Derrck Mahone/Douglas County Sentinel Freshman Ayana Howell has been in the New Manchester starting lineup this season.

With returning three players out with injuries to start the season, New Manchester coach Vincent Parks has had to reply on a trio of freshmen in the early part of the season.

It doesn’t seem like the Jaguars have missed a beat with the youngsters in the playing rotation.

Freshmen Hannah Wright and Anaya Howell have started while Azaria Robertson is getting significant playing time as the team is 2-0 in the region.

“Those three have played very well for us,” Parks said. “Wright has scored some while Anaya is my defensive specialist.”

This time last season, all three were playing at nearby Chestnut Log Middle School, which finished as county runner-up.

Now, that have been key components in the New Manchester rotation.

“It has been an adjustment from middle school to varsity basketball,” Howell said. “We have made our share of mistakes. Of course you are nervous at the beginning of the game but then you start to get comfortable.”

All five starters were expected back from last season’s team, which clinched its first-ever state playoff berth. The Jaguars upset Mays in the Region 5-AAAAAA Tournament semifinals to advance to the championship game.

However, injuries to Anaya Cone, Tracey Lavender and Nakia Wilson has thrust the three freshmen into immediate playing time.

Last week, New Manchester defeated defending state-champion Mays in a big region win.

All three of the freshmen played a big part in the win with Wright contributing 10 points.

The younger players have earned the respect of the veterans.

“They have been a tremendous help to the team,” Jaguars senior point guard Ja’Lisya Glover said. “They have definitely come a long way but still have somethings to learn.”

Howell said that the upperclassmen have been willing to teach them about when they have questions.

“They have made it a lot easier for us,” Howell said. “When we have questions, we know we can go to them.”

Parks said the camaraderie among the team has been a big key in the success in the early part of the season.

“They have played well since the start of the season,” Parks said. “They really haven’t played as freshmen. If I was really honest, I would say that I’m more surprised than pleased with the entire situation. I’ve really been impressed with the way our young kids have performed.”

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