North Xtra: Freeport finds loss is 'a wake-up call'

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Freeport girls volleyball coach Tom Phillips referred to the Yellowjackets loss to Knoch on Oct. 3 as a "slap in the face" and "a wake-up call".

"We went to Knoch in the first round [of section play] and swept them," Phillips said. "In the rematch, Knoch won the first set and we took the next two. The fourth set was a real nail-biter and we came up short. The same was true for the fifth set."

Freeport began the season as the WPIAL Class AA favorite and held the top spot in the rankings until the setback. Knoch was No. 8 in the rankings.

"We had a 2-1 lead and let it slip away," Phillips said. "We got knocked off our high horse. It showed the girls that you can't turn it on when you want to. You've got to step up and play with intensity from the first serve to the final serve."

Freeport's split with Knoch left the teams tied for first place in Class AA Section 4.

The Yellowjackets took Phillips' words of wisdom to heart, as they swept Deer Lakes and Mars in their next two section matches.

"In the Mars match we jumped out to a 22-4 lead in the first game and played with intensity the whole match," Phillips said.

Freeport and Knoch -- tied with 10-1 records -- will most likely finish in a tie for the section title. Freeport, which defeated Valley, 3-0, Tuesday, plays host to Highlands tonight for Senior Night. Knoch, a 3-0 winner against Deer Lakes Tuesday, plays host to Mars tonight.

"There is no clear-cut favorite in Class AA," Phillips commented. "There are five or six, maybe seven teams that are capable of making it to the WPIAL title match."

Freeport dropped to No. 2 in the rankings after the loss, while Knoch moved up to No. 6.

"I thought when the season began that we had what it takes to win the WPIAL title," Phillips said. "I still believe that. If we play with intensity from the first serve, we can beat anybody."

Phillips has all but three players back from last year's squad, which tied with Mars for the section title. The Yellowjackets were seeded No. 2 in the bracket, but were upset by No. 7 Ambridge in the quarterfinals. Mars went on to claim the WPIAL title.

"Our goal is to get back to the WPIAL finals," Phillips said. "We've been a WPIAL finalist three of the past four years."

Freeport is led by two All-WPIAL players. Outside/middle hitter Alexis Schrecengost was voted to the first team, while outside hitter Zoey Pawlak was a second-team pick.

Pawlak, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, was the only ninth-grader recognized on the All-WPIAL Class AA team. Schrecengost, a 5-8 senior, was also recognized on the Pennsylvania Volleyball Coaches Association All-State Team.

"Alexis is a four-year letter-winner and three-year starter," Phillips said. "Zoey is way ahead of her years. Both are capable of playing any of the front-row positions. We move them around to best utilize them."

Schrecengost is one of five seniors on Phillips' squad. The others are 5-5 libero Brittney Bianco, 5-8 outside hitter Megan Sweeny, 5-6 setter Emily Toy and 5-9 outside hitter Amanda Hewitt.

"Brittney was our setter for three years," said Phillips of Bianco, his grandaughter. "We switched her to libero this year, since we went without a libero last year. The change has really worked out well."

"Emily is sharing the setting duties with Grace Ward," said Phillips, referring to a 5-10 junior. "We are using a modified 5-1 with Grace serving during four rotations and Emily on the other two."

Also in the starting lineup are middle hitters Morgan Ruppersberger, a 5-11 sophomore, and Jessica Kelley, a 5-10 sophomore.

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First Published October 16, 2013 8:00 PM


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