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Newark ranked as top seed for conference tournament

Published: Saturday, Jan. 18, 2014 5:30 a.m. CDT

Only three teams have beaten the Newark Lady Norsemen so far during the 2013-14 girls basketball season. None of them belong to the Little Ten Conference.

Newark’s perfect conference record secured the No. 1 seed in the annual LTC tournament, which will be next week. The Lady Norsemen have lost twice to two nonconference opponents, Seneca and Wheaton Academy, and once to Fieldcrest but have won their other 15 games.

“We as a whole were proud to be ranked there,” Newark coach Brian Holman said. “It’s not something we necessarily have as a goal, but we put in a lot of hard work in the mornings and after school to get better as a team and being ranked No. 1 is a product of how hard the girls have worked.”

Not all of Newark’s conference wins have come easily. It defeated No. 2 Serena and No. 3 Hinckley-Big Rock by five points each. No. 6 LaMoille-Ohio stayed within six points of the Lady Norsemen, and one of their two possible semifinal opponents, No. 5 Indian Creek, played a 10-point game with them last Saturday.

“I think the nature of our team is being in close games,” Holman said. “We don’t have the firepower to run away from a lot of teams, so we’ve had to fight through some moments where we were losing or it was a close game throughout. We have a lot of versatility, and that has helped us find different things to work against different teams.”

Last season, the Lady Norsemen never played a game closer than 16 points as they rolled to a second straight conference tournament championship. Being favorites for a third was hardly a given entering the season, as Newark’s entire 2012-13 starting lineup was lost to graduation.

Freshman Jasmine Mitchell has emerged as the leading scorer (10.8 points a game), second-leading rebounder (6.0 a game) and leading shot-blocker (1.4 a game) for Newark. Kristine Zitt (7.6 PPG, 7.1 RPG) and Kelsea Zitt (7.1 PPG, team high 2.8 steals a game) have also produced.

“I knew at the beginning of the season we had talent, but I wasn’t sure how long it was going to take that talent to come together and be a good team. I had no reason to have low expectations, and I think I conveyed that to the girls early in the season and they responded,” Holman said.

“Even though we had a lot of new girls and some girls still missing at the start, it really has been a testament to how much work the girls put in to get where they are at now. They took a lot of pride in not having any letdowns and to keeping the winning tradition going.”

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