There were coaching issues, a transfer to a closer school, and a switch from Division II to Division III play, all of which created what was at times a rocky road. But coming from a small high school in a small Vermont town, where her hard work, instinct, and leadership mixed to include her name on the banners of the gym walls, Spirka simply continued to do what she has always done best, and focus on her love for the game.
Spirka began her college career at Holy Family University in Philadelphia, PA, a school with a Division II basketball program, and in turn a fulfillment of her goal to play upper division basketball in college. Playing ball at HFU also meant a full scholarship, and Spirka found herself constantly challenged during the first two years. “I was nervous,” said Spirka, “but I knew I had earned the spot, so I continued to practice. It was what I wanted to do my entire life, but in college, you have to be patient. That’s how it works, you build your way up. Coming from Wilmington where I started as a freshman and never sat on the bench, it was a big shock to me to be on the bench my freshman year, and I was disappointed.”
Spirka would pick up on the pace of college ball by her sophomore year, earning herself the HFU Tigers starting point guard position. Halfway through the season, however, and without explanation, Spirka was benched, and would rarely see the court again. This was a tough deal for a player who had traveled the country in her youth to play basketball. “I stopped playing completely,” said Spirka. “There were issues with that team, and some of them were political. He was not the best coach, and it wasn’t a great situation.”
Spirka didn’t let this experience deter her from her mission, and it certainly didn’t diminish her love for the game. Admittedly, it was also hard on Spirka being a full five hours from home, and her parents who had never missed a game. So Spirka made a move and transferred to Division III Nichols College, west of Boston, after conversing with assistant women’s basketball coach Cory Rusin, a fellow Wilmington native. While a transfer to Nichols meant playing Division III, Spirka made the decision to be closer to home, and to compete in new territory.
Spirka easily won a part-time starting role in her first year (junior year of college) at Nichols, starting in 14 games and finishing second on the team in both points and assists. “I had to get over the fact that I reached my goal of playing Division II or Division I, and that I left, but not because of skill,” said Spirka. “It was tough at first. I had so much knowledge and the difference level was tremendous. Some parts, like losing the structure I had learned at Holy Family, were hard.”
While Spirka admits she didn’t want to step on other players toes’, the point guard position was solidified as hers alone in her senior year, and she never looked back. Spirka averaged 12 points and 4.3 assists per game for the Bison, and scored over 20 points in four games.
Spirka is graduating in June with a degree in management, a natural choice for someone who has been a point guard her entire life. “I think a point guard is a type of person who’s a visionary,” said Spirka. “Anyone can bring a ball up the court, but to know what decision to make at specific times is entirely different. It’s about leading by example.”
For Spirka, the example for leadership, as well as work ethic, began with her parents Daryl and Bill who drove her to AAU practices as far as Albany, and games as far as Georgia and Tennessee as she grew older. Spirka also said that from a young age it was the consistent flow of well structured coaching she received, from coaches in youth programs and AAU to Twin Valley coach Buddy Hayford. “He pushed me in the right direction, but he doesn’t push too hard,” said Spirka. “I had a goal and he did everything in his power to help me reach that goal.”
The most important step in Spirka’s basketball upbringing was her own intense drive to increase the challenge of the game. “Playing in high school was important but getting out of Twin Valley and playing AAU was important too. It’s hard to go to college and contribute if you don’t get out of Wilmington and play with other people in other places.”