Freeport girls basketball turns talent to defense
With three returning starters in Sidney Shemanski and twin sisters Samantha and Madeline Clark, Freeport girls basketball already had a good nucleus to build upon before a couple of key newcomers arrived.
Add in softball/volleyball standout Ally DeJidas, who’s out for the basketball team for the first time, and Kiski Area transfer Harley Holloway, and the Yellowjackets boast plenty of athleticism.
There’s potential for scoring to come from plenty of players in the lineup, and Freeport coach Fred Soilis said he is excited to see how they’ll mesh together, but the main focus in early practices has been defense.
Soilis wants his players to use their athletic ability to be “lights out” when guarding opponents.
“We have some athletes on this team that can shoot and run the court, but if they can’t play defense it’s not going to matter,” Soilis said. “I want to be strong as possible on defense. The stronger we are on defense and the harder we press, it’s going to create turnovers and frustrate our opponents.
“We like to press, but with the athletes we have we feel like we can play man and frustrate some people. The press is part of it, but it’s a matter of playing strong defense then taking the ball up the court after that.”
The Yellowjackets are honing their defensive skills, and the players are buying into the concept.
“In every game, defense wins championships,” Madeline Clark said. “When we play good defense, it makes it that much easier for us on the offensive end. We get a lot of our points off turnovers, especially with our press.”
Freeport finished last season 13-9 overall and 10-2 in Section 1-4A, good for second place behind WPIAL champ North Catholic. The Yellowjackets lost to Elizabeth Forward in the first round of the playoffs. They open the season against West Greene on Dec. 10 at the Southmoreland Tournament.
Shemanski and the Clarks have started since their freshman year and will be counted on for guidance after the graduation of Jenna Manke, Ashley Sullivan and Asti Brestensky.
Senior forward Haley Graham will be a key contributor, and guards Louisa Fennell, Grace Soilis, Delaney Toy and Lydia Bouch are in the mix.
DeJidas, a Mercyhurst softball recruit, told the Clark sisters during volleyball season she was going to play basketball. They were surprised but excited.
“I think she wanted to come out and play with Haley (Graham) since they’re both seniors now,” Samantha Clark said. “I think she knew she could help the team, because we don’t have huge numbers and we don’t have a lot of tall people. Her athleticism is really going to help us.”
Soilis praised DeJidas’ footwork and said her quickness will help on defense.
Holloway was a double-digit per-game scorer last year with Kiski Area. She went to Freeport in her elementary years, so she’s played with most of the girls on the team.
The key for Soilis is having Holloway fit into the puzzle, and he said that process got off to a good start.
“We’re excited to have her,” Soilis said. “Obviously she doesn’t have to shoulder the load like she did (at Kiski Area), where she was the main scorer. If we can have four or five girls score 12 or 14 points, we’ll take that. Someone might have a game better than others any given night, but it’s all about team contribution.”
North Catholic, Knoch, Highlands and Burrell are in Section 1 with Freeport again this season. Indiana, Greensburg Salem and Apollo-Ridge are newcomers. Former section mates Deer Lakes and Valley dropped to Class 3A. North Catholic figures to be one of the tougher teams in Class 4A again this season.
Freeport is determined to build a winning tradition after making the postseason the last two years.
“Before our freshman year, we hadn’t done well in playoffs in a while and now we’ve made it two years in a row,” Madeline Clark said. “I feel like we’re building something, and we hope to go further this year.”
Jerin Steele is a freelance writer.