Coach Chris Johnson has been in this position before.
During the 2014-15 season, Homestead found itself ranked No. 1 at one time or another in both the Associated Press and IBCA Coaches polls. There was hype, there was pressure, there were high expectations.
The Spartans delivered that year, knocking off No. 2 Evansville Reitz in overtime to claim the program’s first-ever state championship.
Now, Johnson is in that position again with his team, albeit with an even bigger spotlight with Homestead being the lone undefeated team remaining in the entire state.
So now at 23-0 heading into tonight’s sectional semifinal game against South Side at Columbia City on, Bounce asked Johnson – how does this team continue to manage the hype and the increasing pressure of being THAT team in not just northeast Indiana, but also the entire state?
“We have talked about it since the first practice at the beginning of the year that our goal is to improve every single week,” Johnson said. “I feel we have done so. Wins are going to come if you do the little things you are supposed to be doing.
“I couldn’t be more happy with a group of men that I am right now. But we have another five or so weeks hopefully and we are the last team standing.”
As the weeks have gone on and the wins have piled up, the bullseye has only grown larger. Every team knows what it is getting into facing off against the team ranked No. 1 in both state polls and is tops in the Sagarin Ratings. So every game is a battle, every contest is the Spartans’ next big test.
After all, each opponent wants to be THAT team that takes down this Homestead squad.
The pressure grows, yet the Spartans are playing as loose and relaxed as they were when they beat Huntington North to begin the season.
“We know we have a target on our back,” junior Fletcher Loyer said. “Everyone is out to get us, and we have to do what we have to do to win.”
In that respect, the Spartans have done a little bit of everything to win 23-of-23 thus far. The outside shooting prowess of guys like Loyer, Luke Goode and Grant Simmons has stood out all year. So too has the team mentality of everyone being a factor at one time or another. No matter how big or small your role is, you are an important cog in the Homestead hoops machine.
For Johnson, his job has been to manage expectations and keep the team focused. Yet even with a pair of Division I commits, the Spartans lack the ego that other teams have had around the state. What has doomed talented squads elsewhere – infighting and drama both on and off the court – has not been even a minor factor with the Spartans.
This group plays as if there is no pressure at all, as if the eyes of northeast Indiana and the state aren’t on Homestead each and every game.
“This group understands what is at stake,” Johnson said. “They are winners and competitors. It has been fun thus far. Now is what matters, how far you go in the tournament. All the other accolades people have already forgotten about. Now it is all about how far we are going to go.”
Each game is a test for every team this time of year. Win and you advance, lose and you’re done. Dominance comes in 32-minute increments from here on out. Nothing before matters, everything after is tomorrow’s stressor.
How far does Homestead go? Does it have the combination of talent, execution and luck to finish 29-0 and win a state championship?
Parents are nervous. Fans are nervous. Yes, even Bounce is nervous.
But the team? Calm, cool and collected.
And that may be the winning formula to make it come to fruition.
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