By Josh Brown
SIDNEY — Things are finally coming full circle for Lauren Freed.
After winning the first Greater Western Ohio Conference tournament in the Troy volleyball program’s history during her freshman season, she has a chance to go out in her senior year by winning the last one to be held.
“I think it’d be really cool, ending it all how it started,” Freed said. “The team has been working really hard all year long, and we want it a lot. We deserve this.”
The Trojans — which earned the No. 1 seed in the GWOC Tournament by sweeping Beavercreek on the road last week to finish the regular season undefeated — began their quest for a second tournament win Monday night in Sidney, sweeping the Yellowjackets 25-16, 25-19, 25-17 to set up a rematch with Piqua Thursday at home in the second round.
And with the GWOC being realigned beginning next season, this is the final season the GWOC Tournament will be held — making it one of Troy’s (19-0) primary targets from the start of the season.
“We set our goals at the beginning of the season: win the GWOC North a fourth straight time, get the No. 1 seed, win the last GWOC Tournament,” Troy coach Michelle Owen said. “We won the North, and we got the No. 1 seed — even if we didn’t really play like a No. 1 seed tonight.”
The only other time Troy has won the GWOC Tournament was in 2012, Freed’s freshman year — and, oddly enough, the only season that Freed didn’t win the GWOC North Player of the Year award, pending this season’s honors. The Trojans upset top-seeded Centerville in four tightly-contested sets, 26-28, 25-22, 25-20, 25-23 en route to a district runner-up finish in the postseason.
Last year, the Trojans were edged in another tough match, this time in five by Lebanon in the GWOC Tournament championship match, 18-25, 25-20, 27-29, 25-23, 15-12 on their way to a return to the district final and another runner-up finish.
“I’m sure Lauren would say the best moment of her career so far was winning that GWOC Tournament her freshman year,” Owen said. “It was just such an exciting game, such a high-energy match. The only other one we’ve had that was close the last few years was last year’s championship against Lebanon — which, we’re 50-50 in winning those. But we think we have all the pieces of the puzzle this year to do it again.”
And even with the central piece of that puzzle, Freed herself, having to be set aside for much of the beginning of the year while she recovered from an injury suffered in the preseason, the Trojans have done everything they needed to do. They’ve only lost seven sets all season, defeating Versailles and Fairmont in five games, defeating Miami East and Springboro in four and defeating Bellbrook in a best-of-three during a tri-match on the season’s opening day. The Trojans’ last 10 victories have all come via sweep.
Facing a substandard opponent in Sidney (8-11) Monday, the latest sweep was a little too by-the-numbers for Owen.
“We did a lot of very average things tonight,” she said. “We need to, as a team, perform a lot better than this if we want to accomplish our goals. Our ball control was very average, our serve wasn’t where it needs to be, and we relied on our outsides way too much because our ball control wasn’t good enough to use our middles effectively.”
When Troy needed anything, though, Freed was there to provide.
Despite it only being Freed’s fifth match playing full-time in the front row this year — she played libero much of the early part of the season while recovering — she was on fire. She led the team offensively with 16 kills and five aces, defensively with 12 digs and added a block and an assist. Whether it was her more-traditional big hits, tips and dumps around defenders to open spots or even sniper shots from the back row, Freed put everything down. And with the score tied 3-3 early in the third set, Freed ripped off five straight aces on a 6-0 service run that put Troy firmly in control, allowing the Trojans to coast to the finish line.
“When we needed to score, Lauren was there,” Owen said.
Each set had one key service run that gave the Trojans the breathing room they needed. With the score 13-11 Troy in the first set, Victoria Holland had a pair of aces during a four-point run that made it 17-11. And in Game 2, with the Trojans only up by three, Miranda Silcott ran off five straight points, with one ace and one kill herself during the run, to make it 22-14 and help Troy seal it.
Silcott served the final three points of Game 3, also, with a pair of kills by Freed putting an end to the match.
Katie DeMeo had 14 kills, six blocks and three digs, Silcott had six kills, four blocks, nine digs and two aces and Camryn Moeller had five kills, an ace, two blocks and two digs to lead the Trojans. Drezanee Smith had four kills and a block, Payton Riley had two kills and two blocks, Dana Wynkoop had 29 assists, five aces and three digs, Holland had seven digs and two aces, Katie Jackson had 11 assists and two digs and Kaylie Marshall had 10 digs.
“We’re going to have to get back to work and get better,” Owen said. “We’ve got to improve defensively, we’ve got to improve our serving, we’ve got to improve our passing and we’ve definitely got to improve our blocking game. But hopefully we can improve and take our game to the next level.”
And as for where that next level ends? A GWOC Tournament title? A sectional title? A district one?
“I don’t think there is a set ending,” Freed said. “We’ve already accomplished so much. We’ve worked so hard, and we’re capable of just about anything.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.