The Natural UNO junior Sami Spenner finished just out of an invitation to the U.S. Olympic Trials
Published: Tuesday, September 25, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, September 25, 2012 17:09
Sami Spenner’s college career started in volleyball as a setter with a tremendous amount of upside. Spenner graduated from Scotus Central Catholic, one of the premiere volleyball schools in the state, as one of the program’s best ever.
Spenner was First Team All-State when the Shamrocks won the title in 2008, piled up 782 assists that season, the second best season in school history, and finished with 1,280 assists in her career, fourth on Scotus’ all-time list. Her high school athletic career also included an All-State Honorable Mention in both basketball and soccer.
Spenner accepted an opportunity to play volleyball at Wayne State, and began as the backup setter in the fall of 2012. But a funny thing happened just a few months before that.
Spenner left soccer to go out for the track team as a senior. At the Nebraska State Track Meet, Spenner finished third in the long jump, third in the triple jump, second in the 200-meter dash and helped the 4X100-meter relay team take first.
Thanks to Spenner switching to track just weeks before graduation, Scotus captured the Class B state championship.
“Steve (Smith, UNO’s head track coach) told me that this girl, Sami Spenner was interested in coming out and I immediately remembered the name,” UNO Assistant track Coach Chris Richardson said. “[I thought] we gotta get her out because I remember her jumping at the state meet and that’s why I was trying to recruit her.”
When Spenner made her mark at the state meet she hadn’t been on anyone’s radar. She had already accepted an offer to play volleyball at Wayne State so her numbers, while impressive, didn’t attract much attention from college track programs.
After seeing action in only five Wayne State volleyball matches, Spenner soon turned her attention back to track. After just one very successful year of high school track she figured, why not keep trying in college track?
If that was just one year what could more time and more training bring?
“After watching the Olympics this year I thought you know, I could be up there,” Spenner said.
Don’t laugh. Last year’s outdoor season and Spenner’s natural ability had her close to earning an invitation to the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials in June.
Richardson, who calls himself a multi-events nerd, had been paying attention to heptathlon scores from across the country. He looked into the world rankings, particularly the scores from American athletes.
“I compared her score to that one and when it was all said and done, she ended up being the very last person not in there,” Richardson said.
At the prestigious Drake Relays in late April, Spenner set six personal bests on her way to finishing fourth in the heptathlon. In just her second year competing in the event, Spenner was the highest finishing American-born athlete.
Her career-best mark of 5,593 points was just seven points away from qualifying for the Trials. Had Spenner qualified and put up that number in Eugene, Ore., she would have finished 16th in the competition.
All of that happened at a meet where Spenner’s only goal was to do better than the meet before.
“The goal was a 5,600 [and] I thought maybe I’ll get that next year, maybe I’ll get it the year after that, that was always my goal, to hit that,” Spenner said. “I don’t know what happened. I was at such a head start to where I had been [and] it just kind of rolled from there.”
After the first day, Spenner had set four personal bests. She followed it up with two more the next day, dropping her 800-meter time by six seconds.
“I remember hitting it and thinking, oh my gosh I was seven points short of it (the Trials),” Spenner said. “Then I had to have Chris tell me ‘you know what, guess how far you’ve come in that two year span? You were thinking about this in future years, you weren’t thinking about this now.’ I was happy but then again, I really wanted those seven points.”
The 5,600 that Spenner was shooting for is the normal cutoff line for invitations to the Trials. Since she barely missed it, Spenner decided not to enter her name into consideration.
The heptathlon consists of seven events, four contested on the first day and three on the second. Day one includes the 100-meter hurdles, high jump, shot put and 200-meters. Day two finishes the competition with the long jump, javelin and 800-meters.
Athletes that achieved a 5,800 or higher are considered to have made the ‘A’ standard and automatically qualify for the Trials.
Those with the ‘B’ standard of 5,600 or higher make the team only if additional competitors are needed to make the event competitive. Normally the field is limited to 18.
In 2012 the Trials accepted 20 competitors. Spenner was only 13 points away from the lowest qualifier.
“Even just during the very first week when she came out [and] did some of the drills we were doing, I could see that she knew how to do them, had a natural spring in her step, which you don’t see in everyone, and she was just able to pick up things very quickly,” Richardson said about Spenner’s natural ability. “She transferred here on her own, she contacted us on her own, she essentially just kind of fell into our laps and turned out to be one of the best athletes I’ve ever coached.”
But what’s next? Spenner missed her chance at London, and the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro are four long years away.