Sister act reunites at UMDKatrina and Jessica Newman of Barnum reunite on the basketball court this year for the University of Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. Katrina, a year older, averaged 11.1 points and 5.6 rebounds per game in earning NSIC Freshman of the Year honors for the Bulldogs last year.
By: Tyler Korby, Pine Journal
DULUTH – Growing up on the family dairy farm, Barnum sisters Katrina and Jessica Newman used to take turns shooting buckets on their barn-side basketball hoop in between daily chores.
Now they just go to Romano Gymnasium.
That’s because this fall their “sister act” is back and part of the University of Minnesota Duluth women’s basketball program, with Katrina in her second season as a sophomore forward, and Jessica her first as a freshman guard.
After going a year without each other – Katrina with the Bulldogs and Jessica still with the Bombers – the former Barnum High School superstars both said suiting up together again at UMD is quite the luxury.
“We definitely have a sister bond,” said Katrina. “I know what [Jessica] is going to do, and having played with her so long I trust her. So having that back here has been nice.”
“Being able to play with [Katrina] again is something I missed,” added Jessica. “Just being able to practice with her is enough for me.”
But the girls got more than that last week when they both started in the Bulldogs’ 63-60 season-opening win over Northern Michigan on Nov. 13.
Jessica earned a starting spot on Coach Annette Wiles’ lineup when senior guard Shelly Stemper sat out with a concussion from a practice earlier this week.
“We really felt that Jess was the best fit,” Wiles said. “I think we all thought that Shelly would return, and it wasn’t until the day before the game – on the bus – that we said ‘OK, she’s starting.’”
Noting that Stemper likely will soon return to her starting role, Wiles added that Jessica will probably see significant minutes this winter due to her talents on the defensive side of the ball.
“Her ability to defend as a freshman is as impressive as I’ve seen in a long time,” said Wiles, a 19-year college coach who took over at UMD before the 2008-09 season. “She is a special player defensively who can take her defense and create offense.”
Katrina, meanwhile, hasn’t changed her torrid scoring ways.
Following a 2,000-plus-point career at Barnum, the 5-foot-11 playmaker was named the Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference Freshman of the Year a season ago for the Bulldogs and has matured into a full-time starter under Wiles.
“We talked about having her as a guard, but then the reality set in for us,” said Wiles of Katrina, who had 21 points and 12 rebounds against Northern Michigan. “She has a nose for the ball and is always around the basket. She’s probably one of the most under-sized post players in the league, but she’s a player who finds a way to get it done.”
Katrina, Jessica and Bulldogs (2-1) will have their home debut Tuesday at 6 p.m. when they welcome the University of Wisconsin Superior to Romano in a women’s-then-men’s doubleheader before the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Looking back, the Newmans’ knack for the game came years ago. Tagging along with their father, Rich, both Katrina and Jessica loved going to his Barnum boys basketball practices. They played there, but – more importantly – they learned how the sport worked.
“We grew up in the gym,” said Katrina, who is the older sibling to Jessica and brothers Justin and Brandon, who also play basketball. “That’s what we did.”
“They spent a lot of time in there,” Rich said. “They played a lot of basketball. Other people went on vacations. We didn’t. We’d be in the gym.”
Those well-polished skills are what drew Wiles to Barnum. Hearing constantly that she needed to watch the sisters when she took over at UMD, Wiles said the Newmans were the first on her list of recruits to see in action.
“I was on the job for about a week when I was told there was some exceptional talent just down the road in Barnum,” recalled Wiles. “They were the first game I went to.
“They were definitely the bull’s eye and both kids that we wanted to keep here,” she continued. “They’re great people who come from a great family. They obviously have chemistry and they know what it takes to win.”
Both sisters added that playing together in college wasn’t always their plan.
“It didn’t really open my eyes until Coach Wiles offered us both scholarships to play here,” Jessica said. “And then it was like ‘Oh, well that could be an option.’”
Many would say that option was offered because of their continuous hard work.
“They know what commitment is,” said their mother, Corina. “Growing up, they always knew they had to get their chores done before they played ball…but that hoop was always going.”