Natalie Wilks’ hiatus from hoops was harder than she thought it would be.
After starting for Sparta at center her freshman and sophomore seasons, she sat out last season to devote more time to her off-season softball training.
Wilks remained a regular at Sparta home basketball games, cheering on her former teammates and often finding herself wishing she was playing alongside them.
“I cried multiple games,” she said. “It was sad to watch everyone play that I grew up playing with. I came to almost every single home game. In the District (semifinal) game, I wished I was out there. I missed it a lot.”
Walks has returned to the hardwood this winter for her senior season and is happy for it.
“It feels good to be back,” she said. “I’m excited for the whole season. My expectation is definitely a District championship. I think we will work hard to do it.”
Already this school year, Wilks was part of a SWCL championship for Sparta in volleyball and qualified for State in golf.
Earlier this month when basketball practices began, Wilks received the kind of warm welcome back from her teammates that she expected.
“I grew up with four of these girls,” she said of her fellow seniors. “It didn’t take long for everyone to get back to normal and back to work.”
A very similar story played out at Sparta a year ago, when Shelby McMurry returned for her senior season, after choosing not to play as a junior. She had been a starter her freshman and sophomore years. McMurray closed her career as an All-SWCL First Team guard.
All in all, Wilks doesn't feel it was a mistake not to play basketball last winter. She feels she made good use of her free time, working out at the Bader Sports Performance in Nixa and seeing the results she sought.
Wilks went on to lead the Lady Trojans' softball team last spring with a .568 batting average and a 22-3 W-L record.
"I got stronger and put more work in toward hitting and pitching,” she said.
Wilks put herself in position to receive the chance to continue her softball career. She signed with Three Rivers last week. The Lady Raiders plan to have her pitch and hit.
“It’s a very big relief,” she said of her college commitment. “I’m excited and feel I can go far. I always thought juco might be the best route for me and I definitely think it is.”
The strength Wilks gained was with softball in mind. But she feels it will help her be more confident in basketball, too.
”I feel I'm more active,” Wilks said. “Sophomore year, I didn't really think of myself as a shooter. This year, I'm going to work on taking the ball into my hands and not just passing it out.”
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