The Newman girls’ basketball team returns a lot of experience, but not a lot of height.
“I play 10 girls, groups of five. Eight of those 10 played last year, a lot, which is nice,” head coach Mike Schutt said. “The most shooters I’ve had in a long time, we have almost no size, which, we had some six-footers last year. We’re not really going to have dominate posts, so we’re going to be playing much more on the perimeter.”
Among the eight returners, the Knights bring back three four-year varsity starters in Maria Determan, Paige Walker and Peyton Olson.
Olson, a multi-sport athlete, storms down the court at practice during a fast-break drill. Last year, Olson was the Knights’ top performer. She averaged 16 points per game, making 52 3-pointers and 33.9% of her field goals for a season total of 369 points.
At 5-foot-4, Olson embodies what the Knights have this year: the best of what they can make with their size. And basketball is her favorite sport.
“Feels like home,” Olson said. “Playing other sports just makes you see things differently and I think it just kind of makes you push yourself harder. You can’t focus on that one sport, you have to put more work in the offseason.”
The fast-break drill goes better than expected, the girls top their 58 points scored from last practice by almost 20 with 72 points. Adding more points to the scoreboard is one of the team’s goals.
“Effort and intensity. We try to play fast, concentrate on being fast and minimizing turnovers,” Schutt said. “Like I said, we’re pretty experienced so we should be able to handle a lot of that first game stuff, but we want to see them playing with effort.”
The team put the extra effort in this summer with a four-day tournament in Rolla, Missouri, at the Missouri School of Technology. There, the Knights took on one-loss teams from around the area, including one from east St. Louis and two from St. James.
Schutt says that the out-of-state tournament and three team camps have increased the overall confidence of the team in the offseason, including individual players.
“Kailah Thompson is a returning sophomore. She was a freshman last year and she played like a freshman,” Schutt said. “But we’re going to see a more confident player, someone who is more willing to take open shots, she’s a very good defensive player, always has been.”
The girls line up, taking turns at 3-pointers from different spots on the court. When one is made, exuberant screams fill the air inside the gym. Maybe it was the tentative plans of a team-trip to Culver’s after practice, or maybe it was just the excitement that basketball season is finally here.