Falcons eager to take next step on basketball court

Press file photo

The Freedom High School basketball team, seen here last season, is hoping to improve this season, after finishing its prior campaign 5-5.

Freedom High School’s basketball team played 10 games during the COVID-19 shortened season last spring, all against Bay Valley Athletic League opponents. The Falcons competed well against BVAL’s best but left plenty of room for improvement.

Freedom was beaten by the eventual league runner-up by 20 points in last season’s first game. The rematch against Liberty, as well as both games against league champion Heritage, were closer, decided by four points, three points and one point, respectively. But in each of those games, the Falcons were on the wrong end of the score. They finished the 10-game season at 5-5, with two losses against both Heritage and Liberty and one two-point loss to Deer Valley.

Entering his second year as the varsity head coach, Murkice Carter has high expectations. The team goals are to “definitely go to the playoffs and possibly win the league.” The league season will not begin until January. Through the early season’s non-league games, Carter has been encouraged by the team’s progress.

“We’re doing pretty good,” he said. “We’ve had our ups and downs. It’s still the beginning of the year but we’re looking pretty good.”

“Our defense is a little bit better. We’re playing a little bit harder,” Carter added. “And this is my second year. They’re starting to buy in and know my system better than last year. The continuity of the team is starting to look a little bit better.”

The best high school teams are often the most experienced, which definitely works in Freedom’s favor.

The Falcons have eight seniors on the team, including Caleb Sondah, a forward and one of two team captains. Carter also has high expectations of returning senior forward Demari Woods and senior forward Elijah Ross, who didn’t play last year. Returning juniors such as forward Diallo Norwood and point guard and captain Daniel Vigil will also be keys to the Falcons’ success during the season.

The experience is particularly helpful this year. Last season featured not only fewer games but fewer and generally shorter practices. So younger teams might be filled with players who have little to no sense of what a regular high school basketball season feels like. But Carter hasn’t seen any significant problems on that front with the Falcons.

“I think they’re adjusting fine,” Carter said. “A lot of them might not have played varsity basketball but at least played high school basketball. So it’s kind of like getting back to normal for them. I’d say that they’re adjusting pretty well.”

Freedom will open up the league season on Tuesday, Jan. 11, with a 7 p.m. home game against Antioch. Before that happens, though, the Falcons will need to navigate a busy preseason. A big part of that will come on Saturday, Dec. 18, at the Clayton Valley Tournament. Carter expects to have a good sense of the kind of team the Falcons will have when that tournament is over.

“That will let us know if we’re an elite varsity team, a good basketball team or an average varsity team,” he said. “There’s going to be great competition in that tournament.”

And while Carter hopes to win the league, he knows it will be a challenge.

“The BVAL is pretty tough,” he said. “We expect a great defensive team from Heritage and a great coached team from Liberty.”

“We can always execute better, but offensively I believe we’ll be OK,” added Carter. “We need to play better defense. That needs to be on point. We need to talk on defense, transition on defense and play better team basketball.”