A glance at Newark’s roster reveals a startling amount of youth.
Seven sophomores and two freshmen have joined one senior and two juniors.
However, coach J.R. Shumate also sees talent and athleticism. He’ll have a full season of 6-foot-2 sophomore Kym Royster, who will team with 6-4 senior Paige Cashin to give the Wildcats a formidable front line. With multi-talented junior Maggie Mitchell running the point, Newark again will be a force in the Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division and Central District.
“We have a lot of potential, a real high ceiling,” Shumate said. “We may be more of a second-half-of-the-season type of team because we’re so young.”
Mitchell, who averaged 17.4 points per game and shot 75 percent at the free throw line, takes over at the point for Reed Huffman and her nearly six assists per contest. But Shumate expects the transition to be seamless.
“She’s been used to having the ball in her hands a lot, all the way up through,” he said. “She can be a scoring point guard, and is more comfortable having the ball in her hands all the time.”
Cashin, headed to Division I South Florida, benefited from a summer on an elite AAU team after averaging 10.4 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shots in 2011-12.
“They had a lot of posts; practices were crazy and it definitely got me ready,” she said. “It helped me with my shot, and I’m more aggressive. It showed I’m ready for the next level.”
Having Royster on the block with her will take a lot of the pressure off Cashin.
“We can do a little more high-low, and exploit our advantage inside,” Shumate said. “Kym has progressed in every level of the game. She’s a much better post player, can get out and run the floor, and has improved her ball handling and shooting. She’s also being a leader. She’s very vocal.”
Leadership will be needed with all the youth. Sophomores Ali Cartnal, Taylor Henson and Lexi Swift and freshmen Tana Barrett and Mylanda Bunch will be on the floor a lot.
“We’re very athletic,” Mitchell said. “Lexi and Mylanda are sparks defensively. All summer, we were up tempo and running with long passes to Kym. Our depth helps tremendously.”
Henson and Cartnal are both good shooters, although Cartnal has been slowed by a broken nose. At 5-11, Barrett is an excellent leaper still learning the game after not picking it up until the seventh grade.
“Just because they’re young doesn’t mean everything,” Cashin said. “They have height, quickness and all the skills. We have high aspirations this year.”
Shumate said the Wildcats are ready to take the next step, after losing in the district semifinals this past season.
“The first couple years, we were trying to be relevant in the league and district,” he said. “Our goal now is to win the league and the district.”
“We want to be able to go out and beat Pickerington North, Reynoldsburg and Gahanna,” Mitchell said. “We don’t want to be average any more.”