Winchester’s Payton Sparks


Lady Falcons, now a 3A team, haven’t missed a beat

Season in a Nutshell

Winchester’s ladies, by most any account, have exceeded even the highest of expectations.

Led by Indiana All-Star candidate Maddie Lawrence and the deft shooting of senior classmate Becca Chamberlin, the Falcons have scoffed at their forced move up a class, from Class 2A to Class 3A.

The Falcons (15-2) have steadily moved up in the polls and enter the tourney tabbed No. 5 overall in Class 3A.

Losing two of three in the Pink 4 Hoops Tournament in Hammond at the end of December may have brought the team down to earth a bit, but those losses may ultimately benefit the Falcons in terms of facing stronger competition in a tournament atmosphere.

This class of freshmen has been heralded since elementary and they have not disappointed. The Falcons have not missed a beat despite losing four regulars from a team that advanced to the Class 2A state championship game for the second straight year.

The return from an offseason injury by 6-foot-3 senior Ara Cowper gives the Falcons a strong inside presence to compliment some great outside shooting.

Junior Brooklyn Hummel is strong and has experience, giving the team a nice option coming off the bench. Lily Lanter is another experienced junior with ability.

A strong sophomore trio of Gena Moore, Taylor Hicks and Taylor Baker gives Coach Holly Gutierrez great flexibility in the lineup. The freshman class of Caitlyn Campbell, Maci Chamberlin, Morgan Lawrence and Navaeh Lanter ensures that Winchester will be a force for quite a while.

Tourney Flashback

The Lady Falcons have had great success in the County Tourney over the years, in particular during the years of Gary Horner, who was so well thought of after his sudden death in 2008 that a sportsmanship award was dedicated in his honor and presented each year at the county tourney.

The Falcons are the defending champs, having defeated Monroe Central 60-48 in last year’s championship.

Can the Falcons win the County Tourney?

The question is not whether the Falcons can win, it’s whether they can lose. They have already defeated their main challengers to the title, Monroe Central and Union City, by 10 points each.

Although Monroe Central is a top 10 team in Class 2A and Union City is a top 10 team in Class A, the Falcons are clearly favored to claim the trophy in 2020. The Bears and the Indians though are good enough to pull off an upset if Winchester isn’t up to the task.


Look closer, Falcons are playing good ball

Season in a Nutshell

Don’t let Winchester’s 4-5 record deceive.

With all due respect to the other teams in the field, the defending county champs are primed for a repeat performance.

Clearly Monroe Central and Winchester enter the 2020 tournament as co-favorites. Both teams are primed to claim the title and appear to be on a collision course to the championship.

The Falcons defeated Union City 64-34 last year in the finals and have won 13 county titles this decade, easily the most of any other team.

Why so high on the Falcons this year with their under .500 record? For starters, let’s take a closer look at those five losses. New Castle, Delta, Wapahani, South Adams and Bluffton have a combined record of 30-10. Winchester was ripped pretty good in the season opener against New Castle, but don’t forget that the Trojans blasted Jay County by 40. We can overlook that loss.

The Falcons most recent 54-50 win over a good Blue River team was promising, showing that the Falcons can overcome adversity and close out a close win.

With big Payton Sparks, still a junior, having a huge season, averaging more than 21 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game, he seems to be finding a groove. Sophomore Brooks Burelison has become one of the top three-point shooters in the area, having made 21 three-pointers in his past four games (before Bluffton). And he’s making nearly 40 percent of them. There’s been solid performances, consistent efforts for the most part, from senior Cole Campbell and Levi Slusher, juniors Wayde Sickels and Nathaniel Dunica, sophomore Gage Patterson and freshman Dane Sickels. All have hit double figures, or been very close, in one game or another, and that shows the Falcons have good depth.

Maybe most importantly, the Falcons are playing decent defense.

The biggest issue might be the team has a tendency to have dry spells. Get rid of those and this team can not only win the county tourney, but make some major noise in the second half of the season.

Tourney Flashback

The Falcons snapped Monroe Central’s three-year reign last year, pouncing on the Bears in the semifinals and cruising past Union City in the finals. The Bears had trouble with Sparks and Wayde Sickels, and Burelison hit three treys.

Eight of Winchester’s titles came in the first decade during the dominating years under Chip Mehaffey.

Can the Falcons win the County Tourney?

Consider Winchester a co-favorite. The Falcons are the defending champs and have a great history of winning county titles. Monroe Central is playing good ball, but defending Sparks will be difficult. And that’s presuming both teams get to the finals.


Winchester Falcons (boys) 

Current Record: 4 wins, 5 losses

Biggest Win: The 64-60 win over a good Blue River  team on Dec. 28 shows that the Falcons have it in them to overcome adversity when times get tough.

Toughest Loss: Instead of building from that Blue River win, the Falcons fell flat in a 60-48 loss to Bluffton on Friday. It was their first home loss.

Last County Title: 2019

Tourney Opener: The Falcons face Union in the second semifinal game on Thursday at 7:30 p.m.


Winchester Falcons (girls)

Current Record: 15-2

Biggest Win: It could be Monroe Central, or Union City, but we’ll go with Dayton Dunbar since it would have been really hard to return from Hammond with a win.

Toughest Loss: Clearly South Bend Washington. 

Last County Title: 2019.

Tourney Opener: The Lady Falcons open the tourney against Union in the first round, at 7:30 p.m on Wednesday.