There’s no place Spano wants to be more than on the pitch
by Chris Hunt
SouthLake Christian Academy’s sideline was oddly subdued during an intense, 2-1 victory over rival Concord First Assembly recently. SouthLake’s reserve soccer players rarely stood up on this warm, March 22 night, deferring to Eagles coach Mark Apgar, who anxiously paced the white boundary that separated the field of play from out of bounds.
One Eagles player, however, couldn’t sit still on the sidelines.
During the first half of the game, SouthLake forward Bethany Spano sat alone on one knee in front of the bench between her teammates and her coach. Leaning forward ever so slightly, it seemed she was trying to inch closer to the action on the field. It was as if she thought if she got close enough, she could sneak into the game without drawing attention.
From the bleachers, it was obvious Spano wasn’t taking kindly to the shackles of her inactivity. By the second half, she had picked up a soccer ball and joined Apgar in what seemed to be a quest to pace back and forth until there was no more grass left under their feet.
Unlike her teammates on the bench, Spano would not sit down for the rest of the game. The silent frustration written all over her face was a sign that this quiet, humble girl itching to get in the game just might be one of the most competitive players in the Lake Norman area.
“I really don’t like watching,” said a frustrated Spano during the First Assembly game.
When a soccer game isn’t in play, Spano’s physical appearance often betrays her desire to win. The junior is one of the smallest players on the squad, with an innocent face that rarely allows a hint of confidence escape her demeanor.
Then again, it wasn’t her choice to sit out against First Assembly. Fearing a concussion or broken nose, team officials made the precautionary decision to sit Spano down after she took a shot off her face the night before in a 2-2 draw with Greensboro’s Caldwell Academy.
Spano absorbed the blast in the first half and was briefly knocked down. At the time, the Eagles were down, 2-0. Spano got back up and scored the next two goals, tying the game late in the second half. The following day, she wore a bruise on the bridge of her nose as a badge of honor.
Needless to say, it’s hard to question her toughness.
“The SouthLake fans call her ‘the Weeble,’” said Spano’s mother, Pam, as she laughed about her daughter’s ability to shake off a collision. “Like the kids’ toy, ‘Weebles wobble, but they don’t fall down.’ Bethany gets knocked down, but she just bounces right back up.”
On the field, Spano’s motor runs hard. Along with fellow forward Emily Lipinski, the up-top tandem relentlessly pressures defenders until they motion to the sideline for a break. Spano and Lipinski combined for 50 goals last season. After the Eagles finished the regular season with a spotless 16-0 mark, Spano earned the Metrolina Athletic Conference Player of the Year award.
Sparked by Spano’s play last year, the Eagles advanced to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A semifinals for the third consecutive season. Spano, who’s been on the varsity squad since seventh grade, played a significant role on all three teams. She has 10 goals this spring, well on her way to her third consecutive season of more the 20 goals.
“Bethany and Emily hound people with their speed,” said Apgar. “If defenders dilly-dally with the ball, they will take it from them. Their constant effort and drive takes the pressure off our players and puts it on their defense.”
Spano comes from a cross country family. Her father, Chris, competed for the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University and trained Spano’s elder sister, Kim, North Mecklenburg High School’s legendary 4A cross country state champion who now competes for Syracuse University. The family was so involved with cross country that Kim Spano transferred into the public-school system during middle school because the Eagles didn’t have a cross country team at that time.
But instead of following in her family’s footsteps, Bethany Spano fell in love with soccer. Since she was 5 years old, Spano could be found practicing with a soccer ball. Her speed and quickness made her a natural competing in youth soccer organizations such as the Strikers Soccer Center and the North Meck Soccer Club.
Spano, however, didn’t shun cross country to be different. She ran to stay in shape and finally picked up the sport competitively as an eighth-grader. That year, Spano won the NCISAA state title. She finished second in the state the next season.
“I wouldn’t deny that she could have been a great cross country runner,” said Chris Spano, “but she fell in love with soccer. It’s her passion. You drive by our cul-de-sac, and she’ll be in the street dribbling or juggling a soccer ball – she’s practicing anywhere she can drop or kick a soccer ball.”
As a freshman, it became clear Spano wanted to play soccer in college. Now she focuses all her efforts on her first love, even playing for the Lake Norman Eclipse soccer club in the fall instead of running for SouthLake. Pam Spano said her daughter would rather shun the limelight of individual competition to compete in a team sport. Her daughter agrees.
“I’ve been playing soccer a lot longer than running,” said Spano. “It’s about a team, and it’s not just you. I think cross country puts too much pressure on one person. I like soccer because we help each other get better.”
One of those players Spano is helping to improve is her younger sister, Stephanie, a freshman midfielder at SouthLake. Earlier this season, in victories over Northside Christian and Statesville Christian, Bethany set up Stephanie for two goals. On both plays, Bethany advanced the ball to the corner, cut back and fed Stephanie for one-on-one opportunities with the goalkeeper.
“It was great stuff,” Pam said. “She set up Stephanie twice for goals. It’s times like that you wish you had the camera going.”
For years, the Spano name was synonymous with cross country running in the Lake Norman area. But, due in large part to Bethany, it seems the Spano clan has migrated from cross country family to a soccer family.