York Catholic girls' volleyball falls to Freeport in state final

The Irish struggled to finish sets and came out on the wrong end of a sweep.

Ryan Vandersloot
For The York Dispatch

MECHANICSBURG — The 2022 girls’ volleyball season was a historic one for York Catholic.

After years of building to get closer and closer to a berth into the PIAA Class 2A tournament, the Irish finally realized that goal after claiming the District 3 title a few weeks ago against rival Trinity.

Victories over Parkland Center City, Tyrone and Notre Dame Green Pond to open the PIAA draw put the York Catholic girls in a position no other team in the program’s history had ever been before — the state finals.

Taking on No. 1 ranked and District 7 champ Freeport, the No. 2 Irish took it to the Yellowjackets early in the first set. Using a 10-4 run, the District 3 champs forced a Freeport timeout leading 18-12. With a big and loud student section egging the team on, the Irish appeared to be in the perfect position to take a 1-0 lead in the match.

York Catholic's coach Phillip Autrey, on right, handing out medals after their loss to Freeport in the PIAA Class 2A championship in Mechanicsburg on Nov. 19, 2022.

The timeout, however, seemed to allow the Yellowjackets to regroup. Coming out of the 60-second break, the Jackets turned the tables. An 8-1 run put Freeport ahead and erased all the momentum the Irish had built. That confidence only grew for the Jackets as the contest wore on. Freeport rallied to win Set 1 before doing so once again to go up 2-0 after Set 2.

Despite a York Catholic rally midway through Set 3, the District 7 champs finished the match on an 11-2 run to earn the state title with a 25-21, 25-15, 25-18 victory.

York Catholic'sAdeline Phillips (3), in center, carrying the runner's up trophy after their loss to Freeport in the PIAA Class 2A championship in Mechanicsburg on Nov. 19, 2022.

“We’re not a team that normally starts out real fast,” York Catholic coach Phil Autrey said. “And if you look at their scores, they’ve lost Set 1 as well. It was nice to see us have the lead, but that’s a team (Freeport) that knows how to figure it out.”

After setter Beitris Boyreau-Millar placed a perfect dump behind the Freeport block to put the Irish up 19-15 in Set 1, the Jackets responded by taking the next eight points to turn the tables on York Catholic.

An ace, two hitting errors and a block fueled the Freeport comeback as the size of the Jackets' front line took over. The duo of 5-foot-11 Alaina Whitlinger and 6-foot Josie Russo were menaces on the block and attack throughout the match, as was junior Sydney Selker. With each and every block and kill, the Freeport girls grew more and more inspired.

Freeport's Cassidy Dell (23) against York Catholic's Avery Heist (9) in the PIAA Class 2A championship in Mechanicsburg on Nov. 19, 2022.

“To be honest, it’s not really the momentum at that point,” Autrey said. “When you’re losing those points, you’re exhausting so much energy, but you’re gaining so much energy when you’re winning them. So, it’s just really difficult to regroup at that point.”

The Irish fell behind by a 10-4 margin in Set 2 but rebounded to claw within 12-11 and force a timeout. After trading points back and forth, the Jackets broke out of a 14-all deadlock behind the serving of senior setter Cassidy Dell and Selker. Quickly, the Jackets reeled off 11 of the final 12 points to take a 2-0 edge in the match.

“Our girls did a really good job of regrouping in the second and third sets, but Freeport just kept getting back to that same level they were at the rest of the match,” Autrey said. “And you have to give them a lot of credit for that.”

The Jackets scored the first three points of Set 3 to set the tone, but the Irish roared back to go up 16-14 midway through on a setting error by Dell. Just like in Sets 1 and 2, though, the Freeport girls finished strong in Set 3, taking 11 of the final 13 points to earn their first state title since defeating Delone Catholic back in 2017.

During and after the medal ceremonies, there were plenty of teary eyes from those in York Catholic uniforms. Despite the disappointment from Saturday’s setback, however, every member of the Irish still had a lot of pride in becoming the first team in the program’s history to play for a state title.

York Catholic's Beitris Boyreau-Millar (23) and Avery Heist (9) against Freeport in the PIAA Class 2A championship in Mechanicsburg on Nov. 19, 2022.

“This team has been together since we were in fifth grade,” York Catholic senior Mary McNamara said. “We were all part of Phil’s elementary school team. So, it’s nice to just take it full circle with him. We talked about how our goal was never to go undefeated. Our goal was to win districts, and we did that, so we’re just blessed to be here.

"York Catholic has never made it this far, and for us to be that first team … we’re still going to go down in history. And just because we didn’t come out with this win, doesn’t mean that our season overall wasn’t a good one, because it definitely was.”

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