Moral support was the only help Tanadra Spivey could provide as the Newark High School girls basketball team staged a bid to upset then-nationally-ranked Dublin Coffman in a Division I sectional final last season.

Moral support was the only help Tanadra Spivey could provide as the Newark High School girls basketball team staged a bid to upset then-nationally-ranked Dublin Coffman in a Division I sectional final last season.

The Shamrocks, who went undefeated during the regular season to earn the district's top seed and were 24th in USA Today's Super 25 poll at the time, boasted one of central Ohio's biggest and best frontcourts. Spivey was relegated to sideline duty, however, because of a torn ACL suffered six weeks earlier in a junior varsity game.

"I was there on crutches cheering at the Dublin game," she said of a 57-42 loss in which the Wildcats trailed only 18-13 at the half. "You get that hunger and you want to play, especially when it's a game like that."

The one year anniversary of Spivey's season-ending knee injury has come and gone, and last Tuesday she proclaimed she was about 90 percent of the way back. The 5-foot-10 junior post player played like it during a 66-27 victory last Tuesday at Watkins Memorial, too, grabbing eight rebounds while scoring a season-high 17 points.

That marked her seventh double-digit scoring effort of the season, three of which came in consecutive victories in mid-December. It pushed her season scoring average to a team-leading 9.1 points. Perhaps not coincidently, the Wildcats went 6-1 in the games Spivey scored 10 or more points.

Coach J.R. Shumate, whose team was 7-7 overall and 5-4 in the OCC-Ohio Division entering last Friday's game against Gahanna, said one of the final steps in Spivey's recovery is regaining her fitness level.

"She's still working to get back in great shape. She couldn't do much in the fall so she's still trying to get her sea legs, so to speak," Shumate said. "She's worked hard to make it back even if she's not quite there yet."

Nonetheless, the team's inside play is coming around even with the graduation last spring of 6-1 Sarah Bennett, who is playing at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell. Moreover, neither of Newark's two starting post players was on the floor at the end of last season. Spivey is absorbing some of the physical play previously directed at Bennett, and 6-2 freshman Paige Cashin has been even better than expected.

Cashin, an AAU veteran, nearly posted a triple-double against the Warriors with 14 points, 11 rebounds and eight blocks. She was second on the team in scoring entering last Friday at 8.9 points per game. Senior Liz Barnhart, who played last year at Lakewood, also is part of the post-player rotation.

In fact, fans have been seeing more and more of one particular sequence that came late in last Tuesday's game. Cashin blocked a shot, then rebounded the put-back before finding point guard Reed Huffman, who came up court to fire off a pass that found Spivey waiting underneath on the right baseline for an easy bank.

"Paige is a very skilled, very active and a very hard-working freshman," Shumate said. "There's obviously a lot of promise there."

Watkins Memorial coach Kyle Oyster said there's a noticeable chemistry developing between Newark's guards, Cashin and Spivey, who earned honorable-mention all-league honors as a freshman while playing inside with Bennett and graduate Chelsea Rice.

"Newark had a great inside-out game and they exploited us," he said. "We really couldn't take away either."

The Wildcats play Tuesday at Reynoldsburg before returning home to face Groveport on Friday. They swept those league opponents during the first round, edging the Raiders 44-41 on Dec. 11 and the Cruisers 48-44 on Dec. 18. Newark has been on the other end of the score in several close games, too, dropping three of them by six or fewer points.

"That's OK, because I think it'll make us better and tougher and more determined," said Spivey, who credits assistant team trainer Mike McNicol for playing a major role in her rehab. "I'm just glad I'm back out here playing every night and doing what I can to help our team."