Editor’s note: This is the first in a weekly summer series examining the offseason workout regimens of some of the area’s top high school athletes.

During a Thursday morning workout in mid-June, Paul VI Catholic senior guard-forward Ariana Freeman is thinking about late February.

Probably a wise move. After firing up about 500 shots during a solitary 40-minute gym session, helping out at a youth basketball camp at the school and then subjecting herself to one of the first weight room workouts of the summer — and with a team scrimmage later that day followed by AAU practice in Bowie — the All-Met no doubt needed visions of imaginary banners for inspiration.

“Oh, I feel dead right now,” the Louisville recruit said in a taxed tone as she made a short, slow walk from the Paul VI weight room back into the school for a breather before returning to assist the campers. “The only thing that’s on my mind is a championship. That’s the only thing keeping me going right now.”

Ariana Freeman Paul VI All-Met Ariana Freeman thinks that developing skills during the summer can be just as important as playing games. (Mark Gail/The Washington Post)

Paul VI (29-4 last season), the seven-time defending Virginia independent school champion, has never won the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference title, or even reached the title game. As the lone returning first-team all-conference player in the league, the 5-foot-11 Freeman has taken it upon herself to give the Panthers their best shot ever at that crown. Never mind that St. John’s and Good Counsel have met in the past three championships and that other WCAC teams are expected to be improved next season. This could be Paul VI’s year.

For Freeman, the quest for a title begins on these summer mornings, initially fueled by a steaming white chocolate mocha from Starbucks on her drive from Manassas, and ending with iced knees after a day’s pounding.

Her first stop on this day is the back gym at Paul VI. Other than Coach Scott Allen popping in every few minutes, she operates in solitude below the humming duct work. Her shooting partner is “The Gun,” a rebounding/passing machine, the older and less tricked-out of the two in the Paul VI basketball arsenal.

The gadget, an assist-hungry R2-D2 on wheels, loaded with about a half-dozen balls, funnels her misses and makes and then briskly spits them back out at her at various spots around the perimeter. The machine’s netting extends about a foot shy of the top of the backboard, which forces Freeman to arc her shots to make sure she clears the barrier.

“Had enough yet, or just getting warmed up?” Allen asks at one point. The shots continued.

Freeman considered herself a line-drive shooter early in her high school career, when she was known more as a slasher and a post-up player than as an outside threat. But she knew that she would play guard or wing in college, so all the extra shooting is not only for next season but the four after that. National runner-up Louisville discharged 92 three-pointers in its last four NCAA tournament games (and sank 16 of 25 in an upset of top-seeded Baylor). Freeman made 16 three-pointers last season, when she averaged 19.2 points per game.

Releasing shot after shot after shot, sometimes off a dribble or a change of direction, her mind drifts to February again, or even April.

“I’m thinking that it’s the national championship game,” Freeman said later. “Or it’s the WCAC championship and I have a St. John’s defender running at me and I’m like okay, I’ve gotta go, I’ve gotta shoot. I’m trying to move. I’m trying to catch and shoot. I’m not trying to catch and slow down and get my feet set and shoot because that’s not how it’s going to be in a game.”

Freeman, who wears two pairs of socks for extra ankle support, ends each session by making 10 consecutive shots, a confidence booster that gives her a sense of satisfaction for the work that she has done. Any miss during that sequence and she starts back at zero.

It was the same standard during the ball-handling drills she did after the shooting. During one, she was walking backward while dribbling behind her back, and she lost control about two-thirds of the way down the court. Instead of collecting the ball and picking up where she left off, she returned to the far baseline to start all over.

She was heeding the advice from the wall in the main gym: “Do Ordinary Things Extraordinarily Well.”

“Don’t cheat yourself,” Freeman said later. “Don’t cheat the game. I really feel it will come back to bite you later on.”

Later that morning, Freeman and several teammates assembled in the weight room with school strength and conditioning coach Michael Grandizio for a series of squats, pullups and various leg exercises, a 40-minute session with a grunt-and-groan soundtrack. With it being the first week of training, a “functional week” as Grandizio put it, the Panthers were focusing on technique. Had camp not been in session, the workout would have
stretched to 70 minutes or so with more individual training.

Freeman would flip her ponytail behind the barbell before a lift, and at one point late in the workout wondered aloud why she had worn a long-sleeve shirt that day.

“Ariana’s strengths are definitely her upper body, her body balance, her hand-eye and her stability,” Grandizio said. “The things we’re working on are body control, foot speed and explosiveness. She does a good job in here.”

“When I’m lifting weights, and I have to power up, I think that helps me in the game,” Freeman said. “If I get the rebound and I’m right near the basket, I don’t want to have to kick it out. I want to be able to get it in and break through them, or if it’s a loose ball, I want to be able to rip it out of a defender’s hand.”

Coaches in some sports say that athletes play too many games during the so-called offseason and do not take the time to develop individual skills or devote enough hours to strength and conditioning training. Freeman concurs.

“They want to travel. They want to play in front of college coaches,” she said of high school players. “[But] you don’t want to play in front of a college coach if you don’t have your skill set down. I think it’s better for you not to [travel] and work on your game and then maybe do a tournament here or there than to go to so many games and not show….all your potential.”

“Really, this is a lot of athletes’ bread and butter. This is where they get their

Freeman’s workout, by the numbers

During the summer, Freeman typically has two weight room workouts each week with school strength and conditioning coach Michael Grandizio. These team workouts take place after she has hoisted more than 500 shots and has put herself through several series of ball handling drills. The weight room workouts are designed to last about 70 minutes:

Day 1

One-mile run

Ten-minute static stretch

One set of 20 body weight squats

Three sets of 10 Olympic squats (155 pounds for Freeman)

Three sets of 20 body weight step-ups

Two sets of 20 pistol squats (50 pounds)

Two sets of 20 hamstring isometrics with a 10-pound medicine ball

Five minutes of plyometrics that consist of lateral jumps, box jumps and single-leg jumps

Five minutes of footwork consisting of jumping rope, dot drills and ladder drills

Ten minutes of core isolation (abdominals and crunches)

Five minutes of cool-down stretching

Day 2

One-mile run

Ten-minute static stretch

Four sets of 10 deadlifting (at 100 pounds)

Three sets of 10 assisted pull-ups at body weight

Three sets of 10 Australian barbell rows at body weight

Three sets of 10 single barbell rows (at 40 pounds)

Five minutes of pushups consisting of standard, negative-10 count and assisted

Three sets of 20 body weight dips

Five sets of timed shuttle run

Ten minutes of core isolation (abdominals and crunches)

Five minutes of cool-down stretching