Jay Howell folded his arms as the Newman girls basketball coach watched his team run through a drill Thursday in the school's practice facility.
The four courts were bustling. The boys and girls basketball teams were both practicing, and the cheerleaders were rehearsing stunts on mats off to the side. Even with all the activity, a chill was still in the air for those not running around.
"It's chilly in here," Howell said. "This place is great, but it's not made for subzero days like this."
There's good reason for Howell to worry about things being cold as his Comets' gear up for next week's 2A Newman Regional.
The most notable being his team's shooting. The Comets play Fulton in the regional semifinal Wednesday
The last time Newman met the Steamers was Jan. 15 in Fulton. According to Howell, the Comets shot 10-for-68 (15 percent) from the field and 9-for-22 (41 percent) from the free-throw line in a 37-31 loss. Newman (13-11) couldn't buy a bucket, and the Comets struggled to find their way around and over 6-foot center Morgan Wierema.
"You can't shoot like that," Howell said. "Part of that is on us, but we also didn't handle Wierema very well. I think she leads the area in blocks, and we were very aware of her every time we got near the basket."
One key in the rematch will be trying to create turnovers on defense and converting them into layups on the other end before Wierema is able to take her place on the block.
"Pressuring the ball is one of the things that we've done really well this season," Newman senior guard Jaimie Hurd said. "We have to do that, and we have to be ready to get the ball out into transition if they do get a shot off."
If they are able to beat Fulton, they'll likely match up with Riverdale (21-2) in the championship game Friday.
The Comets lost to the Rams 52-35 on Tuesday in a game that was close at half before Riverdale, the 10th ranked team in 2A, pulled away in the third quarter.
Riverdale outscored Newman 18-7 in the frame. One particularly frigid quarter against good teams has been a consistent problem for the Comets this season.
They also led the Propehtstown Prophets by a point at halftime Jan. 10, but ended up losing by 12.
"I am not sure why it's happened like that," Hurd said. "I think we come out with a lot of energy, and then just seem to lose it after half."
"I think it's a matter confidence," Howell said. "Teams like Riverdale are very confident. They play very well together and trust each other. We play well, and then a few mistakes and missed shots lead to trouble. It's a combination of a lot of things.
"The one thing is sure that we'll have to play a full four quarters if we want to continue playing. I think the girls know that."
The redeeming quality for the Comets is that they start seniors Hurd, Rachel Hageman and Hannah Erickson. Junior Mary Alice Oswalt has also logged a lot of starting time the last three seasons. That sort of experience should help keep the Comets from being left out in the cold after next week.
"It's going to help a lot, because we won't want it to be our last game of the year," Hurd said. "Plus, it will be at home, which is always more fun. We'll have our fans supporting us, and that will motivate us to be ready."