Part of it was because of how the team finished out last season, narrowly missing out on the postseason. Another part is returning six players with three of those playing big roles a year ago.
“They’re hustling. They got a little confidence after finishing out the way we did last year. We still have a ways to go,” Sparks girls basketball coach Tony Shaw said. “I’m happy. They’re a good group of kids. They get along well. They’re getting after each other already, which is a good sign. They’re all good in class. There may be just a little more experience this year with the returners.”
The three main returners for Sparks also were the only three players to earn all-league honors from the Railroaders volleyball squad this past fall, so they have some athleticism.
Senior Emma Clune, junior Krystal Parker and sophomore Athena Addington are all back for Sparks and will hopefully bring some leadership. Parker was a second-team all-league selection and Clune was an honorable mention last year in basketball.
“Athena is a good leader, and Emma is a good leader. They don’t say a whole lot, but they just play hard,” Shaw said.
Sparks noticeably has more size on the team this year. The Maroon and Gold hopes that translates to being able to compete more with the other 3A schools and maybe even end a long playoff drought. The Railroaders were in playoff contention until the final week of last season, which has been a rarity with the program. A playoff berth just might encourage other girls to come out for the program.
“It would mean a great deal. We haven’t been to the playoffs since back when we were in the 4A,” Shaw said. “We are just going to continue to work hard and make good things happen.”
Shaw is a little nervous for the season opener against North Valleys Saturday due to a short turnaround. The Caughlin Fire cost the Railroaders a practice Friday. Shaw, a firefighter, hurt his back while fighting the fire and couldn’t hold practice the next day. When Sparks returned to practice Monday, the players were gassed like it was the first day of tryouts.
So the plan is to go into Saturday’s tip-off at 3 p.m. and just let the girls play, since the team hasn’t had time to institute much in the way of strategy.
“I like this team. I do, I really do,” Shaw said. “They’re going to hustle. They’re going to surprise some people with how they hustle. They’re going to play hard. We’re just going to let it go and see what happens.”