Lauren Freeman may be a rookie head coach, but she's very familiar with Ambridge Area's girls volleyball program.
"I've been an assistant at Ambridge the past six years," Freeman said. "I'm also an Ambridge alumna, so I'm very familiar with the program and all the players. That has made the transition from assistant to head coach go very smoothly."
Freeman was Kim Bogati's assistant the past five years.
"My first year, I was an assistant for Donna Pfeifer," said Freeman, referring to a 32-year coaching legend. "Donna was my coach. It was such a thrill to be her assistant for one year."
Bogati stepped down after five years as head coach to raise a family.
"Kim just wanted to be a mom," Freeman said. "She will be missed, but I'm looking forward to the challenge of being a head coach."
Freeman graduated from Ambridge in 2002, after starting two seasons for Pfeifer, then continued her playing career at Waynesburg University.
"I was a four-year starter at Waynesburg," Freeman said. "I led the conference in serving aces for three years. I also led the conference in digs my senior year."
Freeman also works in the Ambridge Area School District.
"I work at Highland Elementary as a fourth-grade learning support teacher," Freeman said. "It really helps to work in the district. It gives me a chance to recruit kids in the elementary school."
Freeman made her head coaching debut Saturday at the Mt. Lebanon tournament, which took place at Bethel Park High School due to construction at Mt. Lebanon.
"We were one of two Class AA teams in the seven-team field," Freeman said. "The other five were elite Class AAA teams. It was a very tough tournament, but it was a good learning experience for the girls."
Ambridge was last in the preliminary pool standings, but Freeman was not discouraged.
"We looked at the tournament as a challenge," Freeman said. "You have to play good competition to become better.
"We did some things very well and didn't do as well in other areas. Facing this competition showed us where we have to improve."
Making her job even harder is the fact that Ambridge had eight seniors on last year's squad, which advanced to the WPIAL semifinals and qualified for the PIAA tournament.
"Six of our eight seniors were starters," Freeman said. "So we lost six of our top seven players to graduation."
The only returning starter is Nicole Kuhn, a 5-foot-11 senior middle hitter.
"Nicole lettered as a sophomore and started last year," said Freeman, who has also served as junior high coach for four years. "She's our floor captain, a leader on the court. Nicole was also a member of the first junior high team I coached, so she's the first girl I've coached for six years."
Alexandra DeMarco is a returning letterman. DeMarco is a 5-11 senior outside hitter.
"This is only Alexandra's third year of playing volleyball," Freeman said. "She lettered last year and is developing quickly."
Freeman's starting rotation also includes 5-2 junior defensive specialist Hannah Trehar, 5-2 junior defensive specialist Ellice Platz, 5-6 junior outside hitter Lauryn Fetkovich, 6-0 junior middle hitter Lauren Dietrick, 5-10 junior setter Elena Meyer, 5-6 sophomore setter Sydney Rabold and 5-7 sophomore outside hitter Abbey Antonic.
"We are running a 6-2 offense with Elena and Sydney sharing the setting duties," Freeman said. "And both are playing all the way around. Sydney was our JV setter last year. Elena didn't play last year."
Ambridge tied with Central Valley for the Section 2 title last year. Freeman realizes it will be hard to match last year's success, especially considering Central Valley has quite a few starters back.
"Ambridge has had a strong program since the beginning [of girls volleyball in the WPIAL]," Freeman said. "My goal is to follow in the footsteps of Donna and Kim and keep this program successsful."