Newman’s Alexus Litts back after breakthrough volleyball season

08/27/2014 8:24 PM

08/28/2014 6:22 AM

“She’s one of those.”

Newman coach Natalie Rawson said this about junior setter Alexus Litts.

So did junior middle hitter Ashley Gonzalez, Litts’ teammate from their days at Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College.

It is probably the highest compliment either could give Litts, one of the best all-around players in the Heartland Conference.

“Last year we focused on a lot of things other people had to say about us, about changing how people viewed us,” Litts said. “Now, it’s on us. It’s about knowing we control everything that happens on the court and keeping that circle tight. Nobody can help us achieve our goals but us and coach.”

Litts’ determination fits with Rawson’s rebuilding project, as the former Louisiana-Monroe assistant led the Jets to their first winning season in five years in 2013, going 15-12 and 8-10 in Heartland play. It was Newman’s best season since moving up to NCAA Division II.

They were picked sixth in the Heartland’s preseason poll Aug. 5. Two-time defending champion Arkansas-Fort Smith was picked first.

“In that sense, we are still mostly underclassmen and we’re still very young,” Rawson said. “But for us, we feel like veterans because we have a season under our belts.”

Litts, an NJCAA All-American at Kirkwood in 2012, was second in the conference with 8.82 assists per set, third in digs with 5.23 per set and fourth with 31 service aces. She was Newman’s lone All-Heartland pick.

“(Litts) is very calming on the court, when things are going haywire she’s the one in control, the one who everyone trusts,” Rawson said. “She has great relationships with each girl, so it’s easy for her to direct and orchestrate the offense.”

Litts’ reward for her breakout season was surgery on her right knee to fix several meniscus tears and a cyst on the back of the knee. She rehabbed through the winter and spring, but is still in some pain.

“What I love about her is that she takes risks on the court as far as a setter, if a pass is really off the net, she’s running 10 or 15 feet and still shoots the ball back to our middle,” Rawson said. “And it’s coming so quick, you have to be really in sync with the middle hitters because the pass is pretty much coming from behind.”

Litts has two top middle hitters back in Gonzalez, who averaged 2.24 kills per set, and Heartland freshman of the year Jarin Braithwait.

“She reads the other side so well,” Gonzalez said. “She knows exactly where to put the ball.”

Newman opens the season Sept. 4, hosting Dallas Baptist. Litts said the biggest adjustment this season will be playing with the pain in her right knee.

“It’s just one of those things I have to learn to deal with,” Litts said.

That’s the simple version of what the Jets see day in and day out.

“She’s struggled with it, but she’s tough and she pushes through,” Gonzalez said. “She wants to play even when coach tells her no.

“She’s one of those.”

“She’s still battling it right now, but it’s going to be a chronic issue until she’s done playing,” Rawson said. “But she thinks she’ll just clean it up when she’s done playing.

“She’s one of those.”

Reach Tony Adame at 316-268-6284 or tadame@wichitaeagle.com. Follow him on Twitter: @t_adame.

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