Homestead is back in the top spot in the the Outside the Huddle Power Poll after a year that saw it complete half ofi its championship goals. The Spartans again won the SAC, SAC Holiday Tournament and a sectional but fell short in the regional night game.
It was still a somewhat storied run for Homestead. They did so with two seniors who had been contributing in ways since their freshman season, including defending Outside the Huddle Player of the Year Sydney Graber. The Spartans also picked up their championship in the midst of much adversity, including injuries and absence for part of the season of coach Rod Parker, who was fighting cancer. That pair of players is now off to the Division I level of college basketball, Parker is back in the saddle and back too is the target that always follows a team of Homestead’s sustained success.
“One of the big things is that we address, we talk about where we are and where we want to go. We do have that target on our back and you rely on those upperclassmen to handle that pressure and ease it off the younger kids,” Parker said.
Much of that pressure will now be hoisted onto the shoulders of senior Grace Sullivan. Her Class of 2021 cohort Amber Austin suffered an ACL tear this summer and will miss the majority of the season; Megan Helmkamp will also be part of the senior class but hasn’t had the experience the other two have. While Austin will still be part of the team, Sullivan is going to have to take senior leadership duties on solo on the court. Of course, it helps to have the experienced hands of junior Ayanna Patterson right next to her.
“We always talk about being able to push ourselves to play longer periods of time at a very high level of intensity. I think that is something that is hard for young kids to do and we have a lot of young kids right now. That is what we are working at every day, getting better at that component of our game,” Parker said.
Sullivan will be pushed into more of a scoring role too, something she thrived with as a freshman at Canterbury. She didn’t have to play that role the past two seasons with Homestead, but remained a pace setter and spark plug on the perimeter; she averaged 4.7 assists per game last season. Her 3.7 point per game average will go up and her tempo and drive to get to the basket will help carry the Spartans as she has improved her perimeter shot and her left hand.
“She’s definitely ready to step up more and one thing that is very noticeable about Grace right now is her confidence level,” Parker said. “She is very confident in Homestead and our system, she understands being a senior. She understands that role, she is embracing it and she is looking to score more. She understands I am giving her more freedom to score more and take shots; she’s a smart kid, she knows her parameters.”
The other returning starter is Patterson (13.6 ppg/8.4 rpg), who Outside the Huddle named the top player in the area this preseason; she is also ranked in the top three nationally in her class. Patterson is a major college prospect that is healthy again after missing time and being slowed down in 2019-20 win a leg injury. Patterson has taken on more depth in her roles, adding a deeper to skill set to her natural athleticism. Parker said that she is putting a lot of work in, not just to sustain her level, but grow immensely from a season ago.
“Ayanna is, in my opinion, a completely different player right now than she was a year ago. She is much stronger, much more confident, much more well rounded and versatile on the basketball court,” Parker said. “Very dominant in the paint, but right now her ability to extend the court out to 23-24 feet is very impressive.”
If she is able to return for any sustained time this season, Austin will pair well with Patterson inside and as a major threat on the glass, especially offensively.
Alison Stephens, Molly Stock and Maggie Keinsley all return as well to the lineup and will be expected to fill in the starting roles. They are all very good defensively and have to fill major shoes in replacing Graber and Rylie Parker as two of the city’s best defensive players a year ago. There will be a focus on Stephens, Stock and Keinsley to be able to cut off the drive and keep opposing offenses away from the basket.
“The big thing is their roles are completely different. All three of those kids were role players that played under the umbrella of Sydney and Rylie, now they are the go-tos,” Parker said. “They are the ones we are going to early in our offenses and running stuff for them, expecting them to be able to step up and make shots on a regular basis.”
Helmkamp will get her chances too as a third senior. Helmkamp is going to be able to help her team get good looks at times with her screening, passing and and ability to move well within the flow of the Spartan offense.
“She is playing her role very well. She is a positive kid, she is a very smart kid, she understands our system. She is being a great leader to the young kids. A nice thing is, when she is in, she plays within herself,” Parker said of Helmkamp through preseason practices. “She plays smart, doesn’t make mistakes and she understands one of her greatest assets is to make other people better.”
Parker says there will be four or five others who will have the chance to fight for minutes. They will have to show they can adjust to the speed of play for the varsity level.
A big measuring stick, right at of the block, for Homestead will be game one at Carmel with very experienced upperclassmen. It is a big first step in the season and will tell Parker a lot about where his primary contributors are at this point. It is part of a very tough schedule, as usual, that includes trips to Noblesville, South Bend Washington and Lawrence North and games hosting Notre Dame Academy (Ohio) and North Central. Notre Dame gave Homestead one of their two losses a season ago.
This is pretty easy. In the past two seasons, the Spartans have lost a total of six games. During that time, they have advanced to the Regional night game both years, were undefeated against SAC opponents and are 36-0 in the Northeast Indiana area. They are the only girls basketball team that has been #1 in any Outside the Huddle Power Poll since the website’s inception in 2018. In this area, the Spartans are untouchable.
North Central, January 2
Time will tell if the Spartans will be tested in area, but seeing them head off to play out of the area, especially against Indianapolis teams, is always a good measuring stick. This comes right after the first of the year and currently comes after a 10 day game absence for the Spartans – should they not replace the SAC Tournament on their schedule.
This is a day and game that both are turn the corner moments for Homestead as it prepares for the home stretch of the season. They’ve split with North Central over the last two seasons so this is not only a good measuring stick, it also is crucial for momentum.
Molly Stock, Sophomore
More shift in roster means players have to step up and in. Neither graduate Sydney Graber or Rylie Parker were the primary ball handler but they both were capable. That means someone has to step in and Stock showcased in the past that she is more than capable. She can be a second lead guard for this group and that really could spread things out more to allow for more breaks, more differentiated offense and less predictability for opponents.
Stock, like other players who were in reserve roles last season, benefitted from quality experience in games. It gets them ready for a year where the onus is going to be on them to impress; that Homestead next player up mentality. Stock is capable and important in that philosophy.
PREVIOUSLY IN THE COUNTDOWN