New­ton’s new faces

The Covington News - - SPORTS - BRYAN FAZIO bfazio@cov­

Try­ing to re­peat a 21win sea­son is dif­fi­cult enough, but look­ing to do it with an al­most en­tirely new team is even more chal­leng­ing.

For New­ton and coach Tif­fani John­son, last year’s play­off team was its own in­di­vid­ual en­tity that wasn’t go­ing to be du­pli­cated, but los­ing seven se­niors takes it to an­other level.

Four of the Lady Rams five starters, their top player off the bench and two oth­ers grad­u­ated fol­low­ing the 2011-12 sea­son, leav­ing the 2012-13 ver­sion al­most brand new.

The only two play­ers with much ex­pe­ri­ence are ju­niors Pre­cious Price and Tori Pharr, join­ing six other ju­niors who are mostly all up from the ju­nior var­sity team. The Lady Rams have two se­niors in Micah Sneed and Ta­tianna Palms, but one is look­ing to gain var­sity ex­pe­ri­ence while the other was with J.V. last sea­son.

“We’re full of ju­niors but a lot of the ju­niors don’t have game ex­pe­ri­ence,” John­son said. “I lost most of my game ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Price has stepped up as the Lady Rams leader and has done a good job, help­ing New­ton reach a 4-3 record, in­clud­ing go­ing 1-1 in Re­gion 2-AAAAAA play. Last year, there was plenty of lead­er­ship pro­vided from the seven se­niors, but this year is all new play­ers and an all new at­ti­tude.

“She stepped into the lead­er­ship role and is be­ing vo­cal on the floor,” John­son said. “Last year, we had all the se­niors and ev­ery­body was vo­cal. Be­ing the only re­main­ing starter, she’s as­sumed that lead­ing role. Cyn­te­ria Langhorne has also stepped up be­ing the en­ergy for us when she gets into the game.”

The seven-player turnover is the big­gest John­son has ever faced in her coach­ing ca­reer, pre­vi­ously los­ing as many as four play­ers. But not all four of them were starters and the play­ers be­hind them had more var­sity ex­pe­ri­ence.

This year’s squad has re­cov­ered well, win­ning back-to-back games on two sep­a­rate oc­ca­sions and re­main­ing in each loss. The Lady Rams big­gest de­feat, in terms of scor­ing mar­gin, was a 4025 loss at Al­covy Dec. 1, but it was closer than the score in­di­cated with New­ton be­ing in it through­out the first half.

“It wasn’t an out of reach game,” John­son said. “We made some men­tal mis­takes that cost us the game. Tal­ent wise, I don’t think we’re far from them.”

The Lady Rams re­cov­ered from the Al­covy game with a 58-24 win over Love­joy for their first re­gion win of the sea­son, and a 46-23 vic­tory over Jack­son, At­lanta Fri­day. On Satur­day, the Lady Rams fell to Cedar Shoals 43-42, in a game John­son feels they were very ca­pa­ble of win­ning.

Case in point, the Rams were lead­ing 42-41 late but threw the ball away for an­other turnover, giv­ing Cedar Shoals pos­ses­sion and a chance for the vic­tory. It was the eighth straight win for the un­beaten Lady Jaguars, but it was one that the young Lady Rams al­most

claimed their own.

John­son is hop­ing the late mis­take, and oth­ers like it, serve as a learn­ing point for New­ton to con­tinue to build on as it heads to­ward the re­gion sched­ule.

“We’re learn­ing some­thing and tak­ing it with us mov­ing onto the next game, mak­ing sure the same mis­takes don’t hap­pen over again,” John­son “I think they’re ad­just­ing well. It’s tak­ing a cou­ple of games to get our chem­istry and we’re go­ing to find out what works and what does not.”

The Lady Rams have three more games, in­clud­ing home matchups with Jack­son, At­lanta Fri­day and East­side Satur­day, be­fore play­ing in a Christ­mas tour­na­ment and then re­turn­ing for re­gion play. New­ton opens full-time re­gion play against Luella Jan. 4

It’s a com­pletely new re­gion for New­ton, which fin­ished in the top four of 2-AAAAA in 201112. Now it com­petes in 2-AAAAAAA in the state’s big­gest clas­si­fi­ca­tion with the likes of Al­covy, New­ton, Love­joy, Druid Hills, Luella and Mor­row.

“I think the op­por­tu­nity for the top spot is wide open,” John­son said. “It’s not like last year with dom­i­nant Stephen­son and dom­i­nant West­lake be­ing re­gion lead­ers and ranked in the state. I think this re­gion leaves the floor wide open for ev­ery­body.”

An­thony Banks /The Cov­ing­ton News

Pre­cious Price is New­ton’s only re­turn­ing starter on a team with plenty of new faces. The Lady Rams grad­u­ated seven se­niors from a 21-win 2011-12 squad.

An­thony Banks /The Cov­ing­ton News

Shay Lawrence goes for a jump shot ear­lier this sea­son as New­ton trav­eled to Al­covy for its first Re­gion 2-AAAAAA game.

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