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home : sports : huskie sports May 25, 2016

8/4/2014 4:49:00 PM
Othello's Tatum Sparks earns All-American honors at national tournament
Submitted PhotoTatum Sparks and coach Mark Kondo, of Othello, pose with Team Washington’s National Duals Championship plaque in Fargo, N.D., last week.
Submitted Photo
Tatum Sparks and coach Mark Kondo, of Othello, pose with Team Washington’s National Duals Championship plaque in Fargo, N.D., last week.
Othello's decorated wrestling champion Tatum Sparks earned All-American honors for her fifth time at the 44th annual ASICS-Vaughan National Wrestling Championships last week at the Fargo Dome in Fargo, N.D. In addition, the Washington team Sparks wrestled with in Fargo won the Junior Women's Freestyle Duals championship, marking the first time a team from Washington has won the tournament in its nine-year history.
Sparks (148) placed fifth in the junior division tournament, which was contested last Monday and Tuesday. With a first round bye, Sparks won her second round match against California's Anna Naylor by fall. In the quarterfinals, the Othello native was pinned by Skylar Grote, of New Jersey, thus dropping her into the consolation portion of the tournament bracket. Sparks rallied by pinning Nazareth Saavedra, of New Jersey, and Rachel Watters, of Iowa, in consecutive matches to advance to the consolation semifinals.
Defeat by technical fall met Sparks in the consolation semifinals, which left her with the fifth-place match. A win by technical fall, 11-1, over California's Nahiela Magee clinched fifth place and All-American honors for the Othello wrestler.
This marked her fifth such honor in the last three years. All-American honors are garnered by placing in the top eight at the national tournament. Two years ago, Sparks placed fifth in cadets and seventh in juniors for her first two All-American honors. Last year at Fargo, she was the national runner-up in cadets and eighth in juniors, bringing her All-American honor count to four. This year, she added the fifth tally.
"It just makes everything I work for actually worth it," Sparks said. "It actually
paid off."
Mark Kondo, a former assistant coach for Othello High School wrestling, was one of the coaches for the Washington team that Sparks wrestled with. Kondo said Sparks' feat was especially impressive considering the difficulty of competition in her bracket.
"Her (Sparks') weight class was pretty loaded," Kondo said. "There were three or four girls who have been wrestling at the next level ...Realistically, Tatum's weight was probably one of the toughest in the tournament."
Kondo said he and Sparks have trained together much over the last couple years. He said her talent and fervor to return to the national scene drove him to want to return to Fargo with her.
"We have put that time in together for a couple years now," he said. "Last year...I wanted to go back with her and coach her. So I applied to be on the Washington state women's coaching staff. This year, I was on the staff to go."
The Junior Women's Freestyle Duals tournament was contested last Wednesday, with the 16 competing teams being divided into two separate pools. The top two teams from each pool advanced to the championship pool. Washington fielded two teams in the tournament, with Sparks being captain of the Washington St. Helens team.
Washington St. Helens defeated teams from Hawaii and California to open pool play and in the first-place match to conclude pool play, the team beat Texas Blue 31-24. Sparks won all three of her matches in pool play, helping elevate Washington St. Helens to its first-place finish.
In the championship pool, Washington St. Helens first conquered New York Gold in the semifinals. Team captain Sparks had a key individual victory in the team's win, as she wrestled up at 159 pounds against junior national runner-up Alexis Bleau. Sparks pinned Bleau and Washington St. Helens advanced to the tournament championship against California A.
The gold-medal dual came down to the final match in the Junior Women's Freestyle Duals. Washington's Hailey Huerta downed California's Marina Briceno at 130 pounds, lifting Washington St. Helens to a 32-27 victory and its first team title in the event's nine-year history.
Sparks and her teammates trained in Battle Ground, two weeks ago at a training facility that belongs to Merle Crockett, the winning team's head coach. Kondo said Crockett's facility played a big part in preparing the wrestlers for the national competition.
"Our camp was an intensive camp, meaning we covered some technique but really we were trying to train the girls to be physically and mentally, ready to go for Fargo," Kondo said. "That helped our girls. They were physically in better shape and mentally they could go through the grind of Fargo."
Kondo said competitors sometimes get as little as 15 minutes between matches at Fargo, making the grind a real factor at the
national tournament.
Sparks' perfect 5-0 record during the duals tournament despite wrestling up at 159 pounds for spoke volumes to her preparedness, among other things. For the All-American, though, it was about the team.
"It was a little tougher (wrestling up a weight class)," Sparks said. "I just had to keep the mentality that I was doing it for the team and wrestle my
heart out."

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