May 6, 2009

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Spiro's Star Rises as Penn's Top Two-Way Threat

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Emma Spiro's influence spans both ends of the field for fourth-seeded Penn, which hosts Fairfield in a first-round NCAA tournament game Sunday at Drexel.

© Penn Athletic

Much like the Penn women's lacrosse team, Emma Spiro has come a long way.

"I love to be challenged," said Spiro, the Quakers' junior midfielder. "It's part of the reason I came to Penn. A lot of D-III schools wanted me, and I could have gone and been pretty good. I wanted to have a great coach and try to work my way to the top with a great team."

Mission accomplished. Spiro was a Tewaaraton Trophy nominee (before the finalists were announced Tuesday) for the best college player on a Penn team that won its first 13 games on its way to a third straight Ivy League championship and berth in the NCAA tournament.

"I never thought she'd come along this quickly," said Penn head coach Karin Brower, whose fourth-seeded Quakers host Fairfield at 1 p.m. Sunday in the first round of the NCAAs. The game will be played at Drexel due to the Ivy League Heptagonal track meet at Franklin Field.

The Stags will be the latest team to try to slow Spiro, who influences both ends of the field.

Spiro is fourth on the Quakers in total points with 31 -- including a team-high four game-winning goals -- but she also leads the team in draw controls (45), balls (29) and caused turnovers (13). She is the only Penn players among the top five scorers with less than 10 turnovers.

"She's been our steadiest go-to player," Brower said. "As a defender, she keeps kids to almost no shots. She's not a take-away defender, but she has such great body position. It's really frustrating for opposing players. I'm proud of how much she's raised her play at both ends."

Despite a standout career that included 262 goals and 92 assists at Wellesley High in Massachusetts, Spiro had significant deficiencies.

She was physically weak when she arrived in Philadelphia.

"I was the smallest person," Spiro said.  "I weighed a lot below everyone on my team. I couldn't lift with the team. I had to go individually every day to catch up."

She didn't have much playing experience.

"I only started when I was a freshman in high school," Spiro said. "In my town, lacrosse started in seventh grade, but I was playing AAU basketball and club soccer. I couldn't play lacrosse. It didn't work with my schedule. It took me a while to catch up."

Her stick skills needed extra attention.

"I never put the ball in my left hand when I was a freshman," she said.

Penn knew all that about Spiro. They knew she wasn't a risk because she was such a strong student, and they hoped to develop her athleticism. What they underestimated was her drive.

"I knew I was at a top program," Spiro said. "Other people came in with more confidence.

"With lifting and getting my stick skills better, it made me more confident and more of an impact player on field."

Spiro played in all 18 games as the first midfielder off the bench in her freshman campaign. As a sophomore, though she didn't even garner All-Ivy League recognition, she doubled her goals, tripled her ground balls and caused turnovers and finished third on the team in draw controls. Her stats are up this season again, and the accolades are pouring in.

"I think she's the most complete midfielder that I've seen," Brower said. "A lot of middies are great at scoring. A lot of middies are great at the draw. A lot of middies are great at defense. When you do all three, that's something special."

Good as she is, Spiro strives to be better. She was stung when Penn lost its final two games of the regular season, to Northwestern and Stanford, to fall to 13-2. The 8-6 loss to the Cardinal on Saturday cost them the No. 3 seed.

"I was upset I couldn't get it going," Spiro said. "I couldn't get the draw or the ground ball to get us going. We'll learn and move on."

Emma Spiro has been learning and moving up ever since joining the Penn program. She serves as an active tribute to Penn's talent development, a player who's happy yet not satisfied with how far she has come.

"I'm happiest about how I progressed as a teammate and with my own personal confidence," Spiro said. "I'm someone who leads by example. I'm a hard worker."

Said Brower: "As a coach, it's what you dream about. You want to see a kid get to their potential."


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