"We knew Incline pretty well. We played them the last two seasons often and during the summer also," Sparks boys basketball coach Dick Lee said. "We knew their personnel, and they do a really good job. They're one of the best basketball teams in the North. We were frustrated to lose to them (69-52) like we did at home."
The lopsided loss wasn't senior Angel Guillen's fault as he scored over half the team's points in that game. However, Guillen and his teammates have made great strides since that embarrassing loss.
Guillen has always been a great scorer for the Railroaders - at over 23 points per game - but lately he's been doing much more for the team and not necessarily things that show up on the stat sheet.
"A lot more of our players are buying into the fact that charges for example are an important part of the game," Lee said. "Angel has been doing it along with Martin Jordan and Erik Garcia. We've kind of had a buy-in of that by all of our team members which is nice. Angel has been a better leader this year, but that is what we expected him to do."
Guillen is also the team's leading rebounder, pulling down about nine a game to go along with three assists. He's the type of player who tries to get his teammates involved early on but will take over when the game is on the line. Guillen also realizes he doesn't have to do everything himself.
"It's not about me getting open. It's more about running the offense and if I get open, then try to score," Guillen said. "I actually have a lot more help this year. Bryan (Orellana) and Martin (Jordan) have gotten a lot better and Andrew (Garcia) is helping me out. We have more scorers this year."
Since losing to the Highlanders, the Railroaders have gone 4-0 in 3A North League play to take an early lead in the standings.
"I think what is really important is our players have kept their heads up through the tough part of the schedule," Lee said. "They realized there was light at the end of the tunnel and we have a goal. They trusted us as coaches. We're working towards that goal to compete for a state championship. There were going to be bumps along the way."
Having last year's 3A North Player of the Year and the frontrunner again this year certainly helps. Guillen led the team in scoring, rebounding, assists and steals as a junior.
Guillen's hard work has made him a force on the court again this year. If you missed his 36-point performance in Sparks' 79-77 win over cross-town rival Reed, in which he hit the game-winner, borrow the film of the game. It was an impressive performance.
"He constantly tries to do what we request of him," Lee said. "Sometimes he slips a little bit, but that's what happens during the course of the game. We try to coach toward perfection, but we certainly don't expect it.
"The success he's been getting he deserves. He takes basketball very seriously. He's one of our hardest workers."
Will the hard work translate to the team's second trip to the state tournament in the past three years? The Maroon and Gold is hoping for that.
Sparks won the 3A North in 2008, and was the co-regular season league champion last winter, but lost its first game in the playoffs. Lee said he didn't feel the team played up to its potential last year at regionals and would like to send the seniors out with a chance to at least play for the state championship, which is where the "unfinished business" mantra stems from.
Guillen is all for making that come true.
"I've wanted to go bad the last two years, but I want to go the most this year because it's my last year. I don't know when the last time Sparks won state, so it would be a long time," he said.
Guillen wants to attend UNLV to further his education, but he would love to to walk on with the basketball team.