The term "role player" often seems to carry with it a negative connotation. Not for Newman girls basketball coach Jay Howell.
"Every successful team has to have girls that are willing to lay it out for their teammates, even though their achievements don't always show up in the box score," Howell said. "I consider [role players] almost like the glue on the team."
Two of the Comets' key role players are juniors Kayci Howell – Jay's daughter – and Sara Nysather, the team's first player off the bench. Both have had their shining moments.
"Last year, we had a game against Erie when Sara hit three 3s and we won by one point," coach Howell said. "And, when we upset Riverdale, Kayci had 14 points."
Kayci Howell embraces the part she plays.
"I've kind of adapted to the role-playing, because I know I'm not a starter," she said. "I kind of enjoy the sixth-man role. Starting, I feel a lot of pressure. When you come off the bench, you see what the team needs you to do against that team. It's easier for me to come off the bench."
Though she's only 5-foot-1, Nysather's contributions are anything but small.
"She's the smallest girl on the team, but she's tenacious," coach Howell said. "And, she can be a zone-buster when her 3-point shot is on. She's one of the fastest girls on the team, and she can run the 1, 2 and 3 positions."
"I help out in every way I can," Nysather said. "If someone needs a break, I can go in and play their part. It doesn't really matter to me if I start or come off the bench. Whatever they need, I'll do."
Expectations are high after a young Newman squad went 11-19 last season after an 0-8 start. The Comets, who lost just one starter, were 9-5 in the Three Rivers Conference.
"Last year was a lot of building and learning who we are as a team," Kayci Howell said. "This summer, we played really well. I'm looking forward to it."
"We learned to work more as a team last year," Nysather added. "We've gotten more experience. I think we'll do pretty good this year."
Coach: Jay Howell (3rd season, 30-26)
2011-12: 11-19, 9-5 Three Rivers
Advancement: Lost 35-22 to Rock Falls in 2A Riverdale Regional semifinal
Key losses: Libby Allen F; Anna Grove F
Key returners: Rachel Hageman, sr. F; Jaimie Hurd, sr. G; Mary Alice Oswalt, jr. G
Opener: at Dixon, 6 p.m. Monday