State Colleges

Spence patient with Jets’ rebuilding

The support system is in place, with assistant coaches, facilities, administration and the school itself behind the Newman women’s basketball team.

The players — and the wins — will hopefully come later.

For now, first-year coach Darin Spence must be patient.

With the Jets 6-12 overall and 1-5 in Heartland Conference play after two seasons sitting atop the league and just one season removed from playing in the NCAA Division II Tournament, that can be a tough task.

Spence only returned three players off last season’s team in Kianna Flannagan, Anna Sonka and Sumayyah Muhammad. One player returned from 2010-2011 in Bobbi Coleman, but only Flanagan, who leads Newman with 13.8 points per game, has been a consistent contributor. All four are seniors.

“It’s challenging when you have a situation where you have to force some things together,” Spence said. “Even the four seniors were like freshman at first because there’s newness for everyone, everything about our approach is different.

“Even at that, they’ve worked hard and done a good job. None of those four has had to carry the load in the last year or two and we’ve asked them to do that at times.”

The Jets have also received a boost from 6-foot freshman guard/forward, Alexandra Ciabattoni, who averages 13.1 points and 8.1 rebounds. Ciabbatoni, from Australia, scored 27 points against Kansas on Dec. 9, and has scored in double digits all but four games.

“We’re really close to having the talent level to not only make the (league) playoffs, but to make a run,” Spence said. “We just don’t have that go-to player yet.”

Spence has already started building his roster for next season, signing three players in the early signing period. All will be freshman in 2013-2014.

Spence signed Tessa Ramsay, a 6-1 forward from Australia, Cierra Tjaden, a 5-10 point guard from Waverly (Neb.) High and Jenna Farris, a 5-8 guard from Lincoln.

“We feel like we’ve got our stability starting to take shape, and we’ll probably add some more impact players in the spring,” Spence said. “Maybe more high school players, maybe transfers ... I want to make sure I turn over every rock. We’re so close to breaking out and being really good.”

The players aren’t the only ones who have had to grow acclimated to a new environment — Spence spent eight seasons as the coach at Division I New Mexico State and last season at Barton County. He’s also been an NAIA coach, at now-closed Marymount in Salina.

Newman is Spence’s first job on the NCAA Division II level.

“I really like who I get to work around every day, from (athletic director) Vic Trilli to (men’s coach) Mark Potter and my assistants, Jerise Lollar and Mik Love,” Spence said. “I can tell you one thing we always need to be working on is getting the area kids that can step in and play.”