The 2011-2012 season was all about fundamentals and improvement for the Newton girls basketball team.
Now that that’s over with, it’s time for the Cardinals to cut loose.
With all but two players returning from last season’s team that won four out of its last seven games after a 1-10 start, Newton has its sights set on more wins and a spot in the conference title hunt this time around.
“At the conference meeting we were picked to finish fifth again, so no respect,” second-year Newton coach Brandon Sharp said with a laugh. “But that’s all right, we’ll fly under the radar for a while. With the work we’ve put in in the offseason, we fully expect to be in that conference title run.”
Not only with a whole year of Sharp’s system under their belts, but with the continued bond they formed last season, the Cardinals could easily pick up where they left off. Senior Kaylie Rhoads returns as the team’s leading scorer the past two seasons, while fellow seniors Kristin Samson and Michelle Marquis finished just behind her in scoring last year.
“The chemistry for us right now is unreal, to be honest,” Sharp said. “It’s nice because we figured that could be the only thing holding us back from accomplishing our goals, so we’re excited about that.”
Fellow seniors Katelyn Camp and Anna Latcham are expected to fill out Newton’s starting five early in the year, but plenty more Cardinals will also see the floor. Because of all of the experienced players returning, Sharp wants to play around 10 to 11 players each game to capitalize on depth, which was something the team was short on last year.
“So far our best day of practice was our first day, and since then it’s been consistent,” Sharp said. “Last year we had to teach them the fundamentals of the system and the game. This year, we’ve almost been spoiled because we haven’t had to teach as much, especially the little details.”
Among the bench players that Sharp expects to turn some heads are sophomore Michaela Jacobsen and junior Lizzie Stock. Both players saw limited varsity action last season, with Stock seeing the floor a bit more than Jacobsen. They apparently are new players going into this year, however, and will get plenty of chances to prove themselves as such.
“They both have put in hours upon hours of work,” Sharp said. “They’ll both see an increase in play, since I’m serious about running about 11 players, and I know we won’t lose a step with them.”
While the Cardinals return the bulk of their squad, unfortunately so do most of the opposing schools of the Little Hawkeye Conference. The preseason favorite, Norwalk, lost one player from last year, but will replace her with a transfer from Des Moines Roosevelt. Sharp also expects Oskaloosa to put up a good fight, as well as Pella with its strong sophomore class and Grinnell with its transfer from a 6A school in Texas.
To help prepare for the tough conference slate, Sharp has frontloaded the Cardinals’ schedule with plenty of quality opponents. They faced Class 4A No. 13 Perry in their season opener, and will take on No. 2 Winterset in their second game. With the conference schedule opening with a road trip to Norwalk on Dec. 7, Sharp is hoping the early challenges will be dividends down the road.
“We open up with a couple top-15 teams in Class 4A, so we’re looking forward to the challenge,” Sharp said. “We’ll really see where we stack up compared to some of the ranked teams. I think top to bottom, our conference will be way better than last year.”
The Cardinals lost their season-opener at Perry by a score of 65-32.