NEWTON — Focusing on the little details as a young team will allow Newton Senior High’s Cardinal girls to be better as a whole in the 2013-14 basketball season. The Cardinals have already put three games in the scorebook this season.
“No, we don’t have a win yet, but we’ve seen improvement from game to game to game. We’re a process-driven coaching staff and team this year. We’re not focusing on the results but making sure we’re doing the little things right,” said Brandon Sharp, third-year head coach for the NHS girls basketball team.
The Cardinals are looking to improve on an 8-14 mark from last year. They were 3-9 in the Little Hawkeye Conference, tied for sixth.
“We’re worrying about the little details and the big picture is going to take care of itself of winning games and winning championships,” Sharp said.
Newton has four returning players with varsity experience in 5-4 guard Lizzie Stock, the lone senior on the team, and juniors Michaela Jacobsen, Sarah Kalkhoff and Shelby Gray. Jacobsen is a 5-10 guard while Kalkhoff and Gray are inside players at 5-8 and 6-foot, respectively.
Jacobsen was the team’s fourth-leading scorer a year ago with 76 points. She shot 60 percent, 34-of-56, from the free-throw line. She grabbed 41 rebounds, had 19 assists, 12 steals and blocked nine shots.
Kalkhoff tossed in 69 points and pulled down 106 rebounds, which was third on the team. She went 28-of-50 from the line. Gray scored 58 points and had 55 rebounds.
Stock fired in 34 points and had 32 rebounds last year. She had 15 steals. She was a 54-percent free-throw shooter.
“We’re young and inexperienced so we’ll be growing as the season progresses. I’m pleased with the growth they’ve shown in the first week of practice. This is a group that works extremely hard and is very coachable,” Sharp said. “We also work hard to have fun during the season and I think we’re doing that as we come together as a team.”
Joining Stock and Jacobsen in the guard spots are juniors Macy Leonard and Arianna Jamieson and sophomore Sydney Jenkins, who is new to the program. Sharp said Jenkins, 5-8, has promise as the team’s point guard.
“Right now, we’re easing her into that role. Other guards are sophomores Alex Hutchinson, Victoria Jordan, Taylor Moon and Jaci Twaddle,” Sharp said. “We’re quick at the guard position. We have the potential to be a tenacious defensive team.”
Sharp said Kalkhoff and Gray lead the inside players for the team. Juniors Marisa Modlin (5-10) and Rylie Udelhoven (5-8) and sophomores Hannah Rhoads and Jessica Reynolds are working at forwards.
“Our ‘post’ players can all step out to the 3-point line and hit a shot. That makes defenses respect them from anywhere on the court. We can stretch the defense,” Sharp said.
Sharp said during the summer, the Cardinals worked hard on two things — finishing at the basket while handling the ball on the move and shooting. He said he is confident this year’s team will be a better shooting team than Newton has been the past two seasons.
“Inexperience and size are concerns for us going into the season. The only way to work on the lack of experience is to play games. We have athletes who are versatile and that will help offset the height disadvantages we’ll face,” Sharp said.
Newton (0-3) play at home again Dec. 3 against Winterset.
Looking at the Little Hawkeye Conference, Sharp said Grinnell was the unanimous choice to win conference for this season by the league coaches.
“We were picked to finish last. Every coach, but me, in the conference picked us to finish last,” Sharp said. “It just gives us something to prove. So, we have a mission this year, make people respect Newton girls basketball one game at a time.”