During the recruiting process, George Hageage saw Brittany Sparks as an athletically gifted – but raw – soccer prospect capable of eventually contributing at the NCAA Division I level.
These days, however, Eastern Washington University’s 10th-year coach is quick to admit he underestimated the potential of Sparks, a former four-year starter at Kamiakin High School in Kennewick, who broke Eastern’s single-season goal-scoring record late last month when she scored twice in a 5-1 non-conference win over South Dakota.
“She definitely exceeded the expectations we had for her this year,” Hageage said of his junior forward, whose eight goals have eclipsed the previous school record of seven set just last season by Lauryn Koelzer. “We were hoping she might get to eight goals sometime this year, as a junior, and we’d be happy – but she’s already there.”
The Eagles still have seven regular-season matches remaining, including Friday’s Big Sky Conference opener against Weber State in Ogden, Utah.
Sparks was not heavily recruited out of high school, even though she was named the most valuable player in the Big Nine Conference as a senior.
“Brittany was somebody that not a lot of schools were looking at at the time,” Hageage said. “But she was athletic and fast, which is what you need at the Division I level, and she had a great work ethic. Technically, she wasn’t as polished as we’d have liked, but we knew that was something we could work on once we got her here.”
Sparks started nine games for the Eagles as a freshman in 2006 but injured her knee the follow year and redshirted. She came back last fall and finished second to Koelzer in scoring and was honored as a second-team All-Big Sky selection.
“Normally, I don’t have much positive to say about injuries, but in Brittany’s case, the knee injury was a positive,” Hageage said. “She couldn’t run for a long time afterward, so she spent almost the entire year working on just her foot skills, and it really paid off.
“We’re very excited with the way she’s playing, and I think she’s only going to get stronger and stronger.”
Feast on this
Washington State plans to make an annual affair of the banquet that was held late last month as part of the soccer program’s 10th anniversary season celebration.
This year’s banquet, which welcomed back players and coaches from past Cougars teams, raised $4,400 for the program and prompted school officials to make it more than a one-time event.
“As we move forward, we want to continue to capture the spirit of Washington State University and Cougar soccer,” WSU coach Matt Potter said, following this year’s banquet. “Holding an annual event (like this) will continue to build pride in our community and program.”
Gonzaga University’s men opened West Coast Conference play on the road last week, losing to Saint Mary’s 2-0 and Santa Clara 1-0.
The Bulldogs, who are 3-4-2 overall, have gone three matches without a goal and hope to end their scoring drought Friday, when they entertain Loyola Marymount in a WCC match that starts at 3 p.m.
Eastern Washington’s women lead the Big Sky Conference with an average of 1.80 goals per game and have twice scored four or more goals in a game. … Idaho’s 1-0 double-overtime road win over Louisiana Tech last weekend was its first win over a Western Athletic Conference foe since Nov. 2, 2007, when it edged San Jose State 1-0, also on the road. … Washington State (7-3) will open Pacific-10 Conference play in Seattle at 7 p.m. Friday against Washington (8-2-1). … Whitworth’s women (9-2, 6-1 in the Northwest Conference) have won five 1-0 matches this fall. … The Pirates men (7-2-1, 5-1) lead the NWC by two points over Pacific (11-5, 4-1-1). … Gonzaga’s women, who are 6-6 after losing their last three matches, will end a six-day layoff when they open West Coast Conference play at Portland on Saturday.