TOLEDO — Heading into her senior basketball season, Toledo’s Stacie Spahr needed a landing spot for college.
So Indians’ coach Brian Layton helped her reach out to a list of colleges she was interested in attending. Though most programs on the list were community colleges, one was Pacific Lutheran University. Layton reached out to PLU’s coach GC Hillburn and sent some of Spahr’s game film.
It didn’t take long for her to get a campus invite from Hillburn. Spahr, a 6-foot post, was coming off a breakout season where she helped the Indians go 23-6 overall and capture the league title. They fell one game short of a state trophy, their best season in 11 years.
While visiting PLU to watch the team practice on Oct. 16, the Lutes seniors sat down and had a discussion with Spahr and a couple other recruits. The seniors told Spahr that PLU was easy to brag about. Nothing they had to tell the recruits was a lie because every aspect of the school was top notch.
Not only that, but Spahr has been planning to major in elementary education, and one of the seniors just so happened to also be majoring in that field, saying the program at PLU is excellent. Plus, she instantly liked Hillburn.
“He’s a really outgoing guy and super funny,” Spahr said. “He’s not like a stuck-up varsity coach. He’s really nice.”
After the practice, Spahr went into Hillburn’s office and talked some more. He had already given her a heads up before the visit that he would likely offer her a scholarship. Spahr kept it quiet, even from her parents. She had no intention of committing in October, instead expecting to find her college of the future figured out sometime in March.
Hillburn asked if she could see herself being Lute. She said yes. He then asked if she wanted to commit to Pacific Lutheran. She wanted to, but it took her a long time to actually get the word ‘commitment’ out of her mouth. Saying the word ‘commitment,’ it turns out, is a big commitment.
“I didn’t realize how big of a word that is,” Spahr said. “That’s the next four years of my life. I knew I wanted to go there but that’s just a big thing.”
Eventually she was able to say the actual word and went out to tell her parents and the assistant coach of the news.
It’s a dream Spahr has been working toward for years. She’s known all along she could walk-on somewhere or get on a community college roster, but wasn’t sure she would make it to a university right off the bat.
Former teammate Kal Schaplow, a 2020 Toledo grad, inspired her to reach for programs that might seem like a longshot. Schaplow told her not to settle on the places she knew she could go to, instead reach out to places that might seem out of the question.
“I kind of underestimate myself,” Spahr said. “I did start reaching out to bigger places, and it turns out maybe I’m not community-college material.”
Spahr has made a high school career out of dominating the paint the past three years, breaking two school rebounding records this past season. This spring, she broke Melody Strutzenburg’s single-season rebounding record of 334 set in 1994-95, and Erin Malunat’s career rebound record of 608, set from 1985-89. She currently sits at 638 career rebounds and hopes this season actually commences so she can take a crack at 1,000.
“I really don’t want it to be canceled,” Spahr said. “I really think they’re going to keep pushing it back until it can’t be pushed back, and sadly I think some things will be canceled.”
But for the past three years, Spahr has had her eyes on taking Toledo’s single-game record of 23. She has pulled down 19 rebounds in multiple games but can’t seem to get over the hump. Problem is, the Indians were just too good last year. They’d blow teams out and the starters would get pulled early.
“Everyone on my team knows I’m trying to get 24 rebounds,” Spahr said. “And I’ve had opportunities to do so, but my coach is not the kind of guy to leave the starters in when we’re killing a team.”
Even if she doesn’t leave Toledo owning all three rebounding records, she’s still excited about joining the Lutes next fall and helping them rebuild their program. PLU finished the 2019-20 season 11-14 overall and 6-10 in the Northwest Conference, finishing tied for eighth out of nine teams.
She has yet to sign her National Letter of Intent but plans to do so in the near future when PLU sets up a time and date. For now, she’s just taking things one day at a time while keeping her future college career on the horizon. She’s looking forward to setting roots in Tacoma with new teammates.
“It’s nice, because it’s pretty close to home, so if I miss my family or something I can come back and see them,” Spahr said. “Or if I don’t want to see them I can just go to college. I’m just excited to go there and meet new people.”