While competing in Section 1-AAA alongside large schools such as Hampton and Mars in recent years, the Freeport girls basketball team found its depth couldn’t match up at times.
Those problems are now gone. Not only is Freeport dropping to Class AA for the 2014-15 season, but the Yellowjackets also boast a deep and versatile roster of 20 players.
“I think we have some depth where if we get (into foul trouble), we have the bodies to fill in,” coach Paul Sylba said. “Some of the other girls play multiple positions, whether it’s inside or outside. I think that’s going to be more of a luxury.”
Freeport qualified for the WPIAL Class AAA playoffs last season after finishing fourth in its section. The Yellowjackets lost to West Mifflin in a preliminary-round game.
Three starters return for Freeport, including three-year starters in seniors Haley Conner and Macy Smolic and a three-year starter in junior Zoe Soilis.
Soilis (15.1 points per game), Freeport’s leading scorer last season, and Smolic (9.6) can play both guard and forward, while Conner (4.9 ppg) adds experience on the perimeter.
“Zoe is a good scorer. She can score inside and outside,” Sylba said. “Macy is a great inside player who can take somebody off the dribble to the basket, so she’s going to be a tough matchup.
“Haley’s just matured over the years and has really become a pretty sharp ball-handler and tough defender.
“We’re expecting not only good things from them, but leadership in showing the younger girls how it’s done. Coaches can say anything, but the girls watch what the seniors and juniors do and how they conduct themselves in practice. That says volumes.”
While Freeport benefits from its three returning starters, how well the Yellowjackets fare likely depends on how some of their other players can handle increased roles.
Seniors Carli Schwickrath and Megan Minyon both return on the inside. Minyon split time between the varsity, where she played forward, and junior varsity, where she played guard, so she should add some more versatility to the Yellowjackets’ lineup.
Senior Megan Manke and junior Natalie Dell add depth on the inside, and sophomore Abree Cowen can play any of the guard positions, Sylba said.
“I could see us playing nine or 10 (players) a game, depending on the situation,” Sylba said.
Freeport’s players worked extensively on their shooting in the offseason after the booster club instituted an incentive program for players who made between 5,000 and 10,000 shots.
Sylba said most players sank 10,000 shots.
“We were very impressed,” he said. “A lot of it, you’re shooting on your own, you’re shooting in your driveway, down at the church hoop or wherever it may be, in addition to our open gyms. We think that really helped.”
Freeport will host a season-opening tournament Dec. 5-6 featuring Knoch, Mohawk and Washington.
Although Freeport won’t have to deal with as many depth problems, the Yellowjackets do have to contend with a section that includes WPIAL runner-up Burrell and playoff teams Apollo-Ridge, Greensburg Central Catholic, Shady Side Academy and West Shamokin.
“I think with our three (returning starters), we can match up,” Sylba said. “It’s really going to depend on how well Megan and Carli play. But I think we can compete for one of the playoff spots and be competitive game in and game out. I think our depth will help. We just want to play hard.”