Newton girls look to improve

COVINGTON -- With 10 players returning from last year's team, including six that were in the starting rotation, the Newton girls basketball team is in a position to grow in leaps and bounds.

"It's good because we didn't have to go that far back and refreshing. We were able to move on and start in a good place," Newton head coach Tiffani Johnson said. "That forward progress and confidence with maturity level on the floor will definitely be an advantage this year."

One major part of the Lady Rams' team is the return of Emili Russ for her senior year. Russ missed a lot of last season after having knee surgery. However, she's back without having any evidence that she was ever injured.

"It's good getting Emili back. She came in and it was almost like she never left. She's been working hard and can't tell she was ever injured. She's stepped right into that leadership role. Before she was vocal on the bench now she's vocal and leads by example this year," Johnson said.

Another big part of last year's team (16-13 overall, 10-4 Region 2-AAAAA), which made it to went first round of the Class AAAAA playoffs before losing to Campbell 75-50, is sophomore Precious Price.

As a freshman, Price tended to show her emotions during the game. However, another year older only makes for a better player.

"Its allowed her to see the floor better and learn how to be a leader on the floor and control tempo. Her basketball I.Q. has increased. Her talent and speed has always been there," Johnson said. "But to put that mental piece has been an improvement in her game."

Joining Russ and Price as part of the starting rotation are Danyel Forney, Mikola Burks, Tori Pharr and Jasmine LaGuins. Also returning from last year are Sonia Forney, Deandra Reed, Tai Avery and Tiffany Walker.

"With the rotation I have now, I have several different rotations where it will have someone that's started before. I don't have anybody in the starting position that will be brand new. We still players working to get there. This experience gives us a deeper look, I'm able to mix my line up. It'll depend on who we're playing, what the match ups are and who's doing what at practice. It gives me more options than we've had in the past," Johnson said.

The other advantage to having experienced starters and an experienced bench is that the girls know each other. This familiarity makes it easier for the team to gel. It also makes it easier to know and trust that each player will be where they're suppose to be on the floor.

"You can have all the talent in the world, but if those players don't have that chemistry it doesn't really mean too much," Johnson said. "We have experience so I think that makes us even faster. Everybody is on the same page and ready to go and they're able to give a couple of different looks defensively."

With a strong group of starters and bench players, Johnson feels that this could be the year where they host a playoff game after going to the playoffs as the No. 4 seed. Of course with such teams in the region like Stephenson, Westlake, Luella and M.L. King, Johnson knows it will not be easy.

"I think we'll be right up there with them. Last year we were able to go the tournament as the No. 4 seed. I'm hoping that we stay in the top again. We definitely have the talent and the chemistry," Johnson said. "Our seniors are hungry and know it's their last go around. The underclassmen are eager to send the seniors out with something big. It's definitely one of our goals."