The upside to becoming a full-fledged NCAA Division II member has been evident to Newman women's basketball coach Tracy Anderson.
And a lot of that, so far, has nothing to do with winning games.
"We've seen our profile go up quite a bit, we've seen the level of talent we're attracting go up, and we've seen our scholarship money go up," Anderson said. "But we all understand that the key to keeping any of that going is competing in the Heartland Conference."
Newman went 8-19 last season but played its best basketball in league play, going 5-9 and finishing fifth. This year, the Jets are picked to finish fourth and return their top two scorers in 5-foot-9 Rainey Nickel (8.9 points) of Augusta and 6-1 forward Ladessa Nachbor (6.3 points).
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"The thing that really stood out to me last year was that we had trouble finishing games," Nickel said. "I can think of three or four times where we had games go to overtime and lost. If we can finish better this season that's going to make a huge difference."
Newman will rely heavily on Nickel and Nachbor, at least early in the season, as the Jets have seven new players — four freshmen, three junior college transfers — on their 14-person roster.
Among the newcomers that could contribute right away are Cloud County transfer Monique Pitts and freshman point guard Heidi Leinberger.
Leinberger was an all-state pick at James Bowie High in Simms, Texas, last season, averaging 14.2 points, 5.6 assists, 3.1 steals and 4.2 rebounds.
Leinberger also shot 39 percent from beyond the three-point arc and 83 percent at the foul line.
"With the amount of new kids we've brought in, it can definitely try my patience at times," Anderson said. "You've got to teach all the time, so the returners are vital. A lot of these freshmen are going to have to learn in a trial-by-fire situation."