Freih carries memories of loved ones while making Sheyenne basketball history
Kierra Freih doesn't like to overthink. Making West Fargo Sheyenne basketball history as the first boys or girls player to score 1,000 points despite deaths in her family, Freih had plenty to think about. But when she pulls up for a jump shot, Freih's mind is clear.
Freih's uncle Tim Stein committed suicide in her eighth grade year. Her grandma Clementine Stein was diagnosed with colon and lung cancer and died right after her sophomore year. Then last spring, she said her grandpa Garfield Freih died of a heart attack.
Kierra Freih, a University of Jamestown commit, says she never would've scored 1,000 points if her teammates and coaches had helped her. Maybe more importantly, her teammates and coaches helped her persevere.
"Basketball was like an escape for me," Freih said. "The accomplishment of 1,000 points, when I did get that, I thought of the three people that really mattered most to me in my life who have passed away."
Freih says a prayer before before every Mustangs game to ask for the healing of her family. She also likes to tell her loved ones hello and hopes they enjoy the game.
Freih carries their memories with her on the court every time she plays. She has two customized pair of basketball shoes, her grandpa's name stitched into the tongues of her white pair and her grandma's name on her blue pair. She also writes her uncles name on the inside of both of them.
Freih says her uncle's death took about a year and a half for her family to understand and cope with. She remembers him for his humor. She remembers her grandpa as her best friend since she was little and that he took good care of her family. Freih says her grandma was the hardest worker she ever knew and was a "hard German" who was her biggest supporter.
She misses her lost family members most at holidays.
In a way, Freih's loved ones are intertwined with Sheyenne history. Freih says her grandma never saw her play when Freih started for Sheyenne's first varsity team as a freshman. The first game Freih played after her grandma died, the Mustangs beat in-city rival West Fargo in December 2015 for the program's first ever win.
"I wish they could be here to see this whole program build up," Freih said. "They're in a better place."
Freih is a 5-foot-11 senior forward, and although she wishes she could play as a guard and is athletic enough to do so, she'll play wherever she's asked. She said playing as a post has helped her develop her game.
"Since her freshman year, the one thing she's been able to do is put points on the board," Sheyenne head coach Brent Hintz said. "She's known nothing but varsity basketball in her high school career, which not many people can say."
Though her first 19 games of the season, Freih was seventh in the Eastern Dakota Conference with 14.2 points per game and was fifth with 1.9 made 3-pointers per game. Scoring 1,000 points is unique on its own, Hintz said, but to be the first to score 1,000 for a school is special considering Freih had been starting since Sheyenne's first ever varsity season and led the program as it improved.
"It's been a wild, crazy four years," Freih said. "There's going to be so many great athletes after me. I can come back when I'm old and see all of what our coaches have done for us and everything they've done to start a really great legacy."
Mustangs teammate Maggie Manson, who also scored her 1,000th career point this season after Freih, said she and Freih weren't comfortable playing varsity right away as underclassmen. But Manson believes Freih has grown more confident.
Freih brings versatility, Manson said. Freih has proven she can score on fast breaks, handle the ball or score from jump shots, post moves or drives this season.
"It's a comfort to have on the court," Manson said. "People have to guard her in so many different ways. It opens up offensive flow."
Freih gives the Mustangs a scoring punch against any kind of defense, Hintz said, and can play almost any position. While her scoring came natural, Hintz said her defense, ball handling and leadership skills had to develop over the past four years.
"She's been there," Hintz said. "She's matured and grown up."
Freih appreciates her spot as the first Mustang to score 1,000 points. But she says she has higher goals. She wants to be on the first Mustang team to make the Class A state tournament.
If she does, Freih hopes her grandma, grandpa and uncle can watch.
"It's nice they can watch from a better spot than some of the bleachers," Freih said. "It's a lot more comfy up there, I'm sure."