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Freeport rallies to repeat as WPIAL 2A volleyball champion

Overcoming adversity
Freeport’s girls volleyball team holds the championship trophy after defeating Shenango 3-1 in the WPIAL Class 2A championship game at Robert Morris University's UPMC Events Center on Saturday. Justin Guido/ Special to the Eagle 11/05/22

MOON TWP — Going into the second set of the WPIAL 2A girls volleyball championship on Saturday, top-seed Freeport was in unfamiliar territory. The Yellowjackets had dropped the first game to Shenango — one in which they never led — and had a hole to climb out of.

“Coming into this game, we knew Shenango was a great team,” Freeport senior setter Cassidy Dell said. “We knew that we might be down a set, we might have to come back … We knew what we had to do and that was to really pick up our energy and focus on our side of the net.”

The ‘Jackets buckled down and won in four competitive sets at Robert Morris University; with the scores being 19-25, 25-18, 25-22, and 25-23.

Freeport’s Sydney Selker bumps the ball against Shenango in the WPIAL Class 2A girls volleyball championship game Saturday. Justin Guido/ Special to the Eagle 11/05/22

“I talked to them yesterday about that,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “I said, ‘We haven’t faced adversity, but what are you going to do if you lose a set? You can’t let the wheels fall off.’

“When you lose that first game, it’s like a gut punch. You just say to yourself, ‘Hey, we’ve got to turn things around one point at a time.’”

The score was tied in the initial set on five occasions, the latest such juncture being when the teams were at 10 apiece. The second-seeded Wildcats (16-1) pulled away directly after that, scoring the next six points before a timeout.

“No one gave us a chance going into this,” Shenango coach Greg Dugan said. “We came after them. We knew we could compete with them. I’d enjoy the chance to play them one more time. I’m looking forward to that if it happens.”

The 'Jackets (19-2) evened the match by taking the second set, then trailed for much of the second half of the third. There were nine tied scores and six lead changes before sophomore outside hitter Alaina Whitlinger finished things off with three consecutive kills.

“That’s the pivotal game that turns things around,” Phillips said. “We knew the importance of Game 3. We didn’t want to let that go … Alaina has been solid. She’s a big-time force out there. You keep her in-system out there, that’s where we want to push the ball.”

The Wildcats had sizable contributions from seniors Kylee Rubin (match-high 28 kills) and Emilee Fedrizzi (18 kills) that kept matters close for most of the day.

“I wasn’t worried about where we were going to be,” Phillips said. “I was worried about where (No.) 33 (Rubin) was going to be. She played a great game, she really did. Shenango’s the real deal … We had to battle today.”

Freeport watched six different girls notch a kill. Whitlinger and Dell led the charge with 16 each. Junior Josie Russo had 10; senior Hadley Hellgren and junior Sydney Selker, 6; and sophomore Leah Schrecongost, 4.

“We like to spread it around, we like to be balanced,” Phillips said. “We played good defense behind it. It was just persevering and never giving up. That’s what this game is all about.”

“Having our seniors on the court really helped us,” Dell said. “Everyone on the court played last year, so we had a lot of leadership from underclassmen, too.”

In the fourth set, Shenango climbed ahead, 20-13, before a 'Jackets timeout. Then, a 12-3 run propelled Freeport to the crown. Fittingly, Whitlinger spiked the winner.

“We knew we were capable of competing with them,” Dugan said. “It was point to point, back and forth, we’re a good team, too.”

This marks the 'Jackets second district title in a row and its seventh since 2010.

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