In a quest for a state championship, Newaygo's senior duo adopt long-term intuition
Jaxi Long (13) of Newaygo is looking to make an inbounds pass to Emmerson Goodin (14) during a division 2 quarterfinal against Wayland Monday, April 5, 2021.
NEWAYGO Jaxi Long barely looked at the defense when she shot a full-length pass down the court during a home game against Grant on January 14th.
Emmerson Goodin, a senior point guard on the Newaygo girls basketball team, knew her long-time teammate was racing past the rest of the Tiger defense and only needed a well-placed pass to finish the play at the rim. Like they have had hundreds of times during their four-year varsity careers, the dynamic duo completed the scoring play in transition to give the Lions a 21-point lead midway through the third quarter.
Newaygo closed the contest in the fourth quarter for a 48-24 victory over Grant, bringing the competition to 9-1 overall and 5-0 in the Central State Activities Association Gold Division.
Goodin finished with 14 points, 14 assists, four steals, and two blocks to beat Newaygo, while Jaxi Long added 14 points, four assists, and Lily Swinehart added nine points and nine assists.
After the game, Long of Goodin said, Were certainly in sync.
It really helps us, because we know what the other person is going to do, and we can plan for what the next step is when we are out there, said Goodin of her senior teammate.
The two standouts for Newaygo have been friends since Kindergarten and have been playing basketball together since the third grade, making the 2021-22 season a nostalgic one for the two players who have shared the same court for a decade.
Long said, Its kind of bittersweet, because we both like to win and we have a solid team this year, but we also know that this is the last season we'll get to play here.
This team is really fun to be a part of and we all get together really well, so it makes everything we go through this season more enjoyable, said Goodin.
Long and Goodin were key components in Newaygo's 21-2 season last winter, which culminated with a state finish in Division 2.
That taught us that hard work can get you pretty much anywhere," Long said. We also made us hungrier this offseason because we wanted to prove that we could do it again and it wasnt a fluke. We wanted to return and win the conference and go as far as we can in the playoffs.
Last season, the Lions won 55-48 against Grand Rapids West Catholic in the regional final.
I think we learned that it doesnt matter about your size or your numbers, its all about who works harder and who executes better in the postseason, said Goodin of his fantastic run to the state championship game.
The two senior leaders are now hoping to put the finishing touches on their stellar varsity career. Long recently eclipsed the 1,000-point milestone in her varsity career, while Goodin surpassed 500 career rebounds during the opening game of the season.
I think we have improved a lot since the freshmen year, and it's been really fun to grow together as a team and make that long playoff run last year, said Long.
The Russian year was definitely a bit rocky, but now, were hoping to finish our careers with a conference title and a new chance to stay active as long as we can, said Goodin.
Nate Thomasma, the newaygo head coach, has a list of his senior leaders this season.
They are great leaders in their own, different way, he said. Emmerson is pretty soft-spoken, so she leads by example and by being one of the hardest workers on the team. She's very strong-willed and she's going to set the bar high for the rest of the team to follow.
"Jaxi is a bit more vocal, but she's not really a 'rah-rah' type of leader either. She's just a smart player who does everything the right way and she's very coachable.
Long's coachability reflects her upbringing, as her father, Jason, is the boys' varsity basketball coach at Newaygo.
Shes just a tough kid, said Thomasma. Shes mentally tough and her basketball IQ is very high. She knows how to create space for her shot or use angles to get to the rim when she needs to and shes just never rattled by the situation.
When she is paired with the playmaking style of her senior teammate at point guard, Thomasma believes his senior forward is a game-changing athlete.
Emerson is a difficult player to match up with in the post, and she's fast enough to play the wing. if we ever get pressed, we can even raise the ball as a guard.
"She's not quite at the 1,000-point mark, because she wasn't really a big scorer when she was a freshman, but she's probably in the 720-point range and she's already got more than 600 rebounds as a varsity player, which is remarkable given her versatility to do a little bit of everything when she's out there for us."
The Lions intend to continue to exercise their defensive strength and versatility to overpower their opponents in the coming season.
This team has played together for a long time, especially the first five and thats really helped us become a better defensive team in the last few years, because everybody knows when to switch on a defensive assignment, and there's a group of very talented athletes out there too.
As a coach, I really feel confident in whatever defense we are in, because we have players like Kayla (Fisk), Grace (Painter), Lily Swinehart, Emmerson, and Jaxi who can guard pretty much any position on the court.
Newaygo will play in Reed City on Tuesday, followed by a home game against Chippewa Hills on January 21 as they continue to maintain a lead in the CSAA Gold Division standings midway through the season.
I think we can continue to get better, he said. Thats all I honestly ever want to talk about with the girls. We dont even feel like we need to talk about the conference standings right now because that will not matter if we dont continue to work hard and prepare for our next opponent.
We understand that things are a lot different now. We went from the hunters to the hunted and we are going to get everybody's best shot moving forward. We can't overlook people and we cannot be focused on something down the road, said the new coach.
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