Prep Profile: Leading the way
As Billy Corbin ran laps around the track in preparation for his upcoming basketball season at Forest Lake Christian, one of his teammates was busy running Vacaville Christian’s soccer team ragged on the grass infield of the track Corbin circled.
But what’s new, Corbin shrugged when asked about that teammate, FLC senior Ben Sparling.
After all, Corbin said he has watched Sparling provide stellar play for the Falcons on both the basketball floor and the soccer field.
“He’s just got a really good mind for the game,” Corbin said of Sparling’s approach on the basketball floor. “He’s really good at psyching us up and getting us ready. He always gives his best and makes sure we give our best, too.
“He’s just one of those natural athletes and he’s also a natural leader. He likes to be out front. And if he’s not, he pushes himself to be out front so he can be an example to the rest of the team.”
On the soccer pitch this fall, Sparling has been out front time and time again. In 11 of the 23 matches the Falcons have played this fall, Sparling has scored more than one goal, including four matches that saw the senior forward land a hat trick.
“I think he just wants to score goals,” said Vacaville Christian coach Paulo Mikelionis, who saw Sparling light his team up for seven goals in three Central Valley Christian League matches. “I think basically that’s it.
“Once you get the feeling for scoring goals, you want to score more. Once you get into the double digits, or 10 goals, you want to get to the 20s and then the 30s.”
So far this season, Sparling has netted 32 goals, including the three he scored on Mikelionis’ team in the regular season finale Tuesday at FLC.
But it wasn’t always Sparling’s role to score goals. A year ago, as a right midfielder, his job was to feed Andreas Zeichegg, then the Falcons’ leading scorer.
Zeichegg led FLC in scoring the last two seasons, including a 33-goal effort in his senior season while leading Thad Kopec’s Falcons to a fourth Sac-Joaquin Section soccer championship.
“Last year, my job was to put corners in the box,” Sparling said. “Now my job is to score goals, which is a lot more fun.
“But (the 32 goals are) definitely because of all my teammates. They give me beautiful balls and all I’ve got to do is put some touches on them.”
Kopec said Sparling, who ranks second in the section in goals scored, is such a heady player and gifted athlete that he could play anywhere on the pitch.
“He could play anywhere, goalkeeper, sweeper … He can kick the ball about 70 yards in the air,” Kopec said. “He was a complimentary player last year. He didn’t get the ball as much as Andreas. Now it’s his focus.”
Because of his own individual success, soccer is fast becoming the focus of Sparling’s sports world, as well.
Even though his first love has always been basketball.
“I’ve loved it since the fourth grade,” said Sparling, who averaged 15.7 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.3 steals per game as a junior. “My preference has always been basketball, but my body is better suited for soccer because I’m so short.”
He hasn’t ruled out playing basketball – or both sports, for that matter – in college. He said he’s currently looking at Southern California schools such as Point Loma Nazarene University, California Baptist University and San Diego Christian College.
But, Sparling says, if he’s offered a scholarship in either sport, it’s certainly going to be something he will consider.
“Financially, that’s the biggest thing about (playing in college),” Sparling said. “And because I love it.
“I don’t think I’d be able to go to school without sports to play. It keeps me going, knowing after school I’ve got a sport to play.”
Though he still has his senior basketball season ahead, Sparling said he realizes his options on the hardwood are likely to be limited by his “less-than-6 foot” stature.
But his soccer coach said the senior shouldn’t worry whether he’ll get an opportunity to play after high school. Kopec said Sparling could continue to be a soccer standout in college.
Right now, however, Sparling said he’s more focused on how his team fares in next week’s section soccer playoffs rather than how many goals he’s scored or whether he’s going to earn an athletic scholarship.
“It’s a team game,” said Sparling, who will look to help lead the Falcons to back-to-back section titles this fall. “If our defense didn’t step up this year, we probably wouldn’t be talking right now, because we’d be in the lower half of the league.
“It’s a whole different game when everybody is out to beat you. Last year we were kind of the underdog. This year everybody has been gunning for us.”
To contact Sports Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail email@example.com or call 477-4240.
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