FORT WAYNE – It’s been finished almost before it began, these past few years.
Come the first of December or so, Homestead would go to Norwell or Norwell to Homestead to open the NHC schedule, and the winner did more than just emerge in the driver’s seat. The winner was a dominant NASCAR driver with a 20-point lead and one race to go in the Chase.
If you look the last few years, the winner’s always gone 7-0 (in the conference), Homestead coach Rod Parker says. And we always opened with Norwell, so whoever won that game went on to run the table.
But this year?
Not so fast.
Seven-and-O might not win the conference this time, Parker said. It might be 6-1, or a couple teams at maybe 5-2.
That’s because the gap between Norwell and Homestead and everyone else has narrowed, mostly because of the inevitable turnover in talent.
At Norwell, Eric Thornton welcomes back some solid pieces from his 21-4 NHC champs – seniors Taylor Wilson, Paige Frisch and Carlee Harnish, sophomore Hanna Smith and junior Olivia Geiger, among others – but the centerpiece, Miss Basketball Jessica Rupright, is at Miami (Ohio), now, and the Knights graduated Jami Reinhard and Sophie Gerber as well.
Homestead, meanwhile, must do without standout guard and lone senior Emily Bley until perhaps the first of the year because of a torn ACL.
That leaves the Spartans’ reins in the hand of the lone junior, Sydney Buck, plus sophomore returnees Josie Fisher and Grace Garman and newcomers Calli Casaburo, Courtney McPeters, Savannah Buck, Lindley Kistler and Nicole Weaver. All are either freshmen or sophomores.
Youth is our thing, Parker says.
And balance, more than usual, is the NHC’s thing.
I think Homestead will be the strongest team, Thornton says.
But there’s a number of teams fighting it out. You can go right down the list and I think it’s gonna be another battle.
DeKalb, for instance, lost Brianne Rinehart and Rachel Dincoff from last year’s 14-7 club, but 6-foot-1 Hayley Martin, who averaged 10 points and 8 rebounds last year, and Baylee Rinehart, who averaged 10 and 5, return to anchor a team coach Nick David characterizes as young and athletic.
East Noble returns Jena Yates (12.0 points) and a pair of 6-footers, Kourtney (8 points, 9 rebounds) and Kavan Edwards.
Veteran coach Mark Redding takes over a Carroll team led by guard Amy Poynter and 6-foot center Kelsey Ronan, and Hannah Schnorr, out with a knee injury last year, returns as a senior to lead a Columbia City team that includes plenty of experience in Megan Deutsch, Kalisha Goree, Emily Whiteleather and Macie Hinen.
It’s not easy to win there, Parker says of Columbia City.
It’s just tough to win some places on the road. That will tighten up the conference a little bit, I think. It’ll; be a good thing for a few more teams to be in the mix instead of a couple of teams just running the table.