WEXFORD — Tom Phillips studied North Catholic.
Picked apart the undefeated Trojanettes' tendencies.
Pinpointed where their elite hitters liked to strike and how to best attack a defense adept at keeping the volleyball off the court.
Phillips' extra work paid off and he distilled that information to his Freeport volleyball team, the defending PIAA 2A champions who were suddenly huge underdogs against North Catholic.
After two hours and 196 points, the Yellowjackets emerged with a tense 25-19, 16-25, 25-15, 19-25, 15-12 victory over the Trojanettes in the state quarterfinals Saturday at North Allegheny High School.
“We came in with a game plan,” Phillips said. “We talked (Friday) at practice about sticking to the course, staying with the course, where to serve the ball, where the attacks are coming from. We worked on it really hard in practice and they had to buy into it.”
Freeport's defense always seemed to be in the right spot for a dig against North Catholic (20-1) and the offense was spread out and efficient.
“This North Catholic team is a great team,” Phillips said. “They come at you in waves with lots of weapons, but defense wins games and obviously I think our defense was stellar tonight.”
Erica Lampus was in particular.
The freshman libero had 18 digs — almost all of them difficult against North Catholic's quartet of attackers led by Alana Felix and Dominique Felix.
“Erica is only a freshman — sometimes you forget that,” Phillips said. “She was everywhere tonight.”
In all, Freeport players had 58 digs in the match.
“We watched a lot of film on them,” said Yellowjacket junior Isabella Russo, “so we knew where they would normally go.”
Freeport (18-3) was also strong at the net on offense and defense thanks to the return of Sarah Hettich.
The 6-foot-3 senior had missed several weeks with an ankle injury suffered against Knoch.
“Sarah was big at the net and having her back was a wonderful thing,” Phillips said.
Hettich had eight blocks and was a disruptive force on defense.
“It felt amazing to be able to give my team the kind of blocking we needed to win this match,” Hettich said. “We figured if we could get a block up on them early, we would be able to run our offense and defense a lot quicker.”
Freeport and North Catholic went back and forth all afternoon.
The Yellowjackets and Trojanettes virtually exchanged points in the first set until a late surge by Freeport handed it the first set.
North Catholic and Freeport then had a relatively easy time dispatching the other in the second and third sets before a tense fourth set was decided late by a string of kills by Dominque Felix, who led the Trojanettes with 19 kills.
After four sets, Freeport had 85 points and North Catholic 84.
“Everyone here I'm sure was squirming in their seats — I know I sure was,” Phillips said. “It was a great match. It was an emotional match.”
The fifth set was a microcosm of the match.
Freeport jumped out to a 5-0 lead, but watched North Catholic erase it quickly with a 5-0 surge of its own.
Ultimately, though, a kill by Lauren Lampus — her team-leading 16th — ended the match and sent Freeport into a celebratory frenzy.
Ally DeJidas added 13 kills and Mackensey Jack and Russo each added nine for the well-balanced Yellowjackets' attack.
“You can't win with just one star player,” Lauren Lampus said. “It takes all six people on the court and I feel like everyone who played (Saturday) for us played really well and we played well together.”
For North Catholic, it was an abrupt end.
“It's heartwrenching for it to end like that, especially after the season we had,” said North Catholic coach Amanda Fetter. “But (Freeport) deserved it. Freeport came out and they played hard and they were ready to go. They're an impressive team and I wish them the best of luck.”
Freeport was scheduled to play Bald Eagle Tuesday in the state semifinals.
“This was a great win,” Phillips said, smiling wide, “against a great team.”