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Sophomore Pawlak, Freeport volleyball coming of age as WPIAL title hunt heats up

| Saturday, Oct. 26, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Zoe Pawlak looks to score a point during a volleyball game Thursday, September 5, 2013, at Freeport High School.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Zoe Pawlak attempts to score a point against Mars on Tuesday, Sept. 17, 2013.

Freeport girls volleyball standout Zoe Pawlak has started all but a couple of games since her freshman year.

A talented, versatile player, she can play virtually any position on the court. There is a high ceiling for how much better the sophomore can get — which may not bode well for opposing teams.

Stepping in as a freshman was different for Pawlak becaue she was playing with girls of different age groups. She credits playing with her club team, the Pittsburgh Renaissance, and head coach Brian Begor for helping her to prepare for the high school level and being ready to play right away.

Freeport has a history of churning out good teams and players, which means the pressure to play well from a young age looms.

Not for Pawlak, though.

No sophomore slump here.

“I don't really feel the pressure, if there is any,” said Pawlak, a 5-foot-9 outside hitter. “Any coach wants the best players out there. I try to do my best and deal with the pressure as it comes.”

Pawlak has played a key role for Freeport, which finished the regular season 14-1, 11-1 in Section 4-AA play. They reached the WPIAL playoffs as a No. 2 seed and earned a share of a section title (with Knoch). Freeport could potentially run into Knoch again in the playoffs in what would be the rubber match of their season series.

Freeport defeated Quaker Valley on Thursday to advance to Tuesday's quarterfinals.

“We've been talking about not looking ahead to other teams, and that's what we did last year when we played Ambridge,” Pawlak said. “We were looking past them, so this year we need to focus on the team we are playing, and only that team, until we get past that point.”

Freeport coach Tom Phillips describes Pawlak as a great athlete and someone who can attack from any spot on the floor and play wherever the team needs her.

“She's very encouraging to her middles, and to her right side,” Phillips said. “She's a very good player. She's above and beyond her years. She's not big-headed. She's very much a team player, and if you talk to her the team goals are the most important thing.”

A three-sport athlete, Pawlak also competes as a thrower and jumper on the track team and is on the swimming team. Both sports help keep her in shape year-round before transitioning to volleyball in the summer.

Entering her junior year, she hopes to take on more of a leadership role.

“I want to be a part of the girls below me learning the sport and becoming better players,” she said.

Despite being a sophomore, she has received attention from some Division I schools, including Pitt and Florida.

D.J. Vasil is a freelance writer.

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