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Freeport volleyball team blanks Ford City, 3-0

| Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, 11:00 p.m.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Freeport senior libero Brittney Bianco receives a serve against Ford City while sophomore outside hitter Zoe Pawlak (24) looks on during the girls volleyball season opener for both teams on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, at Freeport High School.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Ford City junior middle hitter Christina Davis rises for a shot against Freeport in both teams' girls volleyball season opener on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, at Freeport High School.
Matt Grubba | Leader Times
Freeport junior middle hitter Jess Kelley (left) and sophomore outside hitter Zoe Pawlak rise for a block in their season-opening victory over Ford City on Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2013, at Freeport High School.

Freeport girls volleyball is used to being at the top. Ford City's team is working to get there.

The Yellowjackets posted a 3-0 nonsection win over the visiting Sabers in the season opener for both teams Tuesday, but both Freeport and Ford City were able to take something from the year's first match.

Sophomore Zoe Pawlak led all players with 13 kills in the match, and returning all-WPIAL senior Alexis Schrecengost added eight for Freeport (1-0), which won, 25-16, 25-21 and 25-9.

Ford City was led by Justyne Lasher with eight kills and Sarah Heddinger with seven.

The match was a good starting point for the Yellowjackets, who will be trying to win a ninth straight section title this season after sharing last year's Section 4-AA crown with Mars.

“In our mind, expectations are pretty high. We have a lot of returning experience and a lot of good athletes, but I told them from the beginning, we can't be paper champions,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said.

“Our girls stepped up and played pretty well tonight. Ford City is strong on the outside, and I did know that coming in. They're young, too, and that's one of the reasons we wanted to play them, even though they're not in our section anymore.”

The Sabers are striving to improve after finishing fourth with a 3-7 mark in Section 3-AA last year.

Ford City showed some good signs in its first match for new coach Andrea Lasher. The Sabers were especially strong in the second game, when they opened up a five-point lead before Freeport pulled ahead, 16-15, and finished out the game.

“Playing Freeport is a great way to start the year. We get to see where we are and where we need to be,” Lasher said. “All of the girls and I took this as a good learning lesson. We saw little mistakes we're making and can work on fixing them.”

Freeport came out strong in the final game to wrap up the match.

Pawlak and Schrecengost had early kills, and a kill and an ace by senior Megan Sweeny helped establish an 8-3 lead. Ford City never regained momentum, and the Yellowjackets closed the match by winning 13 of the final 16 points.

Phillips was able to use nearly all of his bench during the final game, though he also made sure his starters got plenty of court time.

“Any time you have a match with long rallies like that, it's a good thing for both teams,” Phillips said. “We're still in a learning phase. Our libero, Brittney (Bianco), was our setter last year. She's still learning that position, and we have other girls learning their positions.

“We have a great younger class that is very hungry and pushes these kids every day in practice. When practices are that way, it's so good for the older kids to be pushed, day in and day out,” Phillips said.

Though the Sabers began the year with a loss, the match was hardly a negative. Ford City's coaches were pleased to turn in some competitive games with a team accustomed to deep playoff runs, and Lasher said that was a product of the team putting in additional work before official practices began.

“Quite a few of the girls put in a lot of work over the summer, and we've come a long way. I think we'll surprise some people this year,” Lasher said.

“I think what they're doing well is working as a team and not as individuals. That's the biggest point I've tried to push to them: If you work as a team, you win as a team.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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