On the surface, it’s easy to wonder just what is going on out at Newport High School.
After all, its girls basketball team, which had made two consecutive trips to the Class 4A basketball tournament, started the season a rough 0-5. But a cursory glance doesn’t do the Knights justice.
Newport, which picked up its first win of the season Saturday at the Nike Tournament of Champions in Phoenix, Ariz., graduated 75 percent of its minutes played last year and 80 percent of its scoring. A core group of seniors graduated, a class that had gone 65-34 in its four years at the school.
One of those seniors – Betsy Kingma – was arguably the best player to ever come out of Newport. The freshman at Seattle Pacific University finished her career as the Knights all-time leading scorer with 1,570 points as well as the school’s all-time single season steals leader, with 81.
“You look at film last year and there were definitely times when we didn’t run great stuff and [Kingma] would bail us out at the end of it,” said Newport coach Travis Whitaker. “I don’t think we’ve found that kid with this group yet.”
Newport, which also lost offensive presence Caitlin Bennett and defensive specialist Randi Boseman, is an especially young group this year.
The team sports just one senior, Chanel Cambronero, and has two freshman (6-foot-3 post Casey Schoenlein and wing Abbi Gobel) playing significant minutes.
“It’s definitely something new,” said Cambronero of the elusive early season wins. “It’s such a young team and we have a lot of talent, so it’s been a little frustrating. It’s just a different team. In the long run, we should do pretty well.”
With new players comes a necessity to adapt. Whitaker said he’s never even coached a 6-footer before, so the team is learning to get opportunities for Schoenlein down low. The freshman put on a clinic in the Knights’ 46-38 victory over Bishop Alemany from Million Hills, Calif., on Dec. 18, scoring 14 points, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking six shots.
“I’m still getting used to this – we’ve never had size like this before,” Whitaker said. “We’re just learning on the go.”
Cambronero is another player learning on the fly. In addition to running the point, as she has the last two seasons, she’s now being asked to be the Knights’ No.1 scoring threat, a role she hasn’t had to fill in the past.
“I’ve never been one to be so aggressive at shooting,” she said. “Now, I’m trying to create my own shots and create for other people. It’s a lot more pressure.”
“I feel bad for her in some ways because she’s got to be the point guard first, so she’s got to be in charge of things like tempo and getting us into our sets,” Whitaker said. “But she’s also got to be our scorer and be selfish at times. And there’s a real balance there.”
The Knights have several other options, however.
There’s junior Chanel Dotson, who Whitaker calls the “jack of all trades” as well as sophomore forward Marikah Wright, who came on late last season and helped Newport get back to the Tacoma Dome.
“We just can’t read each other yet, but that takes time,” said Dotson. “Once we get that together, things will go well.”
Whitaker hopes the Nike tournament helps to kick start the season, saying he knew the early season schedule would be tough for his young team.
“I know that the potential is there for us to be a pretty decent team, but people have to get comfortable and that is going to take work,” he said. “Obviously, it’d be nice to see a win here or there to confirm what we’re doing. But it will come.”