The 2018-2019 Homestead team won 25 games and three titles, and while falling short of the ultimate goal of a state crown, they assured that the bullseye as Northeast Indiana’s top team would stay on them. Its a bullseye that has grown as they have won 20-plus games in seven of the last nine seasons and one that burned brightest just three seasons ago when they won a state title in Class 4A over Pike.
Since that state crown, they’ve won two Summit Athletic Conference titles, one Sectional and one Holiday Tournament. But the bullseye never left them, not even as they fell short against other area teams.
“Thats what we want,” Homestead coach Rod Parker said of the target being on them. “The big thing we come out every night with is making sure we work as hard as we can work, paying attention to little details that make us the best basketball team that we can be.”
The Spartans graduated seven seniors after their Regional final loss to Hamilton Southeastern, with a lot of experience heading out the door. This year, their contributing senior count goes to just two: Sydney Graber and Rylie Parker (Top 50 Girls Hoops: #10 Rylie Parker), who were both in uniform for that state title win.
The coach Parker is very excited about Graber’s game right now and her commitment level for Homestead. Graber will be a top five player in the area now for a third straight yea after breaking out with a solid bench performance in the state title game. The Central Michigan commit averaged 10.1 points per game last season as the third leading scorer, with 6.2 rebounds per game.
“I am really impressed with Sydney. She’s made a real effort in this offseason to get in shape, improve her game and become much more dynamic and versatile,” Rod Parker said. “She had a great summer for us; in the month of June, it was the best I have every seen Sydney play dating back to when I coached her in AAU back in sixth and seventh grade.”
Rylie Parker is going to be looked at for her leadership role according to her coach/dad. Her personality works for her on the court and her shooting prowess helped her stand out last season, hitting a team high 49 three pointers while averaging eight points per game. Parker does a lot of the little things well, rebounds well for her size at a guard and is one of the team’s best defenders.
The Spartans also happen to return their leading scorer in sophomore phenom Ayanna Patterson. ESPN W’s recruiting rankings have Patterson listed as a five star recruit and their ‘Terrific 25’ shows Patterson as the fourth ranked player in the country in the Class of 2022. As a freshman, she averaged 12.9 points, 7.6 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per contest. But, injuries kept her sidelined from game play most of the summer and into the fall. At 100 percent however, Rod Parker expects to see amazing things form Patterson.
“Dynamic,” he said of Patterson. “She is just so versatile and athletic and we want to be able to expand her game this year. Get her out of the post more, get her on the perimeter, get the ball in her hands, allow her to get to create for herself and her teammates.”
Two more returners will fill out the initial starting lineup in point guard Grace Sullivan (Top 50 Girls Hoops #40) and post Amber Austin, both juniors. Sullivan played quality minutes a year ago but will have much more responsibility in her hands this year running the offense and being a first contact on ball defender.
And, of course, after graduating seven seniors there will be plenty of new faces for Homestead fans.
“We have a lot of young kids coming up that I am very excited about,” Parker said.
Maggie Keinsley, a talented sophomore, will be brought into the varsity fold, as will a pair of freshman that Parker expects to have the chance to play some varsity minutes in Molly Stock and Alison Stephens. Stock, in particular, has been praised a lot before she ever plays a high school game as a high I.Q. player that has a quality jump shot. Parker says he thinks these younger girls will be able to come in and carry on the Homestead tradition of working hard and playing at a high level.
“We have to find an identity this year, that is something that we have been addressing a lot. Because we graduated a lot last year, we return a lot of talent but the roles are different for every single player on this team,” Parker said. “We’ve got to put the identity together, trust one another and be able to go out there and find a way to use individual strengths to make us the best team we can be on a nightly basis.”
Arguably (for those who want to argue) three of the top ten players in the Northeast Indiana area make this team so good. But behind that, the development of players in their roles is why Homestead sustains. While many of the faces of this varsity team are going to be new to most fans, Homestead develops on their junior varsity and freshman levels to make those players ready for the rigors of varsity and to be the team being chased. Why #1? Because Homestead is prepared.
WHY NOT HIGHER?
The numbers don’t go higher. The Spartans are the top team in the preseason every year for a very good reason.
DEC. 14 AT NOTRE DAME ACADEMY (OHIO)
It would be easy to plug in their season opener against Carmel here, but lets give the Spartans some room to breath. Instead, their longstanding series with Notre Dame is going to be a good measuring stick a month in. The travel, the afternoon time slot, the tough opponent: this is what Homestead schedules have been built for so that they can be good enough to be a state contender. Parker likes his teams battle tested and this should be a battle.
AMBER AUSTIN, JUNIOR
While the exploits of Homestead’s four main varsity returners are well known, Austin is going to be a highly important piece. Spartan offense is predicated on guards, but they usually have a quality post to work around. Austin will have to rebound at a high level, be able to pick and roll and just be a solid presence.
If you’ve seen Austin, you know her post moves work well and she has improved her athleticism since being a sparingly used role player a season ago. Expect some breakout moments from her this season.