Whatever doesn't wreck morale will make you stronger.

That seems to be the premise Homestead girls basketball coach Corey Wolf is operating under as the Highlanders' nonconference schedule gets stronger and more challenging.

The Highlanders (6-4 overall) tested themselves again over the holiday break, rallying back from a 17-point deficit, only to fall, 66-64, to Sun Prairie and then routing Manitowoc, 64-45, as part of the DeForest Holiday Tournament on Dec. 29 and 30.

Homestead's challenges continued this week as thy took on nonconference power Milwaukee Riverside on Jan. 5. They will then host Nicolet at 5:45 p.m. Friday, Jan. 8, as the opener in a girl-boy doubleheader against their North Shore rivals.

Then just for fun, they will host powerhouse Pius XI at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 12.

'Games like Pius are important examples of what it takes to be the best,' Wolf said. 'You can tell players about what they need to do sometimes, but sometimes they need to see it up close and personal themselves.'

Fortunately for the Highlanders, the Manitowoc game was not one of those on Dec. 30 as Homestead shot out to a 15-point lead early and never looked back.

'Everyone got a chance to play in that one,' said Wolf.

Taylor McIlwraith had 17 points to lead the Highlanders, while Chloe Marotta came up with 13.

The Sun Prairie game did, however, test the Highlanders' mental toughness.

The Cardinals went up 17 in the first half before settling on a 38-28 lead at the break. Homestead continued surging in the second half and actually took a small lead with three minutes to go.

'It was tied with about a minute to go,' said Wolf. 'We held the ball for about 50 seconds looking for the last shot, but we turned it over badly. Their player went in for a lay-up, was fouled and made both free throws. We still had about 5.7 seconds. We went the length of the court, got a decent shot, but it hit off the rim.'

Even though the Highlanders lost, Wolf said she saw something in this game.

'This was a game where you can figure out what you're made of,' she said. 'This was one of the first times we really came together and made sacrifices for one another. It was something that really carried over into the second half.'

Marotta and McIlwraith each came up with 12 points apiece, while Mary Kate Simon had 10 points and Christal Hearn nine.

'It was a good tournament as a team for us,' Wolf said. 'We're finding our way bit by bit.'