By Jason S Rufner
Special to Viva Loudoun
(Feb. 26, 2014) – Late in the 5A North regional quarterfinal Tuesday night in South Riding, Freedom High School’s girls basketball team cranked up their already tough defense even further, turning a tied game into a 39-32 victory over visiting R.E. Lee of Springfield.
“The kids sucked it up and played hard tonight. They wanted to win,” said Freedom’s second-year coach Teddy Whitney, who has made a point of emphasizing defensive tenacity all season.
The Eagles (20-5) blocked three of the Lancers’ shots and deflected or intercepted 23 Lancer passes, holding their fourth-seeded guests to five points in the first quarter and six in the last.
The Eagles, champions of Conference 14’s regular season and tournament, were not exactly an offensive juggernaut themselves. Senior Arnelle Collins, author of more than 1,000 points in her high school career, put in 12 points, as did fellow upperclassman Nicole Zubovich. The two first-team all-conference performers were aided by 11 points from diminutive freshman guard Sydney Kim, several from late-game free throws.
Zubovich put in perhaps the night’s most pivotal bucket with just over two minutes left. After the Eagles surged to a 6-0 fourth-quarter run, the Lancers edged back to within three. That’s when the 5-foot-10 Zubovich grabbed an offensive rebound, laid it in off the glass while absorbing a foul, and coolly nailed the free throw to put Freedom up six.
But it was defense that, as usual, propelled the Eagles to victory — particularly a mid-game defensive adjustment against Lee’s sizable, agile center Amber Bryson, scorer of a game-high 19 points, all in the low post.
“We put Kelly Hartless on [Bryson], because of her height and athleticism,” Whitney said. “We moved Arnelle to the high post to defense against driving the basket.”
Freedom will travel to Alexandria on Thursday in the 5A North semifinals, taking on Conference 13 champion Edison. A win would put the Eagles into the state tournament for the first time since they won it all in 2010.
“I told the kids tonight, Edison’s going to be the biggest game some of theses kids play in their lives,” Whitney said. “Might not be for a state championship, but that’s going to be one of the best teams and biggest games our kids have played.”
Freedom 39, R.E. Lee-Staunton 32
1 2 3 4
Lee 5 10 11 6
Fre 9 8 9 13
Freedom stats —
Points: Collins 12, Zubovich 12, Kim 11, Berry 2, Hartless 2
Foul shots: 9-15
Three-pointers: Zubovich 2