Defense ignites Freeport's 12-1 start


Losing just once in 13 games has Freeport girls’ basketball booming with confidence but also with some work to do to achieve its No. 1 regular-season goal of capturing the Conference AA-1 title.

The Red Devils’ lone defeat so far was a 49-48 decision at conference rival Massapequa on a day they were missing a starter and their top reserve. They stand at 4-1 in AA-1 heading into this Saturday’s matchup at home against Farmingdale at noon.

“That loss eats at us but in a good way,” Freeport head coach Meredith Jones said. “It’s motivating because we were shorthanded and still led in the second half before running out of steam.

“We finish the first half of the schedule against Farmingdale and then start seeing everyone else again,” she added. “The girls of course are looking forward to the Massapequa rematch. Our confidence is high but the girls are also focused on one game at a time.”

Freeport has six players averaging at least 5 points per game and that depth was on display last Saturday when it defeated Syosset, the Nassau Class A runner-up last season, 45-40, at Farmingdale College. Senior Taneece Wooden (14 points) was the lone double-digit scorer for the Red Devils, who got plenty of other contributions. Juniors Nia Phillips and Star Asia Gaines had 8 points apiece, junior Ania Crocker had 6, senior Anayah Lloyd 5 and junior Queenasha Ellis 4.

“We have balance when it comes to scoring,” Jones explained. “If someone has an off night, there’s always someone else to pick up the slack.”

Defense, however, is first and foremost, Jones noted.

“We have a defense-first mentality,” she said. “It’s funny because when the girls ask to see game stats, they want to see steals and rebounds. We’re averaging more than 20 steals per game. Offense isn’t the first thing on their minds.”

Wooden, the closest thing Freeport has to a true forward among the starting five, is leading the offense at 14 points per game and providing strong physical play. The Honorable Mention All-County selection last winter also leads the team in blocked shots. “She does so many things well,” Jones said.

Crocker is averaging 12.5 points and looking to put together back-to-back All-County campaigns. “She’s long and lanky and has a nice outside shot and can also drive,” Jones said.

Lloyd is the floor leader at the point and a tenacious defender. She didn’t play last season due to injury and was sorely missed, Jones said. Lloyd’s two late free throws sealed a 43-40 victory over Class A title contender Lynbrook in the championship game of the Ernie Kight Invitational Dec. 29. “She never gets tired and loves to set up teammates,” the coach said.

Phillips and Ellis are outside threats and excelling on the defensive end. Gaines features a smooth mid-range jumper, and junior Brianne Belizaire is called upon to bolster the effort on the boards.

“I think we’re a quiet 12-1,” Jones said. “People aren’t paying too much attention to us but we’re going toe-to-toe with some of the better teams in the county.”