Sophomore hitter leads Freeport to 2nd WPIAL volleyball championship
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A championship match provided Freeport's young star a venue to show how dominant she can be.
Freeport sophomore outside hitter Zoe Pawlak turned in a commanding performance with 25 kills to lead the Yellowjackets to their second WPIAL Class AA title, 3-0, over top-seeded Indiana on Saturday at Chartiers Valley.
Pawlak's performance also included a block and two aces, as she accounted for 28 of 75 points for Freeport (18-1). Her effort helped to overcome a big game by Indiana (19-1) senior outside hitter Natalie Cignetti, who had 20 kills in the match.
“I think my teammates realize who the hot hitter is, and we keep trying to set for whoever that is, whether it's me, Megan (Sweeny), Shrek (Alexis Schrecengost) or whoever,” Pawlak said. “They set other people, too, which is great to throw the other team off, but when they set me, I wanted to kill it.”
Freeport, the No. 2 seed, won by set scores of 25-22, 25-21 and 25-23, and all three sets were tied at 19-19 or later. The Yellowjackets' top hitters came up big each time, as Pawlak finished off the first and third sets, and all-WPIAL senior Schrecengost put the finishing touch on the second set.
“(Pawlak) was unstoppable, and I've seen her do that before,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “Once we got to 20 (points), we kicked it into another gear. We played good defense, and we knew what we wanted to do. That's what we call Freeport volleyball.”
As good as Pawlak was, Indiana coach Malinda Oesterling was disappointed afterward that her team couldn't make things more difficult for the Yellowjackets on the defensive side of the net.
“It wasn't our best blocking performance, and the problem is, in a WPIAL championship it all comes down to one game,” Oesterling said.
Schrecengost finished with six kills, and both Sweeny and Jessica Kelley had five kills for the Yellowjackets, but Pawlak got to put the exclamation point on the match.
On the game's final point, Pawlak received a pass on the left from Emily Toy and pounded a hard shot that the Indians were able to dig. But after the dig, the ball floated back toward the net, where Pawlak was able to reload and put the match away with a second swing.
“When I first saw that ball, I was really excited. I knew it was coming back over (the net), and I knew I could put it down,” Pawlak said. “I was there when they won (in 2010) — I went to all of their games — so I was sort of prepared for it. But being a player, it's just amazing. The feeling is indescribable,”
The match was Freeport's fourth appearance in the final in five years, and its previous title, in 2010, also came by way of a win over Indiana.
“Any time you're here, it feels awful sweet. I think I could stay here all night,” Phillips said. “This group is a special group to me. There are certain teams that are close to your heart, and this group has worked extremely hard. I couldn't be more proud of them or this program.”
The Yellowjackets will face Hopewell in the first round of the PIAA tournament at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at North Allegheny High School. Indiana will face the District 6 champion at the same time in the first round at Central Cambria High School.
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