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Newton's new face
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Trying to repeat a 21-win season is difficult enough, but looking to do it with an almost entirely new team is even more challenging.

For Newton and coach Tiffani Johnson, last year's playoff team was its own individual entity that wasn't going to be duplicated, but losing seven seniors takes it to another level.

Four of the Lady Rams five starters, their top player off the bench and two others graduated following the 2011-12 season, leaving the 2012-13 version almost brand new.

The only two players with much experience are juniors Precious Price and Tori Pharr, joining six other juniors who are mostly all up from the junior varsity team. The Lady Rams have two seniors in Micah Sneed and Tatianna Palms, but one is looking to gain varsity experience while the other was with J.V. last season.

"We're full of juniors but a lot of the juniors don't have game experience," Johnson said. "I lost most of my game experience."

Price has stepped up as the Lady Rams leader and has done a good job, helping Newton reach a 4-3 record, including going 1-1 in Region 2-AAAAAA play. Last year, there was plenty of leadership provided from the seven seniors, but this year is all new players and an all new attitude.

"She stepped into the leadership role and is being vocal on the floor," Johnson said. "Last year, we had all the seniors and everybody was vocal. Being the only remaining starter, she's assumed that leading role. Cynteria Langhorne has also stepped up being the energy for us when she gets into the game."

The seven-player turnover is the biggest Johnson has ever faced in her coaching career, previously losing as many as four players. But not all four of them were starters and the players behind them had more varsity experience.

This year's squad has recovered well, winning back-to-back games on two separate occasions and remaining in each loss. The Lady Rams biggest defeat, in terms of scoring margin, was a 40-25 loss at Alcovy Dec. 1, but it was closer than the score indicated with Newton being in it throughout the first half.

"It wasn't an out of reach game," Johnson said. "We made some mental mistakes that cost us the game. Talent wise, I don't think we're far from them."

The Lady Rams recovered from the Alcovy game with a 58-24 win over Lovejoy for their first region win of the season, and a 46-23 victory over Jackson, Atlanta Friday. On Saturday, the Lady Rams fell to Cedar Shoals 43-42, in a game Johnson feels they were very capable of winning.

Case in point, the Rams were leading 42-41 late but threw the ball away for another turnover, giving Cedar Shoals possession and a chance for the victory. It was the eighth straight win for the unbeaten Lady Jaguars, but it was one that the young Lady Rams almost claimed their own.

Johnson is hoping the late mistake, and others like it, serve as a learning point for Newton to continue to build on as it heads toward the region schedule.

"We're learning something and taking it with us moving onto the next game, making sure the same mistakes don't happen over again," Johnson "I think they're adjusting well. It's taking a couple of games to get our chemistry and we're going to find out what works and what does not."

The Lady Rams have three more games, including home matchups with Jackson, Atlanta Friday and Eastside Saturday, before playing in a Christmas tournament and then returning for region play. Newton opens full-time region play against Luella Jan. 4

It's a completely new region for Newton, which finished in the top four of 2-AAAAA in 2011-12. Now it competes in 2-AAAAAAA in the state's biggest classification with the likes of Alcovy, Newton, Lovejoy, Druid Hills, Luella and Morrow.

"I think the opportunity for the top spot is wide open," Johnson said. "It's not like last year with dominant Stephenson and dominant Westlake being region leaders and ranked in the state. I think this region leaves the floor wide open for everybody."