For the past 35 years, the top area players in high school basketball have been named and honored. For the first time in that time frame, there will be no group of players labeled fabulous or even fantastic.
Instead, Outside the Huddle will follow in those footsteps and tradition by naming our inaugural ‘First Five’ team. This group of girls is who we at Outside the Huddle consider to be the top five players in the Fort Wayne and northeast Indiana area entering the 2018-19 season.
Sydney Freeman, Central Noble senior
Freeman is an exciting player who is skilled at picking her shots and spreading out defenses. In leading Central Noble to a Class 2A state title a year ago, she averaged 17.9 points per game while shooting 51 percent from the field. Her numbers were gaudy in other areas too with averages of 5.6 rebounds, 4.9 assists, five steals and 2.1 blocks per game. She is already the school’s all-time scoring leader.
“Syd does what Syd does,” Central Noble coach Josh Treesh said. “She is going to get the ball and she is going to attack the basket and hit shots.”
A Ball State commit, Freeman has her eyes set on another state title. And although targets will be on the Cougars and her individually, she doesn’t see the pressure to be much different.
“I don’t think it will be too much different. Towards the end of the season, we were the team to beat. It won’t be much of a change,” Freeman said.
Carissa Garcia, Concordia Lutheran senior
Garcia was one of the area’s most lights out shooters as a junior, hitting 70 three pointers at a 45 percent success rate. She has the ability to pull up from almost anywhere with anyone defending her. Barely ever coming out of games, Garcia averaged 20.1 points, 5.2 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 2.3 steals per game last season.
“It would be really nice to have her off the ball,” Concordia Lutheran coach Dave Miller said. “She is so good with the basketball that it depends on who we are playing if she will be bringing it up the floor. She is so skilled with the basketball.”
Garcia has been an important piece of the varsity level all three of her previous seasons. Thrown into the fire as a freshman, she has been able to learn a lot of things that she hopes to pass on to her fairly young Cadets teams before she heads off to Northern Kentucky next season.
“My leadership, my ability to teach others and my basketball IQ, I think helps the young ones out along the way,” Garcia said of those traits she has gained. “It is a long season mentally and physically.”
Sylare Starks, Homestead senior
Starks’ first season in Homestead blue saw her lead the Spartans to another SAC regular season title with a team high 18 points per game hitting shots well from the outside and getting to the basket. Starks hit almost four three pointers a game, but was deadly if she got inside, great at drawing defenses in and sending her to the line where she hit 88 percent of her free throws.
“I plan on working hard, but having a lot more fun,” Starks said. “We are going to be strong mentally and physically, we know everyone is going to try to come after us. I have a lot more experience and we’ve all become like a big family and I’m very confident.”
The Detroit Mercy commit was strong on the perimeter offensively and defensively, averaging a second best three assists and 1.7 steals per contest. Her ability to harass opposing offenses will be key as the Spartans look to continue their SAC domination and regain the Holiday Tournament and postseason crowns. Homestead is expected to be one of the state’s top teams in Class 4A.
Meleah Leatherman, Central Noble senior
Throughout her junior season, Leatherman torched opposing interior defenses. Her best game however may have some in the semi state round when she had 21 points and 14 rebounds against Frankton and their 6-foot-2 center Destyne Knight. Expect more of the same this year with her game extending a bit.
“Meleah is going to be that dominant inside force that we saw all of the way through the postseason. We are hoping she can extend her range a little bit and become an outside threat too,” Central Noble coach Josh Treesh said.
Leatherman led the Cougars in rebounding with 10 per game to go with 14.3 points and average a double double. She became Central Noble’s third ever 1,000 point scorer and is committed to play at Saint Francis.
“It makes me feel more relieved that I know where I am going and I can just play for this year and leave it all out on the floor,” Leatherman said.
Sydney Graber, Homestead junior
With her college options booming during a strong 2018 summer, Graber recently committed to play at Central Michigan but still has two seasons left to establish a legacy at Homestead. A role player on the 2017 state champion team, Graber broke out as the area’s best sophomore a year ago. She averaged 15 points per game on 46 percent shooting a year ago, the second offensive option for the Spartans.
“Our main focus this whole summer was communication. During the summer games, you could obviously tell we are a different team,” Graber said. “Always having that target on our back has helped us a lot.”
Graber has and will continue to play a chameleon like role for Homestead where she can play in the post and drift out onto the wing as well. A capable ball handler, Graber will add another dimension to the Spartans’ deep back court, where she did average 1.7 steals per game last year. Inside, Graber is tough and averaged a team high 7.7 rebounds per game. She always is a tough fight for any defender on the glass.
“Basketball has opened up so many opportunities to me. I am going to focus in on that one goal: championships and helping my team out,” Graber said.