FHS BOYS: COMING OF AGE
It’s been a long rebuild, but the Freeman boys are finally bringing back a brand of basketball that has fans on their feet
For those who have been paying even the slightest bit of attention to local high school basketball, the winters of recent memory have been long and hard for the Freeman Public boys — and that says nothing of the weather.
The Flyers’ last legitimate chance at a deep postseason run came in 2008, when they lost to Scotland in a heartbreaking overtime thriller that ended their season in the District 10B championship game.
Their last winning record was in the winter of 2012-13, when they finished 12-9.
And over the course of three seasons, from late 2019 through early 2022, the Freeman boys posted a record of 2-61.
But those who have been paying attention — even the slightest bit — also have known that better days are ahead. With a group of talented younger players coming up through the middle school and junior varsity ranks, and with new and proven energy on the coaching staff the past three years, Flyer fans have been eager for a new era of boys basketball that may have finally arrived.
A still-very-young squad that finished last season 5-16 has suddenly emerged as a legitimate force, shrugging off a 1-3 start to win five in a row that included an energizing road victory over Bridgewater-Emery on Jan. 4 and most recently a home knock-off of a solid Class A Parker team this past Monday night.
Yes, it’s talent, says Lance Friesen, who is in his third year as head coach for the Freeman boys, but it’s also buy-in — something that has been building the last couple of years.
“When it comes to summer workouts, it’s almost every single kid,” he says. “When it comes to open gyms in the fall, it’s almost every single kid. They show up to practice and are ready to go; the kids we have are all in and eventually they are going to get rewarded. I didn’t think it would happen this soon, necessarily, but here we are.”
Friesen, who has been working with assistant coach Kyle Weier since taking the job at Freeman, is quick to point out that there is still a lot of work to be done, but all signs point in a positive direction.
The momentum really picked up with the Flyers’ victory over Bridgewater-Emery early this month — their first win over a solid team in years. After trailing by 10 points early, Freeman used outstanding play from sophomores Luke Peters and Tate Sorensen to storm back and ultimately take down a Huskies team that had no notion of losing, 54-48.
“It’s a huge boost for our confidence,” Friesen said after the win, “because there’s a big difference between, ‘I think we’re good enough to do this’ and ‘We are good enough to do this.’
“That’s a big win because it really speeds up our confidence, and confidence fuels results, right?”
The Flyers followed up their single-digit win over Bridgewater-Emery with another against Centerville almost two weeks later (a delay in action caused by the winter weather), a big win over Menno in Menno last Friday and then that victory over Parker on Monday that pushed the Freeman boys to 6-3.
What was particularly promising about the win over the Pheasants was that the Flyers didn’t play particularly well, shooting just 4-for-23 from 3-point range and turning the ball over 16 times.
“Let’s give Parker credit,” said Friesen. “Tricky zone. Length. Athletic. Aggressive. Strong. But also, we didn’t play that well. We didn’t shoot well, that’s for sure. I told them at halftime it’s a wonderful opportunity to go win an ugly game, and can we win when we’re not on? Because we’ve been on lately. We’ve been really, really good. Now can we win against a good team when we’re not shooting well?”
Turns out they can, only adding additional momentum to what looks to be the best season for a Freeman Public boys team in more than a decade.
The fact that the Flyers are so young adds extra energy. Freeman’s varsity team is consistently seeing a primary rotation that includes a senior in Rocky Ammann, two juniors in Chris Aasen and Sawyer Wipf, two sophomores in Peters and Sorensen, and three eighth graders in Tayden Kerrigan, Luke Miller and David Walter. In addition to another senior in Dillon Podzimek, the varsity roster also includes a pair of freshmen in Tannen Auch and Oliver Waltner and three other eighth graders in Quentin Andersen, Lane McCune and Brody Sorensen, all of whom have helped lead the junior varsity to a winning record, as well.
Friesen knows what’s ahead. He also puts it in perspective.
“It’s a ride, and I can see some people smiling when they think about what’s to come, but let’s not fast-forward anything,” he said. “Let’s enjoy this now, because it’s going to go quick.”
The Flyers are currently second in the Region 4B standings behind only powerhouse Viborg-Hurley, and with a favorable schedule, may very well stay put. Freeman will be tested this Saturday at the Blizzard Buster Classic in Irene by another Class A school — Sanborn Central/Woonsocket (6-6) — and have tough games against Ethan (10-2) and Hanson (7-4) yet to come. But other than, the Freeman boys should be considered favorites throughout the second half of this season and, based on what they’ve shown the past three weeks, may have an upset or two in their pocket.
All of it comes back to that buy-in that Friesen has been preaching since he first arrived as head coach for the Flyers.
“I used to get excuses or arguments or pushback; that has stopped,” he said. “Why we’re at where we’re at now is because they’ve all bought in. We’re all equals in our expectations. We may not all have the same talent or athleticism or bodies or whatever, but we’re equal in how we’re going to approach the game as a team. And that’s huge.”
And winning doesn’t hurt.
“There’s a weight that everyone carries, from coaches to players to fans, when you don’t win and you’re not proud of who you are,” Friesen says. “But those guys who came before kept us going and we still have a team — so thank you. Now our shoulders are coming up and we’re confident and these guys are proud to be Freeman Flyers. That has always been the mission.
“We don’t know the end results and we can’t control those,” he continues. “So we’re going to control our passion, our attitude, how much we care about each other, and go from there.”
Records since 2010
2010-11 – 4-18
2011-12 – 10-12
2012-13 – 12-9
2013-14 – 9-13
2014-15 – 10-11
2015-16 – 6-15
2016-17 – 6-14
2017-18 – 9-12
2018-19 – 7-13
2019-20 – 1-20
2020-21 – 0-21
2021-22 – 1-20
2022-23 – 5-16