COVINGTON - The Newton Lady Rams are hoping to turn things around from last year's disappointing 6-17 season. But with five new players - all freshmen - on the varsity roster, it's going to be an uphill battle.
"I don't consider our youth a weakness, but it may play a factor," Newton coach Tiffani Johnson said. "The good thing about being young is that there is plenty of room for improvement, and the future is very bright."
One of the battles the Lady Rams will have to contend with is getting out of the Region 2-AAAAA tournament.
All four of the region teams that qualified for the state tournament made it to the quarterfinals last season. Two of them, Redan and Stephenson, played for the state championship.
"With a tough region, every game is going to be battle. We have to make sure we are prepared and able to execute on the floor," Johnson said. "I look forward to this season. We are going to shock some teams."
Making the region even more competitive is the addition of Greenbrier, who made it to the Class AAAA state playoffs last season.
If the Lady Rams are going to improve from last season, they are going to have to step it up in several areas.
"We want to cut down on turnovers, dominate the boards and pick up our defense," Johnson said.
The Lady Rams will have to make adjustments after losing five seniors - three of them starters - from last year's team.
So far, sophomore Qaiserah Sharif and junior Martice Hyman are stepping forward to take on leadership roles.
"Qaiserah ... has emerged into a leader on the team. Her effort in practice has been great," Johnson said "She has definitely improved and gained confidence from last year. I look for her to make major contributions this year."
Juniors Leah Butler and Chaconna Marks are expected to be key contributors, but lone senior KeKe Gaither-Gibbs will be expected to set an example.
"KeKe will be a ball handler for us this year," the Newton coach said. "Being the only senior on the team, her leadership is definitely asset to the team."
Johnson expects freshmen Danyel Fourney, Jasmine LaGuins, Tai Avery, Emily Russ and Sade Weaver to be tested and contribute immediately.
"Danyel and Emily are both skilled post players who will be major impacts in the game. They are working the through the adjustment from middle school to one of the toughest high school regions in the state," Johnson said. "Jasmine is a good ball handler who will be an effective guard this year.
"I am pleased with the group of ninth-graders we have this year. They are ready to step in and be major factors on the team."
By using the team's speed and depth, Johnson is hoping to pressure teams and play at a higher tempo for all 32 minutes.
"Each player on the team plays a vital role. We are playing as a team and pushing each other to gBet better every day. I have confidence that the Lady Rams will be a major competitor this year," Johnson said. "As long as we work hard and give 110 percent, there are no limits to our season."
Manny Fils can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Newton girls basketball
Coach: Tiffani Johnson (third year)
Last year's record6-17
First game: 6 p.m. today against Madison County at Madison County
Key returning players: Chaconna Marks, Qaiserah Sharif and KeKe Gaither-Gibbs