With seven of the eight teams ranked in their respective divisions of the most recent state coaches poll, Newton High School girls' coach Randy Jordan will have a tough road to navigate at the 38th annual Newton Invitational Tournament, which begins today at Ravenscroft Gym.
The 7-2 Railers open play against 8-2 Andover Central at 8:15 p.m. today.
In the other games of the tourney, top-ranked (Class 5A) and unbeaten Kapaun-Mt. Carmel takes on 4-4 Dodge City at 3 p.m., sixth-ranked (Class 5A) Bishop Carroll takes on eighth-ranked (Class 6A) Garden City at 4:45 p.m., and second-ranked (Class 4A, Division II) Bishop Miege takes on fellow Johnson County squad and ninth-ranked (Class 6A) Olathe Northwest at 6:30 p.m.
Newton enters the tourney on a five-game winning streak.
"We're showing signs of getting things figured out," Newton coach Randy Jordan said. "Our biggest thing is we're real inconsistent. We'll play great basketball for a stretch, then we'll go flat for an extended period of time. I thought our last game against Valley Center, we had a shortened period where we went flat. In this tournament, you have any kind of flat period, you can get blown out by 30 points. There are that many good teams here. We can't do that. We've had some good practices. The kids are understanding how we have to play — how hard we have to play. That will be important all weekend."
In Newton's first game, Andover Central enters the contest ranked fifth in Class 4A, Division I. The Jaguars are coming off a 51-39 win over fifth-ranked (Class 6A) Maize. The Jags are on a seven-game winning streak. The team's sole losses are against cross-town rival Andover (42-41) and Salina Central (50-41).
Newton's last game was a 40-25 win over Valley Center last week that pushed the Railers up one spot in the Class 5A coaches poll to ninth.
Skylar Snodgrass leads the Jaguars at 12.0 points a game, followed by Masen Stamp at 10.9 points a game and Katie Kretchmar at 9.6 points a game. Kretchmar averages 8.4 rebounds a game.
"They're coming off a big win," Jordan said. "I believe we can play with anybody when we play our style of basketball. We guard as well as anybody in the state. It has to be at our tempo. When we go flat offensively, that's when we get into trouble. A lot of that is because we start making stuff up instead of running what they're suppose to run. We're getting better."
For Newton, Taylor Stahly is averaging 11.6 points a game, followed by Hannah Carlgren at 9.8 points a game and Payton Roberts at 6.1 points a game.
Kapaun is led by Sam Bachrodt at 18.7 points a game and Sydney Kuhn at 13.8 points a game. Newton beat Kapaun twice last season — in the third-place game of the NIT and the third-place game at state.
Dodge City is led by Katrina Roenfeldt at 15 points and six rebounds a game.
"It would be a great opportunity to play them again," Jordan said. "We've been focusing on doing our stuff right and not worrying about the opponent. If we focus on what we do right, winning will take care of itself. Kapaun is playing well right now. Dodge City is the only team in the tournament that is not ranked, but they will still be a difficult matchup."
On the other side of the bracket, Bishop Carroll is led by Jordyn Miller at 11.2 points a game and Shelby Lopez at 9.9 points a game. Garden City is led by Jaymie Bernbeck at 17.5 points and 7.5 rebounds a game.
Newton edged Garden City 41-35 in the third-place game of the Hays City Shootout at the start of the season.
Olathe Northwest is led by Shaleia Jamison at 14.5 points a game. Stats from Bishop Miege were not reported. Miege is the defending champion of the tournament, edging Northwest 50-47 last season.
"We'll grow up a lot in this," Jordan said. "We don't have any choice. We will have to get better. Carroll brought back some good players from last year and is playing well. Miege did the same thing. They have a very good point guard who is playing well. Olathe Northwest lost some Division I girls, but still have a good team coming back.
"We have to take care of the ball. We have to value the possessions better. We're starting to understand that in practice. We have to run our offense. If we continue to do that, we have a very good chance. We have to play good defense and make the other team take contested shots."
Things get no easier for the Railers when the tournament is over.
"We come out of the NIT, we have Salina Central, Goddard Eisenhower and Maize," Jordan said. "I try to break the season up in chunks. We have a real difficult challenge."