The Newman Comets girls basketball team is going to find out soon if it has the right stuff to contend for a Three Rivers Conference crown.
The Comets (10-6, 6-0) got through the pre-Christmas portion of the league schedule unscathed, but haven't tangled with beasts Prophetstown or Riverdale yet. That will change tonight, when the Prophets come to town. The only regular-season meeting against the Rams is slated for Feb. 9 in Sterling.
"I think we can prove to a lot of people by winning this game that we're the real deal," Newman senior forward Rachel Hageman said, "and that we can play with awesome teams like Prophetstown."
Newman coach Jay Howell, while pleased with his team's run through the conference so far, realizes the importance of the contest against a traditional league power.
"We've kind of had the date circled on our calendar," Howell said.
Howell used words like disciplined, tough, quick and tenacious in describing the Prophets (17-2, 5-0), who suffered just their second loss of the season, to Riverdale, in the championship game of the Prophetstown tournament on Saturday. If anything, according to Howell, that will make his team's task even more difficult.
"Prophetstown, they play a great man-to-man defense, and they really play within their system," Howell said. "They'e going to be a load, and coming off a loss to Riverdale on Saturday night, they're going to be pretty excited to come in here."
Prophetstown coach Don Robinson noted his team got away from two of its staples, pressure defense and a patient offense, in a 46-29 loss to Riverdale.
"We know what our identity is," Robinson said, "and if we just try to outscore a team and go cold, it can go the other way. That's what happened the other night."
In Newman, Robinson sees a balanced team that plays great defense, much like the better Comets teams of the past.
"You're going to have to earn everything you get against Newman," he said. "They're not going to give you anything."
Like Prophetstown, Newman is coming off a rough outing. The Comets went 1-3 at the State Farm Classic, with losses to Annawan, Prairie Central and St. Joseph-Ogden and a win against Camp Point Central.
Instead of questioning themselves, however, the Comets look at the State Farm as a toughening-up process for what lies ahead.
"It was a loaded bracket that we were in," Howell said, "and I think the girls understand what kind of competition we were up against down there. I don't think confidence-wise that should affect us too much."
"It was really a good experience," Hageman said, "and I think it will help us to play these big teams like Prophetstown and Riverdale."
Prophetstown at Newman
When: 7:30 p.m. today
At stake: Winner will have sole possession of Three Rivers lead