New Sparks coach Tawnya Beck is familiar with winning.
A 2004 Bishop Manogue grad, Beck won two state softball titles and a third as a member of the girls basketball team. Last year, she was an assistant for the Bishop Manogue girls basketball team which claimed its second-straight regional title.
The program she just took over is not so familiar with winning.
Sparks has won seven combined games the last four seasons. She wants to change that.
Her plan to push Sparks out of the 3A North cellar covers everything from teaching her girls how to eat right, to keeping personal records for fundamentals, such as left-handed layups.
“I know the mentality of other teams and other coaches … it’s not like they’re really preparing for Sparks,” she said. “You’re walking into an automatic win basically. I want to change that. I think Sparks has the potential to be not at the bottom of the pack anymore. I don’t want to be everybody’s whipping boy.”
Beck is cautiously optimistic, and yet completely in tune with the state of Sparks girls basketball. Sparks will not have a JV team this year.
Due to so many drastic changes within the program, some that created “culture shock,” turnout was low. In fact, that’s the biggest goal of her inaugural season. It’s not to win ‘x’ number of games, or to compete for a postseason berth, but rather to grow a sense of pride at Sparks about the girls basketball program.
“I want to walk away (after this season) with a core group of kids who are invested into this program,” she said. “I want a changed mindset around our school and our community. I want people to be proud about Sparks again. I want a packed gym on Friday nights.”
She concedes the overhaul she has choreographed is going to take time. And patience. So instead of judging the program’s movement by wins and losses, she will celebrate the “little victories.”
This winter, she will rely largely on junior point guard Angie Hurtado and let players earn roles around her. Hurtado will not be the tallest player on the floor, but what she lacks in size, she more than makes up for in athleticism.
“She’s going to be a little general out there for me,” Beck said. “And getting her in the mindset of pushing tempo. I really want her to understand her own speed and capabilities a little bit better this year.”
The class behind Hurtado, the sophomores, figures to be the future of the program. The five-deep class is the first that Beck will get to work with for an extended period. Beck sees that group as a potential building block.
“I have a large sophomore class that is carrying me in this program,” Sparks’ new coach said. “Luckily for me, I get to teach this kids everyday (Beck is also a social studies teacher at Sparks), so I see my sophomores a lot.”
No change comes without resistance. The Railroaders aren’t going to compete for state titles the next couple years. But the climb from the basement starts with a first step.
That is what Beck is doing. She’s convincing the Sparks girls basketball program to take that first stride. She’s changing the mindset. She’s transforming the culture.
“We’re changing a lot,” she said. “I don’t know if everybody’s ready to jump on board (yet) … I think it’s going to shift in the next season or two, for us, a lot.”