WESLEY CHAPEL — The holidays might have meant a hiatus from school, but for the Freedom girls basketball team, it didn't grant them a break from the court.
Every day that the Patriots didn't have a game, they practiced. Sometimes they had two in one day, from 9 to 11 in the morning and 5 to 7 in the evening. They were intense, junior forward Bianca Igwe said.
But Wednesday against Wiregrass Ranch, in Freedom's first district game of the new year, no one could deny the work paid off.
After losing to the Bulls by 12 on their home court in December, the Patriots (15-3, 3-3) came out in pursuit of revenge, topping Wiregrass Ranch 61-44.
"We worked so hard during Christmas break, and this was just like a sigh, like yes, we did it. We're almost there," Igwe said. "You just want to yell and scream."
Wiregrass Ranch (19-2, 5-2), which went in tied with Steinbrenner atop the Class 7A, District 8 standings, came out swinging, twice taking a five-point lead in the first quarter. Following a Bulls turnover late in the first, however, Igwe scored to give Freedom a 13-12 advantage. It was a lead the Patriots never relinquished.
Igwe and junior guard Taylor Emery combined for 15 points in the first half as Freedom built a 26-17 halftime lead. Still, the Patriots' best was yet to come.
Freedom scored 19 in the third quarter to distance itself even more.
"We condition really, really hard from the time we get on campus in August," Freedom coach Laurie Pacholke said. "I told them, 'This is when it really pays off; is when, in the third quarter, we can come out and we can still hit really really hard.' "
Emery, who came in averaging 26.3 points per game, finished with 24, while Igwe and sophomore point guard Nari Garner each contributed 12.
Senior guard Andy Rodriguez led the Bulls with 14.
At the start of the season, Pacholke told her young team they'd go through many battles. Some, she warned, they would win, others they would lose.
But she was always certain of one thing.
"We knew we were going to take our lumps early," Pacholke said, "but we knew we were going to be a better basketball team by the end of the season."