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updated: 4/3/2014 6:01 PM

West Aurora's Spagnola has national look

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  • From relays to the jumps to the hurdles, there's nothing West Aurora senior Emma Spagnola can't do -- and she does them as well as anyone in the state.

      From relays to the jumps to the hurdles, there's nothing West Aurora senior Emma Spagnola can't do -- and she does them as well as anyone in the state.
    Laura Stoecker | Staff Photographer

    Paul Michna | Staff Photographer

    Rick West | Staff Photographer

    Daniel White

By Kevin McGavin
Daily Herald Correspondent

It was a much harder decision than Emma Spagnola faced as she prepared to enter West Aurora in the fall of 2010.

"I already knew I was going to do track," Spagnola said of choosing track and field over softball as an incoming freshman. "I was planning on running track and then playing softball in the summer."

Spagnola made an immediate impact, claiming eight consecutive DuPage Valley Conference individual championships as an underclassman in the high and long jump as well as the two hurdles disciplines.

But Spagnola made an oral commitment to the Northern Illinois University softball program as a junior.

But before the state series last spring, Spagnola changed her mind.

"It took me a couple of weeks to make the decision," Spagnola said.

Spagnola had come to the conclusion that track and field would be her collegiate destiny.

"(Softball) had been a part of her life since she was an itty-bitty girl," West Aurora girls track and field coach Teresa Towles said.

Spagnola had a sensational junior year in the Class 3A state series, nearly single-handedly earning West Aurora its first trophy in program history with a long-jump state championship and back-to-back runner-up performances in the 100- and 300-meter hurdles.

The floodgates of college track parted in an unceasing fashion, and Spagnola committed to the University of Minnesota after official visits to Iowa, Michigan and Florida.

"I figured I would have better opportunities in track," Spagnola said.

The Blackhawks finished a point behind Glenbard West for third last spring at Eastern Illinois University.

Spagnola has been only hundredths of a second away the last two years in the 100-meter hurdles.

"When it first happened, I thought about it a lot," Spagnola said of her three photo-finish losses at the state the last two years. "Now I just know that I have to run faster."

Spagnola is ranked among the top hurdlers and long jumpers in the nation.

"The biggest challenge for Emma (this spring) is the mental responsibility of being a national athlete," said Abe Jones, who trains Spagnola throughout the year. "She has only been a national athlete for about six months. I could talk about Emma all day."

Jones is hardly the only local figure who raves about Spagnola.

"The kid can do anything she wants," said Wheaton Warrenville South coach Rob Harvey, who has had consecutive conference showdowns with West Aurora the last three years. "From what I am seeing right now, she has all the pieces to the puzzle. She could be a Division-I all-American. Minnesota is a great choice for her."

"I think there is a lot of talent in Illinois," Minnesota head cross country and track and field coach Matt Bingle said. "She can be a great Big Ten-level athlete for us. She is a great athlete and has a good mentality."

"She has a lot of conference championships under her belt," Naperville Central coach Mike Stine said. "Spagnola is special. She has been around forever. Spagnola is a great athlete."

Current Naperville North senior Stephanie Mueller could be the answer to a trivia question one day: the only league athlete to ever defeat Spagnola in an outdoor conference-championship event, the high jump last year.

"All the girls (in the DVC) have been pushing me," Spagnola said of her 11 career league titles. "That's why I have won so many (conference events). It's pretty cool to win that many."

Despite a bothersome ankle, Spagnola set a new personal-best in the long jump and defended her 60-meter hurdles title over the weekend in Bloomington at the Top Times meet.

Twenty feet is a magical barrier for female long jumpers, but Towles is convinced Spagnola could enter rarified air this season in the event.

"It's within her reach, that's for sure," Towles said after Spagnola went 19 feet, 2.75 inches at Illinois Wesleyan.

"I think I could definitely get there," Spagnola said of the potential milestone. "I know I can get there."

"In the NCAA the all-American long jumpers are some of the best hurdlers, too," Jones said. "The long jump is intricately part of hurdles training."

The central decision for Towles regarding her star athlete this spring is what fourth event Spagnola does for the state series.

The long jump and twin hurdles events are no-brainers.

"I have something in mind," Towles said of ruling out her traditional fourth event, the high jump.

Spagnola gives the Blackhawks' 1,600 relay instant credibility, but Towles could opt for an individual event.

West Aurora is one of the top teams in the state this spring as Towles also welcomes back college-bound competitors Kyla Walton (Central Michigan) and Maya Marion (Marquette).

Spagnola could potentially exceed 30 points by herself in the Class 3A state finals this Memorial Day weekend at Charleston, and the senior has one thing on her mind to conclude her extraordinary career.

"I hope to win state (as a team)," Spagnola said. "We have the talent to do it. We just have to put it together."

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