The Freeport High School girls volleyball team had a chance to go where no Yellowjackets squad had ever gone -- but unfortunately for Freeport, its best player was benched with a concussion.
"Zoe was hit in the face with a volleyball prior to our [PIAA first-round] match with Hopewell," Freeport coach Tom Phillips said.
He was referring to sophomore outside hitter Zoe Pawlak, who a week earlier led the Yellowjackets to a WPIAL Class AA title.
"Zoe played in the match, but woke up the next morning complaining of headaches," Phillips said. "Her parents had Zoe checked out by a concussion specialist [last] Thursday. I found out later that night that Zoe was not allowed to play. She was heartbroken, but we had to do what's best for her."
Without Pawlak in the lineup, Freeport was swept, 25-17, 25-13, 25-22, by defending PIAA champion Fort LeBoeuf, the District 10 runner-up this year, in a PIAA quarterfinal match Saturday at Slippery Rock High School. A victory would have put Freeport in the PIAA semifinals for the first time in school history.
"I don't want to say we would have beaten Fort LeBoeuf if Zoe was in the lineup, but she would have made a difference," Phillips said. "I felt we had the horses and guns to go a little further. You never prepare for this to happen."
With Pawlak out of the lineup, Phillips moved senior outside hitter Megan Sweeny from the right side to the left side and inserted freshman Kristie Radvan on the right side.
"We were in all three games. We just never had a good flow," Phillips said. "The girls gave a good effort, but we struggled from behind all day long."
Sweeny is one of five seniors on Freeport's squad. The others are outside hitter Alexis Schrecengost, libero Brittney Bianco, setter Emily Toy and outside hitter Amanda Hewitt.
"We lose four starters and a good bench player to graduation," Phillips said. "But we do have a good nucleus of talent coming back."
That would presumably include a healthy Pawlak.
NA loses to defending champ
North Allegheny faced a similar situation in its PIAA Class AAA quarterfinal match with Hempfield, located in Landisville and the District 3 runner-up. The Tigers were a WPIAL champion facing a defending PIAA champion that placed second in its district.
The only difference is that North Allegheny had a full lineup.
Hempfield earned its fifth consecutive PIAA semifinal berth with a 3-1 win against the Tigers in a match played at Altoona High School.
"We did not perform well as a team and never really were in control of the match," North Allegheny coach Heidi Miller said. "We did not pass well enough to dictate the offense and we did not play together or as sharp as we needed to."
Hempfield jumped out to a 2-0 lead with wins of 26-24 and 25-22. North Allegheny fought back with a 25-22 victory in the third set, but was defeated, 25-21, in the fourth and deciding set.
"I still feel this NA team was the best team I have seen this year, but you've got to bring it every time you step on the court, and we just didn't," Miller said.
Miller was also disappointed with the PIAA's predetermined brackets.
"We should have been playing Hempfield in the semifinals, not in the quarterfinals," Miller said. "Bethel Park, a team we beat in the WPIAL final, had a much easier road to the semifinals."
North Allegheny must replace nine players who will graduate, including three All-WPIAL selections, outside hitter Ashley Leto, opposite Danielle Wall and middle hitter Erin Schwartz.
"We are losing a very talented senior group," Miller said. "And we're losing a lot of height. Seven of our nine seniors played [regularly], while the other two saw considerable action. We're going to miss them."
The other seniors are libero Jessica Samuels, outside hitter Jamie Robatisin and Katelyn Hendricks, defensive specialists Carol Li and Shannon Weber and middle hitter Emily Brunda.