There was much accomplished in the Homestead boys' basketball team's recently completed 18-5 North Shore Conference runner-up season.
Second-year coach Kevin McKenna just wishes there had been a little more.
"I really thought we grew as a program," said McKenna. "In my second year we improved our team defense, we really shared the ball, and the kids grew as leaders. They were ready to take it to the next level.
"They learned what was expected of them out on the court, in the weight room and in the classroom. It just ended all way too soon."
The Highlanders' season was recently cut short with a surprising home loss to Sussex Hamilton in a WIAA regional semifinal.
"We didn't play and I didn't coach our best game there," McKenna said.
Homestead had closed out the regular season just a week before that with a pair of games, including a tantalizingly close, 58-56 near-miss against eventual North Shore and three-time WIAA state champion Germantown.
The Highlanders had closed the regular season with a seven-win-in-eight-game run with the Germantown defeat the only miss in that run.
Homestead had opened the season with a 10-game winning streak, a fine feat for a team that had lost several seniors to graduation and saw point guard Joe Binyoti transfer to Milwaukee King. That streak ended in a controversial first loss to Germantown.
The Highlanders then hit a rough patch that saw injuries to Jack Popp and Jerrod Walton shorten up the team considerably. They lost three out of four games, taking themselves out of the North Shore race, but when Popp and Walton returned, so did Homestead's winning ways.
Defense helped, said McKenna.
"We defended better, we were far more aggressive on defense than we had been in the past," he said. "We took on very good scorers like (Joe) Sherburne and (Jake) Showalter (co-players of the year in the conference) and really took them out of their games."
Offensively, the Highlanders averaged 55.8 points per game, led by junior second-team all-North Shore Conference selection Jaylen Key (14 points per game, 75 percent from the foul line), while senior guard Jerrod Walton, a WBCA All-Star game selection, averaged 13.3 a contest with 18 three-pointers.
Key came into camp this season much fitter and with a wider array of post moves, which greatly improved his offensive output. McKenna also was impressed with his leadership skills.
McKenna felt that Walton deserved much more than the honorable mention selection he earned from the North Shore. He was named team MVP for the season. Walton and Key played the most minutes of anyone on the team.
Popp came back to average 10 ppg, while Luke Mueller tossed in 8.8 with 20 three-pointers and Seth Cooley scored at a 6.7 ppg clip with a team-high 35 trifectas.
"We really shared the ball well and rotated well as a team," said McKenna.
The Highlander junior varsity was 17-5 and the freshmen team finished around the .500 mark. McKenna called that solid work considering that Homestead kept three sophomores up on varsity most of the season including Popp, Jacob Urban and Josh Mueller.
Seniors on the team included Cooley, all-around hard worker Fred Eason, Walton, Luke Mueller and Nile Bolden.
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