Freih to be first Mustangs girl to play in Lions all-star basketball series
Growing up, Kierra Freih always wanted to play in the annual North Dakota Lions all-star basketball series. Now other girls from West Fargo Sheyenne will watch her as she plays in the game as her program's pioneer.
Freih will be among the Class A senior all-stars to play in the Lions all-star series, which matches Class A seniors from this past season against Class B seniors, on July 9 at Bismarck Legacy and July 10 at the Fargo Civic Center. The girls games will start at 6 p.m. followed by the boys games.
"Watching the other girls playing, I always wanted to be like them one day," Freih said. "I always wanted to be in that game."
Freih will be the first Sheyenne girl to play in the game. She has always believed Sheyenne is a good basketball community that produces players capable of playing with the best.
"It's amazing. It's something you never would've thought that I would be the start of a high school and help build something," Freih said. "It's really cool that I'm the first, but there's going to be great people after me, so it's really awesome to be a part of that."
Freih, a University of Jamestown commit who led the Mustangs to their first Class A state tournament appearance in the program's four-year history, said the all-star game will prepare her for college. She said she needs to work on her strength and quickness but the Lions game will acclimate her to the speed of college basketball.
"It gets you ready for the speed of the game," Freih said. "Those girls are there to play basketball. They're going to go out there and give it their all because they're the best of the best, so I think it'll help me prepare for college."
Freih said she's known some of her fellow all-stars from offseason play. She said she's looking forward to playing with them again.
"It'll be nice to play with them one more time," Freih said. "I'm just going to go out there and do what I've always done and just play my game."
Westphal, Hajric reunite one more time
Last year, Kemal Hajric and Zach Westphal watched Carter Bonnema play in the Lions all-star game as the first to do so from Sheyenne. They told each other they would be in the same place this year.
And here they are. Westphal and Hajric will play for the Class A boys team after leading the Mustangs to their first ever Class A state championship appearance.
"It's a testament to the work we put in as a team and the work I put in," Hajric said. "That was one of my goals going into the year individually was to be recognized as an all-star and play in the all-star game."
Westphal said he's wanted to play in this game since the eighth grade. When he saw he made the all-star roster on social media, he felt good as he told his family and friends.
"It's just an honor," Westphal said. "Growing up, you see those guys playing in the all-star game and you're like, 'I want to be one of those guys.' It's just a surreal feeling you can't describe."
Hajric said making the game is rewarding and a testament to the coaching staff who embraced him and made the team seem like a family. He said doing his job on the team, mostly rebounding, was made easy.
"It's funny how those things work out sometimes," Hajric said. "It was a relief knowing what I worked for came to fruition. I was ecstatic, and I'm really thankful for it."
Westphal, who will be playing for the University of Minnesota-Crookston next school year, said he still needs to get bigger, faster and stronger to get ready for college basketball, but he feels his offensive skill set is ready for competition. He's excited to play with Hajric one more time.
"It'll be a fun week with each other, hanging out and being around the game of basketball one last week," Westphal said. "It'll be emotional, all the things we've been through, to have it all come to an end will be pretty emotional."
Hajric said he learned plenty playing with Bonnema and that he wants to follow up on Bonnema's performance last year, mostly by bringing in rebounds. Hajric, who won't be playing college basketball, said he's started to come to terms with knowing basketball is over. But he said it's good to get one more go-round.
"It will be bitter sweet. It'll be nice to know I'll have one of my best friends and coach for that," Hajric said. "You never get this atmosphere again."
Kirchoffner leads Class A boys team
Tom Kirchoffner admits it'll be strange coaching players from in-city rival West Fargo like Joe Pistorius and Abdi Sufi and East Region rivals like Fargo Shanley's Jake Kava and Cam Saville. But at last he doesn't have to coach against them anymore.
Alongside Bismarck Century head coach Darin Mattern, Kirchoffner will coach the Class A boys team for the Lions all-star game. He'll be the first from Sheyenne to coach in the all-star game after Mattern and Kirchoffner led their teams to the state championship game.
"It's going to be nice, let's just say that," Kirchoffner said. "They're great kids. It's good getting to know them and having them on our team."
Kirchoffner said he'll have a good mix of forwards and guards to work with. He said coaching this game is a good reward for leading the Mustangs to a good season.
Kirchoffner, a Century graduate himself, said he's known Mattern since he played in high school and Mattern was a Bismarck High assistant coach. He believes the two will compliment each other as coaches who emphasize different things, as Mattern's Patriots have focused on defense and Kirchoffner's Mustangs have excelled offensively.
"It's just a matter of getting them to play well and to play together," Kirchoffner said. "It's just letting them play and have fun and also have them win too. It's a recognition of the players and their outstanding seasons as well."
But Kirchoffner said the most important thing is getting one more time to coach Westphal and Hajric, guys he says have the set the bar high for the program for years to come.
"It's just a great honor to be coaching in it," Kirchoffner said. "I just feel fortunate that I get to coach two of my players for two more games and also coach the best players in North Dakota. It's just five more days of basketball in the summer. I can't complain about that."