It was a reloading year for the Homestead girls basketball team, but it was oh so close to being something much more than that.
The Highlanders, behind junior all-state forward Chloe Marotta and a virtually new supporting cast, finished 17-7 this year and tied for second in the North Shore Conference. They also battled a challenging nonconference schedule to a standstill.
For veteran Highlander coach Corey Wolf, the past is all prologue, and preparations for next year have already begun.
"When I put together a schedule, I look to challenge a team," said Wolf. "It was tough for these kids at times, but I believe they learned so much along the way. They learned how to compete every possession. It showed them what it took to be a great team. How they needed to improve.
"We played Arrowhead (No. 1 in the state for the first half of the season), King (state semifinalist), Germantown (multi-time North Shore champ). Those teams showed us what we need in order to be great."
Homestead's season recently came to a end with a tough loss to eventual state runner-up DePere in a WIAA regional final.
After the state tourney, it was revealed that the Marquette University recruit Marotta earned first-team WBCA Division 1 first-team all-state. She certainly earned it as the 6-0 forward averaged 20.5 points a game on 48 percent shooting, also hitting 134 of 182 free throws and dominating the boards with a 10.7 rebound per game mark.
She also added 38 assists, 81 steals and 25 blocks.
"Chloe really took over as a leader this year," said Wolf. "She really did a lot to make herself better."
She needed to because her supporting cast, after heavy graduation losses last spring, was green as grass.
There were only four seniors on the varsity roster, and only one of them, Emily Polk, was a real contributor. There were four juniors, five sophomores and a freshman on the roster.
"They spent a lot of time figuring things out," Wolf said. "They got to know each other a little better, so it took them time to play at a certain level. We're looking forward to them getting to know each other on the court and off the court this off-season. Next year they should be able to play a lot more together as they will know their strengths and weaknesses better."
As noted, the season was still very close to being great. The Highlanders could not quite hold onto a late lead against Germantown in December and lost a heartbreaking one-point decision. They dropped a tough decision to Cedarburg in January and then lost another tough 69-62 decision to Germantown on Jan. 31, a game in which Marotta went off for 40 points.
Homestead then went on an eight-game winning streak that included an exhausting four games in eight days stretch in early February. It only ended with the loss to DePere.
Marotta was co-player of the year in the North Shore with fellow all-stater Germantown senior guard Kenzie Schmitz. Sophomore guard Grace Crowley (seven points a game) and sophomore forward Sam Crivello (6.8 ppg.) also helped Marotta out as Crowley was named second-team all-conference.
"We were really just four or five possessions away from a (conference) title," Wolf said.
The combined freshmen/junior varsity team had a competitive season.
With Marotta entering her senior year, everything is aiming at next year. Homestead will be a heavy favorite in a reconfigured North Shore that will see Germantown moving out to the Greater Metro Conference.
Wolf welcomes the challenge.
"Next year will have very high expectations," Wolf said. "This year, everyone got a lot of playing time, trying to develop. We had great leadership (from Marotta), but in order to take that next step, the kids will have to want it. These kids aren't afraid of work. They know it will pay off."