced. Beaver will play the District 10 runner-up.
“I give our kids a lot of credit,” Phillips said. “They played with a lot of heart today. They're true champions no matter the outcome.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.