The Lincoln County Sparx girls basketball team more than held its own in the recent 2012 AAU Girls Basketball National Tournament in Nashville, Tenn., with the local squad placing fifth in 5th Grade Division II out of a pool of 32 teams.
The Lincoln fifth-grade team, led by head coach Pops Stevenson, lost only one game during the five-day tournament June 24-29, making it to the Elite 8 before bowing to the defending national champion Jacksonville (Fla.) Lady Rams.
Lincoln qualified for nationals by winning the Kentucky 5th Grade AAU championship and went 6-1 at nationals, bowing out of title contention in a 50-39 loss to the Lady Rams. Lincoln went on to claim the fifth-place trophy by beating 2019 Team Elite - Blakley (Ind.) 31-30.
“We are so proud of our girls, they represented our county and state really well on and off the court,” said Sparx assistant coach Darin Lane. “It was a fun-filled week in Nashville ... we really feel that they could have played with any team in the tournament. Many of the other teams’ coaches came and watched (scouted) our games and thought we were one of the teams to beat.”
“Our girls finished 6-1 and brought back a really nice fifth place national trophy,” he said. “... which we thought was really great considering our team is only made up of in-county kids and most of the other 82 (division 1-3) teams were made up of girls picked from either the whole state or a region in their state.”
The members of the Sparx AAU team are: Maddy Boyle, Sara Mae Bullock, Allison Cummins, Emma King, Anna Lane, Kallie Phillips, Trinity Shearer, Haley Southerland and Kaitlyn Wilks. Assisting Stevenson in coaching the team were Darin Lane, Eric King, Rebecca Shearer and Brian Shearer.
Lincoln never led in the championship bracket quarterfinal matchup with Jacksonville, falling behind 16-8 in the first quarter. The Sparx fought their way back to get within two points of the Lady Rams but would get no closer as Jacksonville pulled away to get the 50-39 win.
The loss dropped the Sparx into the consolation bracket for fifth- through eighth-place. Lincoln defeated the Alabama Starz 34-28 to make the fifth-place game against 2019 Team Elite - Blakley (Ind.), a team the Sparx had edged past in pool play. Lincoln used its press to outscore the Indiana squad 13-3 in the first quarter , but Team Elite wouldn’t back down. Indiana came back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Lincoln regained the lead late by sinking a free throw to go on top 31-30. Indiana twice had opportunities to win the game only to have the Sparx defense deny their shots to claim the fifth-place trophy.
“We didn’t have as good shooting during the tournament (championship bracket - 16 teams) as we did in pool play, but was able to score many points off our defense,” Lane said.
Only the top two seeds from each pool made the AAU championship backet, and the Lincoln Sparx guaranteed themselves a spot in that bracket by sweeping through pool play to grab a No. 1 seed.
Lincoln opened pool play with a squeaker over 2019 Team Elite - Blakley (Ind.), edging the Indiana squad 39-37. The Sparx concluded pool play in routs, defeating the homestanding Tennessee Starz 52-27 and Ohio Express 59-29.
“Our team really came out shooting great and playing tremendous defense during pool play,” said Lane.
Lincoln scored two victories in the championship bracket before bowing to Jacksonville. The Sparx faced off against the Kentucky Blast, the team they defeated to win the state AAU title and the only other Kentucky team in the nationals, in their first game. It was a close back-and-forth battle between the two state rivals but Lincoln emerged the victor with a 42-35 win.
Although the AAU season is now behind them, the Sparx are taking no breaks, spending their free time preparing for the next season.
“The girls now move on to get prepared for the middle school season which is just a month away,” Lane said. “Their goal – undefeated season with a state title!”