LEBANON — She has 18 points by halftime and then 23 early in the third quarter, and every time Lebanon senior Kristen Spolyar scores against No. 9 Noblesville, I toss a look at her dad. He’s sitting about five rows behind me, Steve Spolyar is, but he won’t look at me. Not yet. He’s waiting for something special.
And here it is.
Lebanon teammate Kassidi Cadle has the ball on one side of the court, and she sees Spolyar on the other side. Between them is the Noblesville zone. Cadle throws a rainbow of a pass over the court, over the zone, almost over Spolyar. On the other side of the floor Spolyar rises, catches the pass before it can go out of bounds, lands and then — in the same motion, I kid you not — rises again.
She shoots a 3-pointer and it splashes home. Barely even moves the net. Before the night is over Kristen Spolyar will score 40 points, but none as special, as absurd, as these three. I toss another look five rows back. I look at her dad, at Steve Spolyar.
Now he’s looking at me. And he’s smiling.
* * *
In Kristen Spolyar, the Spolyar family knew what they had a lot faster than I did. She was 4 when a preschool teacher pulled Steve and Penny Spolyar aside and said she’d never seen anything like it, but no kid this young — not boys, not girls, not anybody — should have Kristen’s hand-eye coordination.
The next year Kristen joined a team at the Boys & Girls Club. They played on 8-foot rims. Running clock. Nine kids on the court moving haphazardly. Kristen Spolyar scored 69 points in her first game. The family has it on video.
“I expected she’d do well,” Steve says, “but dude, she’s dominating these people like they’re not even there. It was mad chaos, and she just … kept … scoring.”
Says Penny: “The teams were boys and girls mixed. She kept stealing the ball from everybody. That was the last time we played at the Boys & Girls Club.”
Like I say, Kristen’s parents knew right away what they had. Me, it took a full game, then interviews with Kristen, with her parents, her aunt, her uncle, her coach at Lebanon, her athletics director, before it finally seeped through.
This story, it’s not just about a basketball player, albeit one of the best in Indiana, a Butler signee who led the state in scoring — and steals, with 162 — last year as a junior with a regular-season average of 32.8 ppg. She is averaging 39.1 ppg this season, with one game in the 50s and five in the 40s. In the past eight games, she is averaging 41.4 ppg. This is absurd.
This story is more than that.
It’s a story, like so many from Lebanon, about the best player from these parts: Rick Mount. It’s a story about state boys legend Damon Bailey and girls legend Stephanie White. It’s a story about Purdue, IU, Butler.
It was Penny Spolyar who told me what I had here.
“It’s an Indiana basketball story,” Kristen Spolyar’s mom was saying.
* * *
It’s a story of a driveway on Terrace Lane, where Rick Mount came home during the ABA offseason and played basketball with the kids. Lots of those kids were named Spolyar, including Steve and his sister, Mary. In the coming years Mary Spolyar set the Lebanon High girls single-game record with 43 points. Rick picked her for his team, and took on the rest of the neighborhood.
“Eight on two,” Steve Spolyar says. “Rick and my sister beat us every time.”
Steve went on to play basketball for Mount’s coach at Lebanon High, Jim Rosenstihl, playing on the team that reached semistate in 1984. Steve played baseball at the University of Southern Indiana, set school records for complete games (26) and strikeouts (173) and met his future wife — basketball/softball star Penny Dietz. They took their first daughter, Sarah, to Rick Mount. He made her a good shooter.
And he noticed Sarah’s little sister, Kristen. Couldn’t have been older than 10, always tagging along, hanging around the driveway where Rick gave shooting lessons.
So one day Rick tells Kristen, “Come over here, little thing. I want to see you shoot.”
Penny Spolyar was watching.
“First time she shoots, it goes in the basket,” says Penny, an assistant to Lebanon girls coach Beth DeVinney. “Second time, same thing. Rick doesn’t say much, but he was smiling. Before Kristen went to high school as a freshman, Rick started working with her.”
She was a good shooter. Rick made her a great one. Too great, maybe. He set the Lebanon single-game scoring record with 57 points, a record that stood alone for nearly 50 years. Kristen Spolyar tied it Dec. 4 against Crawfordsville.
Rick Mount finished his high school career in 1966 with a Lebanon-record 2,595 points. In the half-century that followed, just one player has come within 500 points of that mark — Rick’s son, Richie (2,138).
Kristen passed Richie two weeks ago. She’s at 2,281 points.
She’s the highest-scoring girl in Lebanon history, zooming past Maggie Boyer’s mark of 1,691, a record Spolyar decided she would get before playing her first game as a freshman. She got it as a junior and figured she needed a new goal: Aunt Mary’s family record of 43 points in a game. She did it with 45 last December at Crawfordsville.
“I knew she’d get it someday,” Aunt Mary says.
“And unlike Mary,” Uncle Bob Spolyar offers helpfully, “Kristen didn’t need double overtime to get it.”
Only one record left. Just one name to chase.
Her mentor. Rick Mount. His 2,595 points.
“I want that,” Kristen Spolyar says.
* * *
The athletics director at Lebanon is greedy. His name is Phil Levine.
See, Kristen has done more than smash school records in basketball. She also holds the career record for kills in volleyball with 1,933, more than doubling the previous mark of 868, and she earned second-team all-state this fall. She’s self-taught in volleyball, just decided to start playing a few years ago, “and it was like Phi Slama Jama,” says her father, Steve. “The bump, the set, and she’d just drill it.”
Volleyball in the fall, basketball in the winter, and here comes Phil Levine with his big idea.
“I’m hoping to talk her into running track,” he says, smiling. “Can you see her in the long jump, high jump and triple jump?”
Well, sure. But her dad can see her playing first base on the Lebanon softball team. She was a travel player into middle school, and even now when she steps into a batting cage with her father — he teaches private pitching lessons in Zionsville — “You wouldn’t believe the velocity it has coming off her bat,” Steve says.
Would you believe the Damon Bailey connection? The former star at Bedford North Lawrence, the former star at Indiana, the state championship-winning girls coach at North Lawrence — that Damon Bailey. Before Bailey went to Butler last season as an assistant, Kristen Spolyar played on his AAU team. To recap: Some of her first coaches were Rick Mount and Damon Bailey.
Her first idol: Maggie Boyer.
Before she became Lebanon’s all-time scoring leader, Boyer played for Penny Spolyar’s AAU team. Kristen — little thing — tagged along, riding in the minivan, sitting on the bench, shooting during timeouts. The team presented a hand-written certificate to her, signing their names and calling Kristen Spolyar an honorary team member.
“She idolized Maggie,” Penny says of Boyer, a 2008 IndyStar Indiana All-Star who went on to score 1,245 points at Miami (Ohio). “Kristen would be out there on the court, rebounding for her. To her, Maggie was just awesome.”
These days, little girls rebound for Kristen Spolyar. They are in third grade; they play for Lebanon’s entry in the Indy Girls Hoops League, and they shag balls for a player on pace to finish third or fourth in Indiana girls history in scoring — a list topped by Shanna Zolman (3,085 points), Stephanie White (2,869) and Skylar Diggins (2,790).
One of those little girls probably wants to become the next Kristen Spolyar. Maybe one will. This is an Indiana basketball story, you know. And Indiana basketball doesn’t stop.
Find Star columnist Gregg Doyel on Twitter at @GreggDoyelStar or at www.facebook.com/gregg.doyel