Shanna Sparks finds a new spark

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True, she did bring a state championship in the 3,200 meters back to Carson High School last May, but only at the end of an injury-plagued spring track season. Then, during the fall cross country season, Carson won the 4A state girls team championship, but Sparks never ran at the top of her form all season and struggled noticeably at the end.

You could tell by her painful expression after finishing 10th at the state meet on Nov. 3 in a time of 21:13 that was nearly two minutes slower than her state championship performance the year before.

Some time off seems to have made a world of difference, however, because there was no disappointment when she returned to the track on Saturday to run the collegiate women's mile at the University of Nevada's Holiday Inn Classic indoor meet in Reno. She returned to run 5 minutes, 19.68 seconds, good for second-place behind Nevada's Erin Seward at the Reno Livestock Events Center.

Second-place behind Seward (5:13.07) was impressive enough. So was the time after taking a break from running all through December to recover from what her mother and coach Penny Sparks described as burn-out.

"She stayed away from anything to do with running," Penny Sparks said. "She just needed that break from the running and competition. She needed a break in every sense of the word. Being No. 1 since her freshman year, all the expectations every time she raced really got to her. This gave her a chance to take a breather, to re-prioritize everything, and decide whether she even wanted to keep running. She's come back; she's excited about running again."

The result has been a renewed determination for the Carson junior.

"The break helped me put everything into perspective. I, like, worked on my mental attitude," Shanna said. "I felt good in the race (Saturday). I was just relieved that I'm not where I was at in cross country."

She eased back into her training, mostly aerobic-type running with no speed work.

"This was her first race, just something to get her feet wet to see where she's at," Penny Sparks said. "She's the one who told me she wanted to get a race in before track season started. She wanted to do it against good competition to get her on the right mental track, and I was encouraged by that."

Sparks even had enough strength left to come back later and place fourth in the high school girls 600-meter dash in a very respectable time of 1:45.4. She wasn't the only Carson athlete who competed, either. Sheena Bonaldi placed third in the high school girls 3,200 meters in 12:14 and Megan Zahnter was seventh in 13:16. George Pincock was seventh in the boys 600 with a 1:28.4 clocking and Terah Laack was seventh in the girls 600 in 1:48.9. Josh Corder also finished seventh in the boys 3,200 in 10:43 in the last meet before Nevada hosts the Western Athletic Conference Indoor Championships on Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the Reno Livestock Events Center.

For Sparks, this was the first step toward what she hopes will be a huge 2002 high school season. Next up is the Los Angeles Invitational indoor track and field meet, where she is entered in the rated girls mile on Saturday at the L.A. Sports Arena. She will be joined at the meet by Laack, who will run the 800.

"I'm looking for a p.r. (personal record). I want to run 5:10 or better," Sparks said of her upcoming race. "My goal is to go under five minutes this season -- I want to get into the 4:40s. I'm ready for it. I'm excited."

Practice at Carson High officially begins on Feb. 25 . The season opener is scheduled for March 9 at home against Douglas and South Tahoe.

Carson will also host its third annual track camp on Saturday, open to boys and girls ages 8-18. The cost is $25, which includes instruction and a t-shirt, and will be held from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Dave Price is a sports writer for the Nevada Appeal


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