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Homestead picked to top NHC

Return of all starters makes team favorite

Whiteleather
Rinehart
Michelle Davies | The Journal Gazette
Norwell’s Hanna Smith and Homestead’s Lindley Kistler are part of a tough NHC conference.

– You can always find four out of five doctors to agree on something, at least for the right price. But four out of five basketball coaches hardly ever do.

And then there’s the NHC girls coaches, who definitely skew the dynamic these days.

“Homestead by far has the strongest team,” says Carroll coach Mark Redding, surveying the landscape of the conference this season.

“It starts with Homestead,” agrees Eric Thornton, whose Norwell Knights are the defending NHC champs.

“Obviously you’ve got Homestead and Norwell up there as favorites,” says Nick David, whose DeKalb Barons return everyone from a team that was 11-10 last year.

So, there you have it. It’s Homestead, Homestead and, in an upset, Homestead. (And maybe Norwell). And that’s because there are no dummies walking sidelines in the NHC.

The Spartans, after all, return their entire starting lineup from a team that went 21-4 and 6-1 in the conference last season, including Junior All-Star Sydney Buck (21.9 points per game), point guard Josie Fisher (a school record 185 assists), first-team All-NHC forward Grace German (10.6 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game) and defensive stopper Savannah Buck. Add athletic sophomore Lindley Kistler (9.0 points per game, 6 rebounds per game) and much-anticipated freshmen Karissa McLaughlin and Madisen Parker to the mix, and it’s all but a stacked deck.

“They’re all coming back and they get the best freshman probably in the state (McLaughlin),” says Thornton, whose team went 21-4 and 7-0 in conference. “She has no weaknesses and she really complements those other players well. So they’re going to be the cream of the conference definitely.”

Modesty forbids Homestead coach Rod Parker from going that far, but he is aware of how aware of his Spartans everyone is.

“I think most of the coaches know what we’ve got coming back, and so as I told my kids, we’re going to get everybody’s best shot and so we have to come to play every night,” he says.

There’ll be some good shots, too. DeKalb returns veterans Hayley Martin (16 points per game), Baylee Rinehart (12 points per game), Brooke Leins, Maddy Fifer, Rachel Emke and Kendall Kelley. Carroll’s Chargers and Redding have had a year to get to know each other, and will put four players 6-foot or taller out there, including 6-2 Jackie Quade off the volleyball team. Norwell returns junior Hanna Smith, seniors Kelsey Beer and Laken Chaney, and Columbia City will build around Emily Whiteleather (10.5 points and 9.3 rebounds per game), Macie Hinen (8.3 points per game, 6.3 rebounds per game, 2.5 assists per game) and Aubrey Wright (6.7 points per game, 2.2 rebounds per game, 1.5 assists per game).

“We’re going to have some tough games this year,” Parker says.

“It is going to be a very competitive conference,” Redding agrees.

No one knows that better than Shawn Shearer, whose New Haven Bulldogs had no returning varsity players last year and went winless in the conference.

“This conference is strong every year,” he says. “Even the teams that aren’t doing well, you have to bring it in and you got to be prepared to play. There’s no nights off in the NHC.”

bensmith@jg.net

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