HOMESTEAD GIRLS BASKETBALL
The large senior class for the Homestead girls basketball team didn't win the contentious North Shore Conference title and couldn't get out of the first weekend of regional action in a very deep WIAA sectional field, but they did accomplish other important things in their 17-7 season.
And it had everything to do with attitude and direction.
'There were nine of them, and what I believe they did was establish a new normal for us,' said coach Corey Wolf. 'They accomplished a lot of things they couldn't do in previous years. They beat Cedarburg, they beat Germantown and they won a (WIAA) playoff game.
'They did succeed in taking it to another level.'
The campaign recently ended in a WIAA regional final loss to that same Germantown squad that won its third straight North Shore Conference title. The Highlanders made the Warhawks work for that crown when they turned in an impressive 78-66 victory over them in the old little gym on Feb. 2 — a win that avenged a Dec. 11 defeat at the hands of the Warhawks.
It marked the best offensive night of the season against a good level opponent for the Highlanders all season and was part of a run of nine wins in 10 games. Unfortunately, the only loss in that run, a 53-47 defeat at the hands of Cedarburg on Feb. 6, effectively took Homestead out of the running for the league title.
They still won four more games after that loss, including a WIAA tourney win over Waukesha South before the season-ending defeat to the Warhawks.
That effort also showed Wolf something.
'That was one of the biggest things,' she said. 'We learned how to be a team. 'It took awhile for us to do it last year, and we were still learning for part of this season, but the kids really learned how to give more of themselves. They learned about sacrifice and about making the extra pass, and it was the seniors who did that.
'They bought in, and they taught the younger players about how to be a team.'
From a technical end, the Highlanders were sound on the defensive end all season, but that second Germantown game would be the high point for the offense all season as shooting, particularly from the perimeter, would be a problem all season.
'We really struggled there,' said Wolf. 'As a result, we did become better passers and a little better shooters, but it wasn't quite enough. The only way you can become a better shooter is to go into the gym and shoot hundreds and hundreds of shots a day. If it's not important to you, you're not going to become better.'
Sophomore forward Chloe Marottaled the team for the second year in a row as she earned another berth on the All-North Shore Conference first team. Wolf said the biggest thing she improved on this year was becoming a better teammate.
Senior four-year letter-winner Taylor McIlwraithearned second-team all-league honors, while seniors Mary Kate Simon and Christal Hearn were honorable mention.
Other seniors included Sami VanDrisse, Kate Thomas, Madeline McDonald, Allie Beckers and Allison Fochs. In addition, the Highlanders will lose sophomore back-up point guard Kacie Gross, whose father, former Homestead athletic director Charlie Gross, took a new job in Montana.
Still, Wolf is optimistic. She said the junior varsity and freshmen teams had good years, and there are other key people back to support Marotta.
'This was a big step; we're moving in the right direction,' she said.
WHITEFISH BAY GIRLS BASKETBALL
First-year Blue Duke coach Jon Schneider and his youthful, physically small team made the most of it during a 9-14 season that was more competitive than it looked on the surface.
'I think it went really well all things considered,' he said. 'Considering our youth and our inexperience. Considering that our leaders this year Emma (Jonas) and Rachel (Schmidt) were just role players last year and now were having to step into big-time leadership roles and considering that three sophomores and a freshman played heavy minutes for us.
'To get nine wins out of all that and with the fact that out of our losses, there were two one-point games, a two-point game and a three-point game, including a buzzer-beater. Given all that, I think we laid a good foundation for next year. Things were very positive. There was a good buzz and a good vibe around the team.
'All the kids were very positive. And we're getting word that a lot of the kids are playing summer ball through the Blue Duke and other youth programs. As of a few days ago, they were just filling up. That's a good place to build off of.'
The Blue Duke season ended with a two-point loss to Wisconsin Lutheran in a WIAA D2 regional game.
Not long before that, Bay had its best stretch of the year, a five-win-in-seven-games run that included a nice victory over a good Grafton squad.
It helped make up for a 2-7 start.
As Schneider said, the energy and the vibe around the team was positive, given that one key returnee, Kaitlyn Jackson, did not come out this winter and that another key returnee, Grace Wirth, was lost early on to an injury.
Parental support was also very positive.
'They were awesome this season,' he said. 'We had a couple of meetings early where we laid out expectations. After that, we had no hassles, and we had good communication all season long. We really looked to eliminate the gray areas.'
Seniors this year included Jonas, Schmidt and Wirth. Both Schmidt and Jonas earned honorable mention all-conference honors.
With a large number of returnees, there is room for optimism for the Blue Dukes, as the junior varsity had a very good year, finishing second to Homestead in the North Shore race. Schneider said the best freshmen were moved up to junior varsity, and four junior varsity kids were moved up to varsity.
'Things are very positive right now,' Schneider said.