Homestead girls basketball coach Corey Wolf is always challenging her team, especially with so many new players surrounding Now All-Suburban forward Chloe Marotta.
That leads to stretches like the Highlanders had last week, when they battled hard but fell to unbeaten and second-ranked Milwaukee King, 69-54, on Jan. 10; fought hard to beat strong North Shore Conference rival Whitefish Bay, 52-44, on Jan. 13; and then turned around for an afternoon road game on Saturday, Jan. 14, where they fell to a good Waunakee team, 60-50.
The win over Bay was crucial for the Highlanders, as it allowed them to stay in a a tie for second in the North Shore Conference with Cedarburg (5-1) behind three-time league champ Germantown (7-0). Homestead will host Cedarburg on Friday, Jan. 20, in a pivotal NSC tilt. Homestead entered the week at 8-4 overall.
"This will be a very difficult challenge for us," said Wolf.
The major ongoing process for the Highlanders is getting all the new players used to three-year letter-winning junior forward Marotta, who has elevated her game greatly in the past year.
"For a lot of these kids," Wolf said, "this is the first time playing with Chloe. A lot of them played very little or not at all (on varsity) last year. We're asking them to do more, and if they can adapt, that will be the difference between us being a good team and a great team."
The Highlanders were a tired team by the time they got to Waunakee at 2:30 p.m. Jan. 14 just hours after finishing the tough Bay contest. They didn't have one of their key contributors in Emily Polk due to a family commitment. They fell behind, 31-20, at the half and played better in the second half, but it wasn't quite enough.
Marotta continued her strong week with 21 points, while Savannah Melan had 12.
Against Bay (9-6), the Highlanders had to fight through an abysmal first half offensively as they went into the break up 17-16.
Both teams picked up the pace dramatically on offense in the second half, but Bay still had a 36-35 lead with eight minutes left.
The Highlanders were able to take control during a unique sequence, where Bay was called for a foul and then a technical/intentional foul. It all led up to Homestead hitting 5 of 6 free throws, including two each by Sam Crivello and Grace Crowley.
Marotta was a force this game with 32 points. She also got to the foul line 19 times, hitting 11 free throws. Wolf said Marotta was reacting to what the Blue Dukes were giving her.
"They're so active and aggressive defensively, so we have to be active, too," Wolf said. "She just went after it. It was a monster game on her part."
Crivello added seven.
Wolf said the Highlanders were aggressive and physical against 14-0 King, but she just wishes they had been a little smarter.
"We played really hard and really competed," she said. "I thought our team defense was very good, but we just couldn't make them uncomfortable. They're just a team that has everything. They have kids who you just can't guard one-on-one."
The Generals went up 34-24 at the break, and as Wolf noted, the Highlanders just couldn't make them uncomfortable.
Marotta had 14 points to lead Homestead, Crivello added 11 and Crowley and Amanda Hooks had 9 each.