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Defending champions

Molly McIntyre, left, and Alisha Sorenson lead the undefeated Freeman girls basketball team. (Dan Pelle)
Molly McIntyre, left, and Alisha Sorenson lead the undefeated Freeman girls basketball team. (Dan Pelle)

Freeman girls say defense is key to winning

They’ve set the standard exceptionally high for girls basketball at Freeman High.

Last March the Scotties fell short of winning a third consecutive state Class 1A championship, falling to Okanogan in the title game, 44-36. And felt awful about it.

“We picked the worst possible time to have a bad shooting game,” senior guard/post Molly McIntyre said. “I still think we were the better team and we just had a bad game.”

Hard to argue with a team that was 27-1 going into that championship game – or a program that lost just five of the 123 games since fifth-year coach Ashlee Nimri took over the program (the Scotties played their 124th under Nimri on Friday at home against Riverside).

For the vast majority of weeks over that span of more than four years, Freeman has been the No. 1-ranked team in the state.

“I think we all have very high expectations,” senior guard Alisha Sorenson said. “We have them for ourselves, our fans have high expectations for us. We expect to bring home the big gold ball (state championship trophy).”

In the tight-knit community that is Freeman, the success, the expectations and the challenge of being ranked No. 1 combine to drive a program that is built around the age-old sports adage that offense wins games, but defense wins championships.

“I really don’t think that we’re that good of a shooting team,” McIntyre said. “We rely on our defense, and that fuels our offense. We score a lot of points off our defense – forcing turnovers, making steals.”

It’s an attitude Freeman players grow up and grow into. And one they take great pains to implement.

“We have a great coach, first of all,” Sorenson said. “And we have a trainer that comes in and works us and runs us so that we’re in the best condition we can be in so that we keep the defensive pressure on for four quarters. We see it in the fourth quarter all the time: We’re still going strong and have plenty left in the tank and they’re too tired to stay with us. We always win the fourth quarter.

“Second, we all put playing defense first. We all believe that’s what wins games for us.

“Third, we all have the drive, the motivation and the desire that it takes to win and keep winning.”

Growing up together, Freeman basketball team members become an extended family.

“We had a coach come to talk to us about team chemistry,” McIntyre said. “He told us we want to have the kind of trust in one another that, if we were going over a cliff, we’d trust each and every one of our teammates to hold the rope for us. We have that.”

The Scotties play defense with that level of trust, McIntyre added.

“You’re going to have games where your shot just isn’t going to fall, but you can always play good defense,” she said. “We play hard on defense every game. It’s how we get ready for the kind of competition we’re going to face late in the season.

“We start making our game plan by planning our defense for every opponent.”

Already this season Freeman has held an opponent under 20 points four times, and an opponent has scored 50 points against the Scotties just three times – and two of those opponents were bigger, Class 2A teams.

This season McIntyre and Sorenson have been a driving force for the Scotties – one opposing coach called them the best 1-2 guard combination his team would likely face this season.

McIntyre, a starter since her sophomore year, averages nearly 12 points per game thus far this season. Sorenson, who did not crack the Freeman varsity full-time until last year and the starting lineup until this season, averages 17 points.

“Molly and I have been best friends for a long time, but I have to say that I was pretty jealous of her getting to play with the varsity back when we were freshmen and sophomores,” Sorenson said. “I didn’t let it affect our friendship or anything, but I think that made me want to work that much harder so that I could get the chance to play there, too.”

 “I think that’s part of why Alisha is having the success she’s having now,” McIntyre said. “It forced her to focus on all the little things that make up her game as she worked to make herself better. She knows what it’s like to not play, and I think that drives her.”

That, and that big, gold ball.

“I don’t think any of us will be satisfied unless we bring home another championship trophy,” Sorenson said.

And that could be a problem, albeit not an insurmountable one.

The trophy case that was installed when Freeman High was rebuilt isn’t big enough to accommodate a state championship trophy.

“That’s a problem we can solve,” McIntyre quipped.