Freeport volleyball hoping to reach 1st PIAA semifinals, but reigning champ stands in way
Haley Graham remembers the feeling, just two years ago, when Freeport last made it to the PIAA Class AA quarterfinal round.
The junior middle hitter and several of her classmates, in their first seasons on the varsity team, were introduced to the atmosphere of state-playoff volleyball.
Freeport entered the 2015 PIAA playoffs as the newly minted WPIAL champion, earned a four-set victory over District 10 runner-up North East.
But undefeated District 5 champ Somerset ended the Yellowjackets' dreams of a state title in the quarterfinals.
It tied for the furthest a Freeport team had gone in the state tournament.
On Saturday, the Yellowjackets will get another crack at making history. Standing in their way of a trip to the state semifinals is District 10 champion and defending state titlist Corry.
“We just have kept up that level of motivation,” Graham said. “We talk about it every day in practice. We want to build on accomplishments and work on the little things that will make a difference. We want to go in confident knowing that we can get (to the semifinals).”
Freeport and Corry will meet at 1 p.m. at Slippery Rock High School.
The Yellowjackets are in the state quarterfinals for the third time in five seasons since the PIAA adopted the head-to-head format for all four rounds.
A three-game sweep at the hands of District 10's Fort LeBoeuf in the 2013 quarterfinals at Slippery Rock High School denied Freeport a trip to the final four.
This year's appearance in the quarterfinals was made possible with a 3-0 first-round win over Bald Eagle on Tuesday. The Yellowjackets bounced back from a five-set loss to Beaver in the WPIAL title match.
“When we lost the WPIAL championship match, we made it a point as a team to not lose again,” Graham said. “We reset our focus and our goals. No one wants to experience that feeling of falling short again.”
Freeport (22-3) also hopes to avoid another elimination from states by a District 10 team.
In addition to the quarterfinal loss to Fort LeBoeuf in 2013, Fort LeBoeuf ended the Yellowjackets season again in 2014. Last year, Freeport captured the WPIAL title, but bowed out in the first round to District 10 runner-up Northeast.
“I am a senior, and I don't want this to be my last game,” senior setter Courtney Grubbs said.
“There are four of us (seniors), and I know we and the rest of the team will give 120 percent Saturday. Semifinals is up for grabs, and we want it. We have a chance to make history.”
Freeport and Corry met earlier this season at the Freeport tournament, and the Yellowjackets took two of three games from their District 10 counterparts.
Corry (19-0) won its regional championship in the regular season and captured three victories in the District 10 tournament before downing Sharpsville, 3-0, to win its second straight district title.
“We played them early in the season, so it's been a number of weeks,” Grubbs said. “I know they've changed a little bit, and I'm sure they've gotten better. They are a very well-rounded team, whether it's passing, digging, serving, blocking or hitting. We're going to have to bring our best game.”
Corry used two three-game sweeps, a four-game win and a five-set marathon in the semifinals to claim the program's first state title last season.
The Beavers began this year's tournament with a 22-25, 25-16, 25-16, 25-21 victory over WPIAL third-place finisher Avonworth on Tuesday at Meadville High School.
Freeport coach Tom Phillips said his players would love another opportunity to play Beaver. That could happen in the next round if the Yellowjackets can take care of business Saturday.
Beaver will face Serra Catholic at noon Saturday. The Bobcats swept past District 10 runner-up Sharpsville on Tuesday, while Serra dominated District 9 champ Kane, surrendering only 35 points in three games.
“We don't even have to mention the word Beaver right now because all we're worried about right now is last year's state champs,” Phillips said.
“For us to compete and play against Corry, we're going to have to slow their middles down and just play a good, solid overall game. After we got punched in the nose in the WPIAL finals, we refocused, realized what's in front of us and take it one game at a time.”