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GIRLS PREP BASKETBALL: New-look Homestead a work in progress

Spartans drop season opener to #2 Carmel

Junior Haley Swing of Homestead dribbles by Carmel senior and former Spartan Tomi Taiwo during Saturday afternoon's game. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)
Sophomore Sydney Graber of Homestead chases down the ball during Saturday's game against Carmel. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)
Homestead junior Sylare Starks, left, looks to slow down Carmel's Tomi Taiwo as she heads to the basket during Saturday's game. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)
Homestead freshman Amber Austin looks for help on the baseline against Carmel on Saturday. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)
Homestead coach Rod Parker surveys his team during Saturday's game against Carmel that opened up the season for the Spartans. (By Justin Kenny of news-sentinel.com)

If you take in a Homestead girls basketball game this season, prepare yourself, you will be looking at the roster more often than in recent years.

The usual suspects — Karissa McLaughlin, Madisen Parker, Jazmyne Geist — have been usurped by a new crop of Spartans. They are high on talent, but largely low on experience at the varsity level.

That showed in Saturday’s 66-55 loss to Class 4A No. 2 Carmel.

The Spartans (0-1) hung for four quarters with a veteran Greyhounds squad that most believe is a candidate to win a state championship. But the synergy and exceptional execution we are accustomed to seeing from Homestead was lacking, particularly in key moments.

Sure, juniors Haley Swing and Kara Gealy were part of last year’s state championship squad, but were not in key roles like they are now.

Yes, sophomore Sydney Graber is the real deal, with an exceptional summer earning her several Division I scholarship offers. But let’s not forget she is still just a sophomore.

Oh yeah, junior Sylare Starks is legit. But after two years at Concordia, the guard is still adjusting to Homestead’s style and playbook.

Add it all together, and you have a Spartans team that has reloaded its talent, but will need some time to rebuild its chemistry and ability to execute at the level of the recent past.

“There were times on offense where we kind of stood there because we weren’t on the same page,” coach Rod Parker said. “That’s communication and leadership we are looking to improve on, and we will.

“This team will continue to grow. It will be a much different basketball team in January than we are in November.”

Typically, one group of three to four seniors gives way to another similar-sized group of upperclassmen. Unfortunately, the Spartans don’t have that luxury. Bench player Lauren Selking is the lone senior on the varsity roster, with the rest youngsters not used to playing so many minutes for one of the area’s best programs.

“Everyone is still identifying their roles,” Parker said. “The last several years we had a natural progression where we were always returning two or three starters and the roles were kind of set. This year, everybody is identifying all-new roles, and they are important roles.”

There was plenty to like on Saturday afternoon. Starks was deadly from the outside and dropped a team-high 20 points in her Homestead debut. Graber was strong inside and out, finishing with 13 points.

But youth definitely showed, particularly when Carmel (2-0) turned up the pressure defensively. In the past few years, teams did not elect to press the Spartans because McLaughlin, Parker and company were so good at breaking it and picking up easy baskets. On Saturday, the pressure by the Greyhounds flustered Homestead.

“I think we lacked some attention to detail, especially on the offensive end, which led to 20 turnovers,” said Parker, whose team is under-.500 for the first time since the 2007-08 season.

While setting benchmarks for this team as the season progresses isn’t Parker’s style, he does expect a better-performing team by the season’s unofficial midway point.

“I have goals as to where we need to be going into the SAC Holiday Tournament (in late December),” Parker said. “I expect us to do a lot more than we are doing now and do it efficiently.

“Today when things were kind of taken away from us we kind of stood a little bit. But (improvement) will come in time.”

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