One year removed from a 3-15, last-place finish and rocking a noticeable lack in height, it would be easy to look over the Railroaders – literally. But coach Frank Avilla, who took over midway through last season, has brought a new energy to the program.
“We are taking baby steps right now but I think we are going to be jogging and I think we will continue to keep getting better every week,” Avilla said after Tuesday’s practice. “If that happens, they can bloom into a good team.”
Unlike past seasons, the Railroaders have pieces this year.
At practice you still see plays reminiscent of past squads, errant passes out of bounds or blatant traveling violations, causing Avilla to scratch his head.
Then the next play you will see a crisp pass, followed by a timely cut, and a bounce pass leading to an easy layup, inducing an Avilla smile, and shrug, as if saying: ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’
Roxie Guadron, a senior guard who received Div. I-A second-team accolades last season, will be an anchor for the Railroaders.
“She (Guadron) was one of our top guards last year and we expect great play from her this year,” Avilla said.
Fellow senior Gabby Morgan, who was an honorable-mention selection last year, will be Sparks’ primary weapon from the outside.
Junior shooting guard Sarah Hanson will also carry a bulk of the load. After joining the varsity in her sophomore season, Hanson has become a legitimate option for Avilla.
“She has pretty much been the sparkplug,” Avilla said.
One of the youngest Railroaders may be the one who surprises most this season, however. Sophomore Marisa Coleman is one of the fastest players on the team and arguably the team’s best ball handler.
Coleman was breaking full-court press off the dribble with regularity at Tuesday’s practice.
“Boy our future looks bright with her ...,” Avilla said of his sophomore, one of four on varsity. “Her maturity in years, as far as athletics, abound her real actual age.”
With the puzzle pieces, whom Avilla describes as “raw,” scattered over the table, the challenge now for the new coach is to arrange them.
Avilla said the team will not go over goals until Friday but is not going to set goals for a particular number of wins or finish in league – not yet at least.
“Right now I know the goal they want to do, is they don’t want to be in the cellar. They want to try to be above the cellar this year,” Avilla said. “They just want to play hard. They are biting into what I’m asking of them. I believe there’s many ways to win, especially as we’re transitioning this thing.”
Despite struggles in year’s past, Avilla is not concerned a losing mentality has sunk into the program.
“Not at all with this group, no,” Avilla said. “With this group, they want to win. Not that the other group didn’t want to win, but they know what’s expected of them.”
The new-look Railroaders open their season, Saturday, at Wooster. Tipoff is scheduled for 11:45 a.m.
Sparks also plays a non-league home and away with Hug before opening Div. I-A North play at home against Truckee, Dec. 19.