The 2019-20 season will be the first time North Shore girls’ basketball head coach Keith Freund has not made the playoffs in his career at the school.
This is the last week of the season for the Lady Vikings, a team that is not used to knowing when its last basketball game will be. Their final game will be on Feb. 10. For Freund’s seniors, this will be their last time donning the white and crimson. While this will be an emotional game for the girls, Freund will get much more choked up this Thursday.
“I’ve never had a last practice,” Freund said. “I know for a lot of the girls, the last game is going to be very emotional, but for me, Thursday is going to be tough.”
Although North Shore’s playoff hopes ended, the preparation does not change for its last few games. Freund explained that the team’s focus is still there.
“Of course they’re not happy that they’re out of the playoffs, but they still want to learn,” Freund said. “Sometimes, who wins and loses is about who makes more shots and that’s not always the better team. They work so hard and put in a lot of effort.”
North Shore recently lost a close 65-61 matchup to Plainedge on Jan. 28. North Shore’s Casey Colbert fouled out in the fourth quarter. With Plainview up 7 in the final minute of the game, the Lady Vikings mounted a big run to come back and tie the game at 53. With 12 seconds left in the game, Jennifer Walton came down the court and hit a three-pointer to give North Shore a 56-53 lead. “I’ve never heard a gym so loud,” Freund said. “The gym was rocking. Then, [Plainedge] called a timeout to advance the ball.”
What happened next shocked the entire crowd. The ball was inbounded and Plainedge’s Kerry Svraka heaved up an NBA-range three-pointer from the top of the key. The ball smacked off the backboard and slashed through the net with 2.2 seconds left to tie the game and force overtime. Plainedge ended up narrowly winning 65-61.
But that game wasn’t memorable for Freund and his team because of the result. Or even because of Walton’s near game-sealing three-pointer. It was memorable because of a Walton three-pointer that came in the first quarter. It happened to be the basket that pushed her career points total past 1,000, only the eighth female player to do so in North Shore history.
“We ran an inbound play for her, she was cutting, she passed the ball to Morgan Griffin, then her defender fell,” Freund said. “She finally got an inch of space, and hit a step-back three-pointer. Everyone in the gym knew, except for Jenny. We never told her.”
Freund detailed that many of Walton’s friends and family were in attendance to witness the feat. “This couldn’t happen to a better person,” Freund said.
Walton’s longtime coach knows that her attitude doesn’t change towards the rest of the season, though. “I know Jenny as a person and a leader,” Freund said. “And she will keep leading until it’s over.”