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 Grove's Bison Classic, and her play provided, well, a spark.
She scored Grayslake Central's first basket on a driving layup, after she stole a pass, and she not only started strong but finished equally impressively. Sparkman's 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. She's quick. She's a good defender. I thought she kept her wits about her."
With the graduation of Claire Brennan, Grayslake Central's offense will run through Sparkman.
"Claire was a great player. It is tough shoes to fill," Sparkman said. "I'm happy to be more part of the team now. It's 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. "She's playing with confidence out there.
"She's 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. "That's what I've been working on for a while."
Libertyville (0-2) played without senior guard Olivia Mayer, the team's 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.
"She's 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.
"We're struggling," Pedersen said. "We're young. We had no varsity experience on the floor at all tonight. We got a very large learning curve right now. We're going to work at it, and we're going to get better."
Miller helped secure Grayslake Central's win by hustling for 5 of her 6 rebounds in the fourth. She also finished with 4 steals and 3 points.
"I'm very proud of my team," Sparkman said. "It was a team effort. We've been practicing hard. Libertyville put up a great fight."