Junior overcomes serious injury to break EWU records
By Keenan Bowen, EWU Sports Information
The Eastern Washington University women's soccer team is in the Big Sky Conference Championship for the first time in four seasons, and a big part of their success can be found in Brittany Sparks, a junior forward from Pasco, Wash.
Sparks played in all 19 games, starting nine, as a true freshman in 2006 while contributing a goal and an assist. She also earned Big Sky All-Academic accolades. Set to have a breakout sophomore year in 2007, Sparks unfortunately suffered a torn ACL and meniscus in practice.
With her redshirt still available, she redshirted the 2007 to recover. Coming back from injury in 2008, Sparks played her way to All-Big Sky second team honors while scoring two goals with two assists, along with Big Sky All-Academic honors.
The 2009 season has been even better for Sparks. Heading into a Friday (Nov. 6) semifinal matchup with Idaho State in Portland, Ore., she has 11 goals on the season, completely demolishing the previous single season school record for goals of seven by Lauryn Koelzer just last season.
That puts her career goal total at 14, which ties the school record set by Cyeeta Mott from 2004-07. Sparks also holds the single season school record for points (22) and game-winning goals (3).
Sparks has a chance to add to those totals tomorrow, with kickoff set for 1:30 p.m. The winner of that contest will play the victor in the Portland State-Northern Arizona contest at 11 a.m. on Sunday (Nov. 8) to decide the Big Sky champion.
The winner of Sunday's game earns the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Championship, to start the following weekend. The Eagles were victorious in a 1-0 win against the Bengals in their one meeting during the regular season.
Q: You tied the school record of 14 career goals this season as a junior; did you ever think you would accomplish that?
A: "It's a huge accomplishment that I never even imagined happening. I feel really fortunate to have the opportunity to even be playing and I feel honored. This makes me even more anxious and ambitious for next year, but a goal is a goal no matter who scores it. The number doesn't really matter to me, I'm happier winning a game than scoring a goal."
Q: Eleven of those goals came this season, shattering the old single-season record of seven. What do you attribute to that?
A: "I think what made this season different then last season was the drive and motivation to push myself harder than I ever had before all spring and summer. I felt an obligation to do better because I was a junior and also being named captain. I thought people may look up to me now so I really needed to step my game up, and knowing that was a huge motivation for me. Also, if I hadn't gotten hurt my sophomore year this would have been my last year playing."
Q: What was it like coming back from the serious injury you suffered in 2007?
A: "Coming back from that injury was one of the hardest and most frustrating things I've ever done. My knee would always swell up, I was afraid to go into tackles and I was constantly sitting out of practices because it would hurt. It was a long process to actually get to start playing all out again but it ended up helping me in the long run. During the time I was hurt I could work on the fundamentals of the game, my touches on the ball, dibbling, and shooting and that's what really helped me a lot this previous year."
Q: How do you manage both soccer and school together?
A: "Good question. It's really only hard when we have to miss class. I try to get all my homework done early so when we're gone I'm caught up, but sometimes that doesn't happen and I find myself stressed out and rushing to finish things last minute before we leave for a game."
Q: The team is back in the BSC tournament for the first time in five years, how does that feel?
A: "I feel like a boss! It's really like a dream come true. My best friends and teammates Chelsey Hannesson, Mandy Cheney and I had always told ourselves that we would make it to the Big Sky tournament sometime in our career and with them graduating this year, it was our last chance to make it and the last opportunity to ever play together."
Q: The team finished the regular season in second place, despite being picked last in the preseason poll. Did the team play with a chip on their shoulder this season?
A: "I wouldn't say we played with a chip on our shoulder. We had nothing to lose, we were picked last and we all probably could have guessed that before they posted it. So I don't think anyone was really mad about it but the 2009 squad was such a good team and we all knew it so I felt like there was a lot that we wanted to prove to everyone."
Q: What made you choose Eastern coming out of high school?
A: "I chose Eastern because the coaches were well educated, they were supportive and seemed to really want me. Our assistant coach, Tamera Hageage, right away took up the role of a second mom and it is nice to have that support behind you when you're playing. With the formation that we play it seemed like I would fit in well at this school. Eastern is a great school education wise, and it was close to home so my family could come watch me play."
Q: What has been your favorite soccer memory while at Eastern?
A: "Beating Long Beach State my freshman year was without a doubt the most memorable moment so far in my career. I think, because it was my freshman year, everything was so new and exciting to me. They were a top-25 team, and we were the underdogs and ended up winning that game 2-1. I remember the upperclassmen's reaction when we won, and it was like we had all won the mega millions lotto, it was surreal and something I'll never forget."
Q: Who is your favorite professional athlete?
A: "Kobe Bryant, he's the best in his game. You know you're the best when there's absolutely nothing your opponent can do to stop you. No matter how hard they try, he's still going to be unstoppable."