Kristen Sparks owned the Portage Trail Conference en route to winning Gazette MVP in girls bowling last season.
The Cloverleaf senior wanted a bit more this winter.
You see, the standout won the 2018 PTC Tournament and had everything going her way before a 483 three-game series at the Stark County Division I Sectional left her 72 pins short of qualifying for district.
She was at home training for softball a little earlier than she had planned.
“Last summer I mostly worked on my technique to make it to district,” Sparks said. “Being a senior and knowing it was my last year in high school, I wanted to accomplish more than I did last year. The goal of knowing I had the chance to make it, it was the drive of wanting to get there.”
While the state tournament eluded the two-time Gazette MVP and three-time All-Gazette selection, district was a lock.
She didn’t just do well, she dominated her sectional with a 548 three-game series (179-179-190). That score was eclipsed only by Canton McKinley’s Brooke Tucker, whose Bulldogs qualified as a team. That made Sparks the highest scoring individual qualifier and gave her the golden ticket.
“She doesn’t seem to let anything get her down,” Colts coach Dennis Huffman said. “Even getting behind didn’t faze her. She’d give you the same shot.
“That’s something unique for bowling. Most people will get nervous. She just keeps coming up with big games. That’s something on her end that is amazing. She stays calm in any situation.”
That was evident in the fact Sparks led Medina County in scoring average (201.0) and high two-game series (470). Proving her dominance, she finished second in the area in high game with a 276.
To put that in context, Sparks’ average was 31.0 pins higher than her closest county competitor, Black River’s Lillie Wacker.
If the Colts needed a big game, all they had to do was look for their leader and Sparks would provide the fireworks.
“The amazing part was she had a couple of bad days and, without that, her average would have been higher,” Huffman said. “She’s had some really big games and nothing seems to faze her. We could be in a situation where it looks like we could lose the match and she doesn’t waver at all. She’ll come right back with a 250 or 260 game and we’re right back on top. It was fun to watch.”
What also made Sparks stand out was her leadership. Coupled with seniors Whitney Wilson, an All-Gazette selection, and Kelly Lacko, an honorable mention choice, Huffman knew he didn’t have to do much to get the team ready.
But if something needed fixed, Sparks was there with guidance and support.
“I don’t think we’re going to replace her immediately,” Huffman said. “It’s going to take awhile to find someone of that caliber.”
While the game might be hard to replace, the blueprint for what it takes to be successful has been there since the inception of the program.
Sparks will move on to college, but her legacy will remain.
“I just want them to think it is possible,” she said of her teammates. “I want them to know that they can become better than I am. It’s a pride thing to know I made it as far as I did. My team had a better record than they did before and they pushed hard just like I did.”