The Freeport girls volleyball team spent the first two months of the 2014 season as the biggest target in WPIAL Class AA.
After getting upset by Ford City in the WPIAL semifinals last week, Freeport (20-1) will begin the PIAA tournament Tuesday without the added burden of being the team to beat. And while they would have liked to win a second straight WPIAL title, the Yellowjackets don’t mind losing that pressure.
“I know for us, it was the first time we were ever the No. 1 seed,” junior Morgan Ruppersberger said. “People were always out after us. We were the team to beat. Now, that’s off our backs and we don’t really have a lot of pressure on us.
“We’re no longer the hunted; we’re the hunters.”
After winning the WPIAL Class AA title a season ago, Freeport began 2014 as the top-ranked team in the classification. The Yellowjackets held that ranking through an undefeated regular season in which they lost just two sets, then had playoff sweeps over Kittanning and Montour.
After winning the first set against Ford City, however, Freeport dropped the next three to suffer its first loss since last season’s PIAA playoffs.
“It’s a wake-up call, and that’s what we were afraid of,” senior Jess Kelley said. “We were the No. 1 seed. It’s hard to be No. 1. It’s hard to stay at the top. Losing was a wake-up call, and we’re coming back firing (Tuesday).”
It didn’t take long for the Yellowjackets to bounce back. Kelley said the team discussed the Ford City loss during a Saturday morning practice and began preparation for the state playoffs shortly afterward.
“WPIALs is done and over with,” Ruppersberger said. “States is a way bigger thing than WPIALs, and we’re ready to go out and surprise some people.”
Freeport will open the PIAA tournament against District 10 champion Fort LeBoeuf (17-0) at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Cochranton High School. The Yellowjackets and Bison met in the PIAA quarterfinals last season, with Fort LeBoeuf winning 3-0.
Freeport’s standout outside hitter, Zoe Pawlak, sat out the match last season with an injury, but the Yellowjackets expect to be at full strength Tuesday.
“I’m looking forward to playing them again because I feel that they took it away from us last year,” Kelley said. “It’s time for us to bounce back and bring all we’ve got and show we can beat them.”
Fort LeBoeuf finished as the PIAA runner-up last season.
Kelley said Freeport was working to shore up its passing in advance of the matchup with the Bison. The Yellowjackets are hoping to turn their WPIAL disappointment into their first PIAA championship.
“Our goals are obviously to win states, but we’re taking it game by game,” Kelley said. “We’re working toward that win (Tuesday) first.”