This season, Carson Sparkman has to deliver more than a spark, man.
The Grayslake Central junior came off the bench last season and contributed on a varsity girls squad that won 26 games and a regional championship. Sparkman started at point guard Thursday night in the Rams season opener against Libertyville in Buffalo Groves Bison Classic, and her play provided, well, a spark.
She scored Grayslake Centrals first basket on a driving layup, after she stole a pass, and she not only started strong but finished equally impressively. Sparkmans 8 second-half points helped the Rams pull away for a 46-36 win, after they led by only two points at halftime.
I think she will be fine, Rams coach Steve Ikenn said of his new point guard. This was her first start, and I thought she did a heck of a job with it. Shes quick. Shes a good defender. I thought she kept her wits about her.
With the graduation of Claire Brennan, Grayslake Centrals offense will run through Sparkman.
Claire was a great player. It is tough shoes to fill, Sparkman said. Im happy to be more part of the team now. Its exciting.
Sparkman tied sophomore teammate Lauren Spalding for game-high scoring honors with 12 points apiece. Spalding, who was on the varsity roster last season but played sparingly, started at shooting guard and sank 3 of 5 shots from three-point range.
Lauren is a great shooter, Ikenn said. Shes playing with confidence out there.
Shes got that little bit of a feisty edge to her, which I always like in a player, added Ikenn, smiling.
The sweet shooter was actually a post player in feeder ball.
I hope I can just benefit the team, Spalding said. Thats what Ive been working on for a while.
Libertyville (0-2) played without senior guard Olivia Mayer, the teams only returning starter. First-year coach Greg Pedersen said Mayer, who was part of a 21-win squad last season, suffered a concussion in the third quarter of the Wildcats season opener against Prospect on Monday when she took a leg to the head.
Mayer sat on the bench wearing her warm-ups. She will be out indefinitely.
Shes not doing well, Pedersen said.
Grayslake Central used an 11-0 run in the second quarter to build a 20-14 advantage, before baskets by Haley Hoeksel and Mary Wilterdink got Libertyville within 20-18 at halftime. Rams sophomore Rachel Effa came off the bench to hit a 3-pointer and start the run. Spalding later swished a 3 from the left wing, and senior reserve Taylor Peterson (6 points) capped the flurry with a pair of free throws.
I was really proud of the bench when we got two of our starters (Maddy Miller and Savannah Mudd) in foul trouble (in the first quarter), Ikenn said. I thought Taylor Peterson and Rachel Effa came in and gave us some really big minutes off the bench.
Spalding opened the second half by hitting a 3-pointer from the left corner. Morgan Dahlstrom (9 points, 15 rebounds, 3 blocks) sank a layup to extend the Grayslake Central lead to 25-18. Sparkman fed Spalding for a layup with 21 seconds left in the third to make it 33-26.
The Rams kept adding to the lead in the fourth, taking good care of the ball, while going 7 of 11 from the line.
The second half we just all realized that we needed to pick up our tempo, Spalding said. The seniors (Mudd and Peterson) helped a lot, motivating all of us underclassmen on the team.
Senior forward Dana Kym led Libertyville with 11 points, including 7 in the opening quarter in helping the Wildcats build a 12-9 lead. She beat the buzzer with shots to end the first and third quarters.
Senior forward Haley Hoeksel, whose layup early in the second quarter extended the Libertyville lead to 14-9, had 9 points, 6 rebounds and 5 steals. Both Kym and Hoeksel fouled out.
Were struggling, Pedersen said. Were young. We had no varsity experience on the floor at all tonight. We got a very large learning curve right now. Were going to work at it, and were going to get better.
Miller helped secure Grayslake Centrals win by hustling for 5 of her 6 rebounds in the fourth. She also finished with 4 steals and 3 points.
Im very proud of my team, Sparkman said. It was a team effort. Weve been practicing hard. Libertyville put up a great fight.