Kennett's Anna Kay Hilburn eyes a shot Thursday at the Class 1 state tennis tournament at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield.
Hilburn and Sparks advanced to the Round of 16 in individual doubles with a 6-4, 6-3, win against North County's Miranda Maeys and Cheyenne Anderson on Oct. 9.
"We never expected to really get this far," Hilburn said. "We just became a better and better team as the year went on and learned how to mesh well with each other."
It is Hilburn and Sparks first season as doubles partners. Neither player has advanced to the Round of 16 in doubles in past high school tennis seasons.
"We've been really working hard together and playing together," Sparks said. "We work together really well."
Hilburn, a senior, and Sparks, a junior, found out they would be doubles partners shortly before the start of the 2012 season.
Both players were excited by the announcement.
Kennett's Darby Sparks charges a ball Thursday at the Class 1 state team competition in Springfield, Mo.
"It was kind of a toss up at the beginning of the season who was going to be doubles partners," Sparks added. "Janet ended up picking Anna Kay and I. We were really excited going into the first match and looking forward to having a good year together as doubles partners."
Hilburn hopes Friday's competition will be a memorable experience regardless of the outcome.
"We just want to enjoy the experience and have a good time," Hilburn said. "It's only every now and then you get to go to state in a sport. Having a partner to experience it with makes it a blast."
Both players have experience competing for a state title on a big stage. Hilburn and Sparks were both members of the 2011 Kennett Lady Indians girls basketball program that advanced to the state final four and placed fourth in Class 3.
"We know what it's like to play on a big stage," Hilburn said. "I think our past experience at Columbia should help make us a little better prepared this time.
Sparks added: "Knowing how great of an experience it was in basketball makes it even more exciting. It's a great thing that only happens once every blue moon."
The Round of 16 bracket is randomly determined with a drawing once the 16 doubles teams that have qualified arrive at Cooper Tennis Complex in Springfield. First-round and second-round matches will be played on Friday. Semifinal and championship-round matches will take place Saturday.
"It's double-elimination so we know going into it if we do lose one game we still have another chance," Sparks said.
Hilburn and Sparks will begin play in the doubles tournament less than 24 hours after playing two matches in the state final four team competition at Thursday.
"We might be a little tired," Hilburn said of playing multiple matches. "But I think we are going to push through it and try to beat the other 15 teams."
Note: View the Class 1 Round of 16 doubles bracket at this link: Bracket