Freeport boys focused on improving their ‘lacrosse IQ’

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Thursday, April 11, 2019 | 7:01 PM


Freeport has the brawn to contend with some of the top teams in WPIAL boys lacrosse. But Dave Riley would prefer to see the brain.

Fresh off back-to-back postseason appearances, the first two in the short history of their program, the Yellowjackets began the season with three victories in their first four games. But they’re also seeking more consistency, particularly in what Riley calls their “lacrosse IQ,” as the schedule begins to ramp up.

“(Sometimes) they revert to just trying to rely on their athleticism, not valuing the ball, on defense lunging for sticks instead of playing good body position, all that kind of stuff,” said Riley, in his first season as coach after previously working as an assistant under Jarvis Lindsay.

“(They’re) things that when you’re playing teams of a similar caliber or maybe not quite as athletic as you are, you can get away with. But as you start playing better and better teams, when you don’t do some of those basic things that I consider basic lacrosse IQ, you just don’t do well.”

Freeport began its lacrosse program this decade and joined the WPIAL as a full-time member in 2015, so the Yellowjackets remain in their youth compared to other schools. The program registered its first playoff appearance in 2017 and first postseason victory in 2018, a first-round triumph over Seton LaSalle.

But many of the current players have years of experience dating to the start of Freeport’s youth lacrosse program.

“We’re young, but we play with the programs that have been there for 10 or 20 years,” senior attacker Sean Fennell said. “I feel like we can go far this year.

“We’re finally getting to the stage where everyone’s been playing since they were a kid. We’re starting to compete with the older programs.”

Riley said the skills are there, complimenting his team’s overall athleticism. But because many of the Yellowjackets play multiple sports and consider lacrosse secondary, the lacrosse IQ remains a target for improvement.

It comes down to making the right play, both offensively and defensively. Riley pointed to a game against Greensburg Central Catholic — won by Freeport in overtime — as one the Yellowjackets might have secured a bit more easily with more consistency.

“The six or seven guys that we can put out on offense (had) much better sticks than their defense (and are) much quicker than their defense,” Riley said. “And if we brought the ball down and valued it, if we’d worked the ball and did some of our offensive sets and worked some of the rotations and motions that they’re supposed to do and we kept the ball on offense for a minute or two each time, which we’re very capable of doing, in my opinion the score wouldn’t have even been that close.

“But they beat us on ground balls … we’d come down and make a silly pass or a silly shot and the next thing you know, the ball’s going back the other direction.”

Riley wants to see a possession-based attack, focused on making quality passes and valuing the ball. That, in turn, helps the defense.

The Yellowjackets’ most controlled performance came in a 10-1 victory over nonsection opponent North Hills. That win came on the heels of a 15-11 loss to Section 1-AA opponent Gateway. Freeport also beat section opponent Plum, 14-4, in its season opener.

“I think we just need to keep up the competitiveness and the fundamentals and stay up in games and don’t get down,” Fennell said.

Fennell, Garret Schaffhauser, Gabe Brunck, Carter Dougherty and Luke Miller pace the Freeport attack, giving the Yellowjackets a balanced offense. Schaffhauser scored five goals — including the overtime winner — against Greensburg Central Catholic, while Dougherty added four goals and Fennell three.

Josh Bollinger, Slade Ohl, Hunter Turner, Kai Sosa and goalie Greg Smith head up the defense.

While Riley called Greensburg Central Catholic a much-improved team, he’s expecting difficult IQ tests in the second half of the season.

The schedule will begin to get more difficult next week as Freeport faces local and section rival Knoch. Mars, which eliminated Freeport from the playoffs last season in the Class AA quarterfinals, and Hampton loom as the top two teams in the section.

“I certainly think we have the talent, and we have the athleticism this year to (advance further),” Riley said. “It’s whether they start playing good lacrosse as opposed to just trying to be individual athletes.”

Doug Gulasy is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Doug at 412-388-5830, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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