Jeannette grad endures medical issues to enjoy team track title at Seton Hill
Nick Spino got his conference championship after all.
Last year, track season ended early for Spino, a Jeannette High School graduate. He was in the middle of his senior season as a hurdler on the Seton Hill University track and field team when the medication he was taking for a routine ankle injury led to severe stomach ulcers and a hospital stay.
Spino was having a tremendous season and was gunning for an NCAA Division II West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC) title in two hurdling events, but those hopes ended when his season was cut short.
He was granted a medical redshirt by the NCAA, meaning he was awarded an extra year of eligibility because of the circumstances. That gave him, in essence, a second senior season this year.
While he didn't win the individual 400-meter or 110-meter hurdle events as he had hoped, he did have a competitive season and helped lead the Griffins' men's team to its first-ever WVIAC championship, which was also a gratifying way to end his collegiate career. The team title was especially satisfying given how the season began.
“Basically, the year was an emotional roller coaster,” he said. “We had a lot of upper classmen graduate from last year and a lot of new freshmen coming in … at first, I felt like we weren't very united as a team.”
“I started practicing in the mornings with just my coach, not really practicing with the team. It was my fifth year, and I started thinking ‘this is your last shot.' Then I lost my grandpap as the indoor season ended.”
Spino said the pressure and emotions got the best of him.
“I was really stressed with the sport. I got away from having fun with the sport . . . I credit my (assistant) coaches Ashely DeCruise and Weston Bank. They helped me out a lot and got me having fun again.”
That happened simultaneous to the team beginning to gel, said Spino.
“For a while, we all were more rivals than a team … with all of these personal issues and other problems we faced, we bonded over them and became a very close-knit team.”
Spino believes the unification led to the championship.
“That's why we won it, we came together as a team.”
Head Coach Tim Creamer agrees this was a close squad, and said Spino, as a senior leader, was a big factor in that.
“I think his leadership definitely played a big part in the team winning the championship,” said Creamer. “Without Nick and those seniors, those freshmen don't compete at the level they did all season. Our senior leaders as a group really pushed everyone to win a championship.
“This team had the most heart and was the most competitive. Nick embraced his role as team captain and a leader. . . he was another coach out there on the track as a fifth-year guy.”
The men's team won the WVIAC title by edging Wheeling Jesuit 213-210 at the championship meet, held at Glenville State on May 4. Seton Hill's women's team also took the title, its third consecutive.
Individually, Spino finished fourth in the 400-meter hurdles with a time of 58.94 seconds and ninth in the 110-meter hurdles with a time of 16.94. Just before the meet, Spino tweaked a hamstring, which affected his times and saw him withdraw from a relay event. It was the latest in a series of challenges he faced during the season. The competitor in him would have liked a better individual finale, but the mature leader in him is at peace.
“Overall, while I wasn't happy with my performance, how the year ended up, with a team championship, it was a blessing,” he said. “I wouldn't have had it end any other way.”
Spino is not done with track and field. He earned a sports management degree and is looking for a graduate assistant coaching position.
Brian Knavish is a freelance writer.