In the expansive trophy case of the new high school in Sparta, you’ll see homages to the past. Notice the worn letter jackets of the mid-1950s celebrating basketball teams that won state titles? And you cannot miss all of the district plaques from various sports teams.
But look further to the right and you’ll see the picture of the girls basketball team of 2009, flanked by a basketball signed by team members and a district plaque – with a state championship trophy, too.
That team … simply amazing. The Lady Trojans finished 31-0 and won Class 2. Which is why the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame proudly inducted the 2009 Sparta High School Girls State Championship Basketball Team with the Class of 2023.
“We shared a lot of laughs together especially in practice,” Brooke Stevens said. “Coach always gave us all a hard time, but we usually dished it right back. Everyone had a good sense of humor and got along. We also were good at picking each other up when someone was down. Every single one of us was a leader at some point throughout that season. There was no selfishness.”
Coached by Jerry Songer, the 2009 team is the only girls state championship in Sparta history. The Lady Trojans beat Canton 56-49 in the finals, after Brooke Stevens scored 19 points on 6-of-7 shooting from the field and 5-of-7 on free throws. Kayla Coffer added 16 points.
Other starters were Tashina Tennis, Kayla Case and Alison Stevens. The roster also featured Paige Watkins, April Crosswhite, Courtney Baughman, Mikalah Hardcastle, Torie Coffer and Dalis Coffer. Brooke Stevens, Tennis and Kayla Coffer earned All-State honors.
The team’s key wins that season included an overtime win against Blue Eye, Strafford and Crane. The Lady Trojans beat Miller in the sectionals before beating Osceola and Couch to advance to the championship game.
“We were competitive in the years before the state championship season,” Songer said. “My first year at Sparta (2006), I started three freshmen, one sophomore and one senior on the high school varsity team. When those freshmen were juniors, we won state.”
Sparta could play a half-court man defense but also pressed full court, with either a 1-2-1-1 press zone or man run and jump. Most players could shoot 3-pointers and had the ability to score 20 points a game.
Said Tennis, “It still means so much! I still talk to my work team about it. And it makes me so happy to tell my kids about it and show them game tapes.”
Talk about a dedicated team. While they didn’t have mandatory summer practices, most players either found their way to the gym, or played summer basketball and attended camps.
Practices in the season? Brutal was the way Hardcastle described them.
“We lost in the semifinals of the district tournament the year before we won state,” Songer said. “I told them to remember that feeling and to not forget it. Because you will be in this situation again next year, and you will have the experience to overcome it. The girls worked so hard that summer and that season to accomplish their goal the next year.”
It wasn’t until midseason, when the Lady Trojans were 14-0, that winning state came into focus. That included a win against Strafford.
Canton – Sparta’s championship game opponent – out-sized the Lady Trojans across the board. However, Songer’s homework paid off.
“We outworked them, we out-hustled them and outplayed them and that showed on the scoreboard at the end of the game,” Stevens said. “I give Coach Songer a lot of props on that, as he knew exactly how to beat teams. He knew their weaknesses better than they did.”
Community support was huge. Plus, Sparta had numerous connections to past teams. The 1988 team was the last to win a district title, and it included Willis’ wife, Laura, as well as Alyson Stevens’ mom, Angela. Willis’ uncle, Landon Bilyeu, was on the 1954 boys state championship team. Case’s uncle was on the 1979 state runner-up team.
“Anywhere you were in town everybody was cheering us on and to keep up the good work,” Case said. “They kept telling us how they hoped we could go undefeated and how amazing that would be, and I felt like their support truly kept us going that year.”
What a season it was.
Said Tennis, “It literally meant so much. Most people never get to experience something like that in their entire life, let alone being 31-0!”