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Joe Ault's senior season for Homestead basketball did not start the way he envisioned it would.
But it is concluding better than he imagined.
The guard had to sit out the first four games because of a suspension, then returned to the team without an immediate starting role despite being one of just two seniors on the varsity squad.
Fast-forward about three months and Ault is a big reason why the Spartans are preparing for Kokomo in the Class 4A Marion Regional semifinal at 10 a.m. Saturday. He has stepped up both his leadership and performance in helping the Spartans win their second sectional crown in three years.
“It was tough watching the first four games. I wanted to be out there more than anything,” Ault said. “That also made me want to work that much harder when I was able to come back.”
He returned right before Christmas and came off the bench for the first few games. But as he rounded into form, it was impossible to keep him out of the starting lineup.
“I didn't feel like myself (at first),” Ault said. “My first game back (against Carroll on Dec. 20) wasn't my best game.
“I was getting readjusted to what high school basketball was about.”
Since returning, Ault has steadily become a bigger cog in Homestead's machine. He has given the Spartans the consistent outside shooting threat that prevents opposing teams from focusing all of their defensive attention on Caleb Swanigan and Dana Batt inside
For the season, Ault is hitting close to 42 percent of his three-point attempts.
“People say, 'Just throw the ball up and (Swanigan) will get it (and score),'” Homestead coach Chris Johnson said. “Well, it's not that easy. We play some pretty good teams around here … they can jump, they understand the game and prepare for the game.
“So with (Ault) able to come on here, it has really made a lot better and opened things up inside.”
Ault has also excelled in filling the void left by point guard Nick Gamble, who graduated last season and was a verbal leader on the court.
“The whole season (Coach Johnson) has been talking about needing a leader on the team,” Ault said. “Towards the beginning of the season … I want seen as a leader on the team. But I think throughout the season, by playing and being out there pushing to be the best, I have kind of developed into more of a leader.”
Homestead will need more of Ault in that role Saturday against the WildKats (16-7). Kokomo is led by senior guard Taylor Persons. After returning from an injury midway through the season, Persons has averaged 18.5 and 6.2 rebounds per game.
Kokomo is 10-1 this with season with Persons and 6-6 without him.
The WildKats are also a veteran squad, with eight of their 12 varsity players being seniors.
“They do have some experience, but our kids are fired up for the opportunity,” Johnson said.
Ault has led that charge both verbally and nonverbally.
“After that first game when we lost to Huntington North, I didn't know if we were going to win a game all season,” Johnson said. “We didn't have really anybody to take control and get the team together.
“Joe is the heart of our team (now) as far as getting our team fired up, and good things are happening.”