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Paulson's improved play bodes well for Flyers

FREEMAN -- If Freeman's Hillary Paulson continues to grow as a basketball player like she did between the end of last season and the start of this one, she could be scary-good before long.

FREEMAN -- If Freeman's Hillary Paulson continues to grow as a basketball player like she did between the end of last season and the start of this one, she could be scary-good before long.

As a sophomore last year, Paulson already averaged a near double-double for the Flyers at 12.7 points and 8.5 rebounds per game. But the 6-foot guard/forward has shown significant improvements this season, boosting her scoring average to 19.2 and her rebounding average to 9.4.

"Hillary is a great all-around player for us," Freeman coach Ryan Mors said. "She's a 6-foot guard who can step up and hit a three or go down and post somebody up. It's nice having somebody that versatile on our team."

Given Paulson's season numbers, last week's averages of 21.5 points and 9.3 rebounds in four games were pretty typical for the junior. But her 23 points and six rebounds Saturday nearly helped Freeman upset No. 1 Hanson in the championship game of the Cornbelt Conference Tournament, showing that Freeman can play with anybody in the state.

Paulson's four performances throughout the week -- when Freeman went 3-1 -- also helped earn her this week's Daily Republic Player of the Week honor, as voted on by the newspaper's sports staff.

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"She's really stepped up her game from last year," said Mors, who added that he thinks she'll only continue to get better before her high school career ends, and will benefit from playing with the Dakota Schoolers this summer. "I think the sky is the limit for her."

Paulson's improved shooting has been a major factor in her increased scoring this season. From last year to this year, she upped her field-goal percentage from 37 to 46 percent, her 3-point percentage from 15 to 40 percent, and her free throw percentage from 58 to 77 percent. Paulson said her improved stroke is no accident.

"I spent a lot of time in the gym just working on my jump shot," Paulson said of her summer. "It was a big goal of mine to be able to shoot from anywhere."

Mors added that confidence, especially in her jump shot, might be the biggest thing Paulson has going for her this season.

"Once you start making some shots, you get confidence and keep taking those shots," Mors said. "Last year she could go outside and knock down a shot, but she couldn't do it on a consistent basis like she is this year. Forty percent (on threes) is pretty remarkable."

As Paulson has emerged this season as one of the area's best players, Freeman has quietly established itself as team that could be a serious a contender when the playoffs get underway in three weeks. At 10-4, the Flyers have made great strides since their 12-10 finish a year ago. They still aren't ranked in Class B, though three of their losses have come to teams that are -- or at one time were -- ranked in the top three in their class.

The most recent came Saturday, when Freeman led by eight points going into the fourth quarter at No. 1 Hanson. The Flyers ultimately fell short in a 52-49 loss, but Paulson and her Flyer teammates learned something about themselves in the process.

"It really put into perspective how good we are," Paulson said. "We know now that we can beat anybody."

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