HIGH SCHOOL VOLLEYBALL: Indiana girls fall short of WPIAL title
BRIDGEVILLE — Every game came down to the wire, but when the final whistle sounded, the powerful Freeport duo of Zoe Pawlak and Alexis Schrecengost proved a bit too much for previously unbeaten Indiana.
Outside hitters Pawlak and Schrecengost kept Indiana defenders scrambling all match, and the second-seeded Yellowjackets grinded out wins in three straight games to sweep the top-seeded Indians in the WPIAL Class AA girls’ volleyball championship match Saturday at Chartiers Valley High School. The scores were 25-22, 25-21, 25-23.
The top four teams advance to the PIAA playoffs. The Indians and Yellowjackets will play first-round matches Tuesday, with Indiana (17-1) taking on the District 6 Class AA champion Philipsburg-Osceola at Central Cambria High School.
Indiana lost to Freeport in its only other trip the WPIAL championship match in 2010.
Freeport, which played in its fourth WPIAL championship match in five years, will face Hopewell at North Allegheny High School in the PIAA playoffs.
“The games were so close, and that’s what you expect from a good team,” 11th-year Indiana coach Malinda Oesterling said.
“When you see that we lost 3-0 … I don’t think that’s a real clear indicator of how close the match was. Even though we didn’t take a game, they were all decided by just a couple of points.”
The Indians and Yellowjackets exchanged blows for the better part of Game 1, forging 13 ties before Pawlak drilled a kill to give Freeport a 20-19 lead.
The Yellowjackets extended the lead to 22-19 before Indiana senior Aaryn Gray ended the longest volley of Game 1 with a kill that trimmed Indiana’s deficit to 22-20.
But Pawlak hammered kills on the next two points to force game-point at 24-20, and two points later, she cranked a kill off the hands of diving senior Alexandra Kerr to seal a 25-22 win for the Yellowjackets.
“We haven’t really seen anything like her this year,” Kerr said of Pawlak. “In practice, we have Natalie (Cignetti), and she’s the closest thing we have to a hitter like that. She (Pawlak) got set the most, and we really tried to change the blocks up and guard the lines more, but it was tough.”
With two kills apiece from Pawlak and Schrecengost, and a kill each from Megan Sweeny and Karlie Hill, Freeport jumped out to a 10-5 lead in Game 2.
The Indians clawed back, though, and began consistently feeding Cignetti, who notched five kills in the next 13 points to put Indiana ahead 15-13.
But Pawlak swatted kills on four of the next nine points to give the Yellowjackets a 19-18 lead.
Freeport then got kills from both Jessica Kelley and Emily Toy and an ace from Pawlak to bring up game-point at 24-20.
Schrecengost spiked a kill off the hands of an Indiana defender two points later to cap a 25-22 win.
“We were just digging down and playing Freeport volleyball there,” Freeport coach Tom Phillips said. “It was back and forth, but when we got to 20 (points), we just dug down, started moving the ball around a little bit, and stayed aggressive from the serving line. … Obviously our outsides were extraordinary tonight, both Zoe and Alexis.”
The Indians and Yellowjackets went blow for blow for the better part of Game 3. Kelley forged the 14th tie of the game when she tallied a kill to make it a 20-20 game.
The teams would forge ties on three more occasions — 21-21, 22-22, 23-23 — before Pawlak flexed her muscles one last time.
Pawlak smashed kills on the next two points, including an emphatic spike in the middle of the court on a first-volley return on game-point, to cement the win.
“We really pushed that third game. We wanted it a lot,” Pawlak, a 5-foot-10 sophomore, said. “Every time I went up, I was just thinking, I need to get a kill for my team, and it ended up happening.”
Cignetti dominated the match at times and paced Indiana with 19 kills. But even with her wicked jumping top-spin serve working, the scrappy Yellowjackets limited Cignetti to just one ace.
“I’m not surprised,” Cignetti said of the Yellowjackets ability to handle her sizzling serves. “They have number 24 (Pawlak) on their team (and) she has the same, exact jump-serve I do. They practice with her, and my team practices with me, and we both know how the top-spin jump-serve works. You’re going to run into situations like that, so I’m not surprised.”
An optimistic Cignetti also talked about how she believes the Indians will recover from their first loss before the state playoffs begin.
“It’s a little bit of a letdown to lose, but we’re still very proud of our team,” Cignetti said. “This could be seen as more of a wake-up call for us. We’ve been winning the whole season … we haven’t lost a match. But this was a wake-up call and now we know we have to push harder at states and work even harder in practice.
“We’re going to gain our confidence back. We’re going to do it.”
Senior Helena Dadson chipped in eight kills and three blocks for the Indians. Gray added nine kills, and sophomore setter Brianna Dillon tacked on 34 assists.