This was a a transition year for three-time Now All-Suburban basketball player Chloe Marotta of Homestead.
No longer was she the precocious star surrounded by talented upperclassmen helping her grow into her monumental talent.
No, this season, she fully emerged and what's more, became the leader herself, as all the talented upperclassmen melted away into graduation and as a junior, with the world asking for various meaningful decisions, she had to elevate her game and her personality if the Highlanders were to succeed.
She and they did, as behind the North Shore Conference co-player of the year and WBCA Division 1 first team all state selection, the young Highlanders handled a tough schedule as best they could, finishing in second place in the North Shore Conference and turning in a 17-7 record.
On a personal note, Marotta also moved up the school's all-time scoring list as she passed the 1,000-point mark, finishing the season with 1,125.
Furthermore, Marotta did make that one decision that everyone had been waiting for, as her legacy called hard to her and she accepted a scholarship offer from Marquette this past fall. Her late father, Marc, was a basketball player there as is currently her older brother Cam.
She's feeling good about things as she prepares to lift her game one more time next fall and look to take the presumably far more experienced Highlanders into the rarefied air of a potential conference title and maybe a state tournament berth.
"It was good that I became so much more of a leader this year," she said. "being such a young team, I needed to show them how they could improve."
Veteran coach Corey Wolf was impressed with her young star's improvement.
"She was ready to do more this year," said Wolf, "and she put in a ton of time to make herself better. She knew she had to be a leader this year and she just needed the confidence to do so. She did a great job in that regard."
And everywhere else for that matter.
A rebounding machine, Marotta averaged 20.5 points per game on 47-percent shooting (493 total points), grabbing 256 rebounds (10.7 per game). She hit 134-of-182 free throws (74 percent) and drained 21 3-pointers. The stat-stuffer also had 38 assists, an incredible 81 steals and 25 blocked shots.
"I think my shot really improved this year," she said. "I think that was a huge step for me. It allowed me to make more of a difference than just as somebody who drives to the basket all of the time."
Her strength also improved, something she attributes to having played against older and stronger players for so long.
Her true breakout this year came in an epic "Dual in the Sun" with fellow North Shore co-player of the year and fellow WBCA All-Stater Kenzie Schmitz of NSC champion Germantown on Jan. 31, where in a frustrating 69-62 loss for the Highlanders, Marotta truly blasted through the ceiling of her potential.
She hit 11-of-18 shots from the field, including her only 3-pointer, and 15-of-19 free throws for a career high 40 points. She also grabbed 22 rebounds and had two steals. Schmitz worked to keep pace with 29 points, 20 rebounds, and seven assists. Anyone who was at the game knew they saw something special.
"They've always been our biggest competition," said Marotta, "and we had to have that game if we wanted to win conference. But throughout the game, I just trusted my teammates to get me the ball and it was one of those nights that I was finishing well. I had no idea that I had that many points until someone told me afterward. And going against good players always makes me want to go harder and harder.
"The adrenaline just takes over."
Wolf knew what she was watching that night.
"She's just a special player," Wolf said of Marotta. "Sometimes when special players go up against other special players, they become even more special, and I think that's what you saw tonight."
"She's big and physical and aggressive," Germatown coach Matt Stuve said of Marotta. "When you let her get to her spots, it's a little tough."
Marotta loved the competition that night and will look to cut her teeth against more of the best when she and her Wisconsin Flight Elite AAU team head out to Arizona in a few weeks for a major tournament ("We have a stacked team," she said).
After a challenging spring and summer, she will look to have a memorable senior year with the Highlanders.
"Our team (Homestead) got better and better as we went along," said Marotta. "It was a very hard schedule but I believe it really paid off for us. We know we have to work in order to get better."
She can't believe she'll be a senior next fall.
"I can still see everything from freshman year so clearly," she said. "There are times I'd give anything to go back to that time (laughs). We're going to have a great team, though, and I'm really excited for them. We've set our goals and we've already started working on them."
As the team leader continues to elevate her already lofty game.