As far as having a blank canvas to work with, first-year Newman volleyball coach Natalie Rawson is pretty much there.
“We’re really starting from scratch,” Rawson said. “We only have three players back from last season, 13 new players and a whole new coaching staff. That’s a fresh start for everyone, and it’s not to do with who we have been or how the team has done in the past.”
What the team has done in the past, especially the last two seasons under Tessa Jones, has been underwhelming by any standard.
The Jets went 4-19 last season, including their second straight 2-12 record in the Heartland Conference. Newman is on a five-year streak of losing seasons and hasn’t cracked double-digit wins since going 14-16 in 2010.
“Past years don’t matter,” Rawson said. “What matters is what we do with the kids now. And what I’ve seen out of them is that they’re very talented, and more than that they’ve got a great work ethic and desire to be part of something. To be part of changing something with the program.”
Rawson spent the last three seasons as the top assistant at another NCAA Division II school, Midwestern State, and before that was a Division I assistant at Louisiana-Monroe, even taking over as the interim coach at one point in the offseason.
“That wasn’t the best situation to be in to be successful,” Rawson said of her time at Louisiana-Monroe. “I needed to be somewhere else and get in a better spot, for me.”
Rawson wasn’t hired at Newman until April, and although she missed out on a full cycle of recruiting, she did manage to bring in five players on her own to go with the eight that Jones had picked up commitments from. Rawson brought in two junior-college players in Butler Community College’s Shelby Zoglman and Pratt’s Tori Provencio.
“The recruiting aspect and not having that to begin with is probably the hardest thing for a coach,” Rawson said. “You miss out on a lot when you don’t get to recruit a kid because they get to know you and you get to know them during that process. It’s such a huge thing for them to be away from home to begin with, but throw in all these new teammates and new coaches and that can be really difficult. They’re trying to read me and I’m trying to read them. Nobody knows what to expect.”
Zoglman played her freshman season at Fort Hays State and had 184 kills last season for the Grizzlies. Provencio, a libero, was a two-time honorable mention All-Jayhawk Conference selection.
All three players that return from last season’s roster at Newman were starters in Belinda Rohling, Tori Alderson and sophomore Samantha Minihan. Alderson led the Jets with 281 digs last season. Rohling and Alderson are both seniors.
“The seniors have really shown me another level of focus since we started practicing,” Rawson said. “You can see that push with them, knowing that it’s their last year. Tori, especially, has really worked on her game. She’s been doing great.”
Newman scrimmages Friends on Friday night at 7 p.m. at Friends, then travels to Fort Hays State to scrimmage next Wednesday. The Jets open their season Sept. 6 at the Nebraska-Kearney Tournament against South Dakota School of Mines.