Freeport volleyball focused on bringing best effort in WPIAL semifinals

November 23, 2018

With his team already qualified for the PIAA volleyball playoffs, Freeport coach Tom Phillips describes the next two rounds of the WPIAL postseason as metaphorical cherries on top of the sundae.

The Yellowjackets certainly still want their just desserts.

No. 1 Freeport, in the WPIAL Class AA semifinals for the sixth consecutive season, is looking to continue its run of playoff success that includes the school’s first state title last fall, WPIAL championships in 2010, ’13, ‘15 and ‘16 and WPIAL runner-up finishes in ’09, ’11 and last season. The Yellowjackets (16-2) will play No. 4 Frazier (18-1) at 6 p.m. Thursday at Norwin.

“When you get to this, and you get to the playoffs right now, everything is a motivational thing right now,” Phillips said. “It’s about getting momentum and carrying it from one game to the next. We’re down to the final four. We know we made the state playoffs, and we know that we have an opportunity to go to the WPIAL championship.

“That motivation itself should be something that you gain and get momentum from. I know these girls are excited about it. They want to defend their state championship, and I really feel they have the ability to do that.”

That being said, Phillips is seeking a higher level from his team after wins over Waynesburg and Seton LaSalle to begin the WPIAL playoffs.

More than improvement in on-court areas like passing and blocking, Freeport is looking to play with a greater level of energy and intensity as it seeks its fifth WPIAL championship.

“You just need to bring a lot of energy and excitement to the game because volleyball’s a lot of energy, and it’s a lot of mental,” junior outside hitter Lauren Lampus said. “Once you get into the other team’s head -- if you’re cheering, and you’re happy, and you’re excited, even if you mess up, they see that and are like, ‘Oh, crap, why are they so excited?’ ”

Phillips mentioned a 3-0 nonconference victory at Neshannock as the type of focus he wants.

“We went in, and we played really great that night,” he said. “The stat sheet was even all the way across. ... That was probably the best match I saw us play all year, and I reminded them of that (Wednesday). That’s the intensity that we have to have (Thursday). That’s the intensity that if we happen to get past (Thursday) that we need on Saturday. We have to have that intensity, and if we do that, we’ll be fine. But I still don’t think this team has peaked yet.”

Freeport is getting healthier, with senior middle hitter Haley Graham recently back from a knee injury and senior middle hitter Sarah Hettich beginning to take part in some drills as she works her way back from an ankle sprain. A vocal leader, Graham provides intensity and energy.

Despite all of its success over the past decade, Freeport isn’t taking anything for granted. Phillips mentioned the target the Yellowjackets have as the top seed and the defending state champions, and the players know they need to bring their full effort to keep the success going.

A win Thursday would put Freeport into the WPIAL championship match for the fourth consecutive season.

“There’s different teams and different players we have to watch out for,” Graham said. “Every day, we come in and talk about who we need to watch and what we need to work on, and we just do it.

“Since my freshman year, I’ve made it to the WPIAL (championship) game every time. To make it back my senior year would be so memorable, just to know I made it all four years.”

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