State Colleges

Reinvigorated Newman volleyball off to solid start

There’s still a lot of volleyball to be played. That’s an obvious hangup when looking at the early results for the Newman volleyball team.

But put that aside for just a second, because the Jets have already eclipsed last season’s win total and matched their wins in the Heartland Conference.

“The coolest thing I’ve heard from people that come to games is that there’s just something about this team that is so different,” said Newman first-year coach Natalie Rawson. “And that’s huge to me. (The team) works so hard in practice and they love what they’re doing … I always tell them it’s not necessarily about the wins and losses every time but did we get better? Do they have that desire to continue the process?

“If they keep doing all those things, that’s going to take us farther than people think we ever could. Right now, we’re having a blast.”

The Jets won’t have to go far for most of October — they play seven of their next eight matches at home between now and Oct. 19. They’re 5-6 overall and 2-4 in Heartland Conference play headed into Thursday’s match against Texas A&M-International at Fugate Gymnasium. It kicks off a four-match week at home for the Jets as they face St. Mary’s on Saturday, Southwestern on Monday and Northwestern Oklahoma State next Thursday.

“It’s a very unusual schedule, but sometimes you’ve just gotta go when you can and get the work in,” Rawson said. “We’ve been on the road for the last two weeks so it’s good to be home.”

Newman went 4-19 last season — 2-13 in Heartland play.

“We’re all starting fresh and getting a lot of support on campus and from the fans,” said freshman middle hitter Jarin Braithwait. “It’s been fun. Our team is really like a family.”

Braithwait, 5-foot-10, was named Heartland hitter of the week on Sept. 23 and is second on the Jets with 98 kills (2.81 per set). Sophomore setter Alexus Litts, a transfer from Kirkwood (Iowa) Community College, was named Heartland setter of the week on Sept. 9.

“Jarin is really getting the speed of the offense, and that we want it to go very fast,” Rawson said. “Getting her on that tempo was the biggest change for her. She looks young, so she’s not really intimidating when she’s out there but she has all the fundamentals in place and is a very smart hitter.”

Litts leads the Jets with 343 assists (7.31 per set) and is third in the Heartland with 18 service aces.

“(Litts) has phenomenal hands and is hard for blockers to read,” Rawson said. “She puts every hitter in the best position possible, a lot of 1-on-1 opportunities and that’s not just about deceiving the other team, it’s about knowing the other team and that makes a big difference. She studies film and tendencies and that shows when she plays.”

And the more opportunities the Jets get to play together, the more they seem to thrive.

“We’ve all started fresh here and the more we’re around each other, the more we’re learning,” Litts said. “You can see the improvement every time we get out there. We’re putting in the work to get better.”