The Homestead girls tennis team is being pushed to new heights by its underclassmen.
Five of the seven varsity spots are occupied by underclassmen, including four sophomores. What could be seen as a year of building experience and preparing for a veteran-laden team next season, has turned into a competitive and successful 2019.
With the sectional draw Monday and the Spartans ranked ninth in the state, Homestead is prepping for now, and aiming to make a strong run at state.
“We'd like to think that this is the year we do something great and build something greater on it,” coach Michael Hower said.
The first-year Homestead head coach came in with plans to take the Spartans to the next level, much like the boys team did in the fall, falling in the state quarterfinals.
Hower's plan of attack was to beef up the schedule.
“I'd rather have a bad record and hold a trophy; it's a good trade off,” he said, reiterating that his team needs the competitive matches before the tournament starts.
Homestead, sporting a 8-2 record as of Tuesday, lost 5-0 to No. 12 Carroll on Tuesday, face No. 3 Carmel today and see No. 13 North Central and No. 7 Columbus North this weekend.
“Things are going really well, but this will be the week that we find out what we're made of,” Hower said.
The Spartans have made one trip to Indianapolis to face No. 2 Park Tudor and Hower said while the girls were a little “shell-shocked,” he hopes they got some of the nerves out then, in what was a tournament-like match.
“We hung with them and I like that because you get out all of the 'This is a new place, it's not Wildwood (Racket Club), it's in a different city and this is a really good team,” he said. “That will be the time we're nervous, I'm hoping. This will be the normal; we're always playing really good teams.”
His team agrees that the competition now is what they need for later.
“It'll kind of get us back in the rhythm of hitting against more competitive and well-trained teams to prepare us for the weeks we have ahead,” No. 1 doubles player Payton Krahn said.
Krahn is the team leader and holds the responsibility of prepping the team and setting the standard for years to come. Her sophomore partner Morgan Render switched from singles to doubles this year, and credits Krahn for helping smooth that transition.
“It's good to have a good partner when I'm transitioning,” Render said. “Being the weaker player, it's nice to have someone to pick me up in the bigger tournaments.”
Sophomores hold all three singles spots, with Jenna Lewis at the No. 1, Olivia Creech No. 2 and Madison Zitlaw at the No. 3.
Hower is in somewhat uncharted territory with this team. He coached boys tennis at his alma mater Adams Central for 17 years and the girls team 12 years.
He said while he had some successful seasons, coaching and teaching at Homestead was desirable for any coach.
“Homestead's not only a great school to work at but it's also a very prestigious school, as far as academic success and for my own children,” the chemistry teacher said.
The postseason starts Wednesday and the Spartans are confident they can take on any central Indiana powerhouse that comes their way.
“It's nice that they don't just say, 'Oh we've got this in the bag,'” Render said of how top teams see them. “We're seen as a threat to some people, too; it's nice to be known”