Dropping their first game of 2017-18 showed the need for Homestead to continue to build cohesiveness just a season after winning a Class 4A state title. It was the first time in 10 seasons that the Spartans lost their opener.
Throughout the season, they hit some bumps building their team back to a state contender, including failing to win the Summit Athletic Conference Holiday Tournament for the first time and also dropping the sectional opener at South Side.
“Last year we had a lot of kids who had to step up and play new roles and there were times in tough situations where we didn’t really know our identity,” Spartan coach Rod Parker said.
Now they return every important piece minus Lauren Selking, lost to graduation, as they attempt to return to Bankers Life Fieldhouse. The backcourt is loaded with seniors Kara Gealy (7.6 points, 4.6 assists per game) and Sylare Starks (18 points, 3 assists).
“I have high expectations for Kara Gealy. Last year, she stepped into that point guard role replacing [Karissa] McLaughlin, which is a hard ask. Now that she has a year under her belt, we expect her to be steady out here every game running our offense,” Parker said.
The duo found a rhythm late last season, but ran into a tough South Side squad.
“We learned that we really have to work together,” Starks said. “Our chemistry has built up over the summer on and off the court.”
The team will also return starters senior Haley Swing and sophomore Sydney Graber who can play inside but also come out onto the wing when needed. Graber (15 points, 7.7 rebounds) is one of the best juniors in the state and recently committed to Central Michigan, making her one of seven players on the Spartan roster already committed to play on the college level.
“It starts with the fact that the kids work hard and its become contagious out here at Homestead,” Parker said, noting that he has 11 former players on the college level playing this year.
Starks has committed to play at Division I’s Detroit Mercy, Gealy to Tiffin University and Swing (8.7 points, 6.1 rebounds) will play at Grand Valley State. The three other Spartans committed to college will all see enhanced roles this season as well.
Senior Julia Huey will head to Lawrence Tech, senior Bri Lucas will play at Malone University and junior Rylie Parker will join Purdue Fort Wayne.
“Rylie had an unbelievable summer and really exceeded my expectations with the way that she played,” Rod Parker said of his daughter. “She is a kid we are going to rely a lot on this year. She is physical, she works hard, she is one of our top defenders and she is really shooting the basketball well.”
Parker and Lucas each averaged just over two points per game each, but increased their stock over the summer and will provide critical roles. Parker will add to depth on the perimeter and Lucas will be playing more minutes as a true post to allow players like Graber and Swing to float out to the midrange more often. Further depth will be provided by Huey, sophomore Amber Austin and sophomore Grace Sullivan, a transfer from Canterbury who averaged a team second best 9.3 points per game last season for the Cavaliers.
Then there is the matter of Ayanna Patterson, classified by espnW as one of the top freshmen in the country. Patterson has established a ‘who’s who’ of college offers, totaling over 20, before she has ever played a high school game. She spent this past summer playing two grades up with the same Always 100 team that featured Graber and Parker.
“Ayanna is just an incredible athlete. The growth is unbelievable, she is getting better everyday. She still has a lot to learn, but she does a lot of things out here that make me smile and shake my head because I am that impressed,” Rod Parker said.
Patterson received her first college offer, from Indiana University, before her eighth grade season. The 6-foot-4 freshman played at the Blue Star 30 camp in Las Vegas and the Adidas Camp in California this past summer.
“We have a lot of experience coming back with some fun new pieces,” Rod Parker said. “We could be a very versatile basketball team.”
Homestead’s schedule, as always, is no slouch. The will open at Carmel on November 3 and visit Northridge five days later. December is loaded with a trip to Chicago Fremd (Ill.), Bishop Dwenger, Norwell, visiting Bishop Luers and hosting Notre Dame Academy (Oh.). That all comes before taking on North Central at the Indianapolis Manual shootout, playing in the Hall of Fame Classic at New Castle and the annual SAC Holiday Tournament.
The SAC will accommodate Homestead’s Hall of Fame Classic appearance on December 28, which runs right in the middle of the conference’s four day tournament.
The Spartans return almost everything offensively and defensively. What they do not return intangible wise in Lauren Selking, they more than make up for with additions and increased roles for others. Homestead is by far the most complete team and probably the most deep in the area, if not the state.
Why not higher?
There is not a spot higher than #1.
Every day in December is critical for the Spartans, but the most critical game is December 29 and a potential SAC Holiday Tournament final. Last year, Bishop Luers didn’t let Homestead get there, handing them their first loss to a conference team as a member of the SAC. Getting their crown back is important.
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