NH classmates covered for the loss of Mannis

By JOSEPH ELERSON, News-Telegram Sports Writer

Feb. 11, 2008 - BIRTHRIGHT - After the loss of North Hopkins senior Jessi Mannis due to a stress fracture during the cross country season, senior teammates Cayla Newkirk and Megan Lehr became the emotional leaders for the Lady Panthers basketball team.

"This season was a learning experience for us," said Newkirk, the daughter of Thurman and Cindy Newkirk. "We had a lot of younger girls come out and play with a freshman and a couple of sophomores, and we didn't win as many games as we wanted to. Overall, this season helped out the younger girls."

The Lady Panthers did not make the playoffs this season after finishing with a 6-21 overall record and a 3-5 record in District 18-A, Div. I.

"It was tough watching everyone play, and I had to be on the bench," Mannis said. "It was tough because it was my last year and I felt like I missed out on a lot since I love basketball so much. It was fun playing the last nine games of the season.

"I wanted to play with Cayla because we have played together for so long, and playing with Cayla was the only reason that I came back this season."

Head coach Tim Menke said having Mannis out of action was tough, but once she came back it made things easier for the team.

"She (Jessi) is one of the most competitive athletes that I have ever coached," the coach said. "She has a very strong desire to win and that is probably one of her best attributes.

"She was on some very good teams early in her career. This year, her role changed and it was difficult for her. We got her for the first district game so she played nine games for us. Things got easier for the team when she joined because she was our point guard."

For Lehr, missing out on the playoffs for her senior year was one of the toughest things she has gone through in high school.

"I think it was the high expectations that were put on us this year. We didn't manage to live up to them due to injuries and teammates out and we couldn't function as a team," Lehr said, the daughter of Barry and Janet Lehr. "It was really hard for us because all three of us have gotten to go since our freshman year, and this year we didn't even go past district."

Newkirk said even though the team won just six games, she knew she had to stay with the team and help out the younger players.

"Your senior year you want to go out big and win all of your district games and that didn't happen for us this year," Newkirk said. "No matter how tough it got, I knew that I couldn't quit because this was my senior year."

Menke said once Mannis was out with the injury, Newkirk and Lehr knew what their role was for the team in hopes of leading them to victories.

"Megan Lehr was our post player and made some improvements for us this year," the coach said. "She was a pretty good rebounder and good defender, and she has improved every year that we had her on the team.

"Cayla Newkirk was one of the shorter players that I have ever coached. She is a fine defensive player and often drew the assignment of guarding the other team's best guard."

Newkirk and Mannis said playing for Menke was one of the best memories they will have of their senior year at North Hopkins.

"When Coach Menke wanted to get a drill done right, he would get Jessi to do the individual drill to show them how to do it," Newkirk said. "One thing about Coach Menke is that he is always right. He would tell us if we do a certain play that this girl would get open and she would get the easy basket. He knows what he is talking about."

"He never gives up on you and he pushes you," Mannis said. "He is a really good coach and I will miss him a lot."

Newkirk plans on attending Texas Women's University in hopes of getting a degree in medicine, while Lehr plans on getting a degree in finance at Texas A & M University-Commerce in the fall.

Meanwhile, Mannis signed a track and cross country scholarship last week -to run for Dallas Baptist University.

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