UNO Track Star Sami Spenner Fights NCAA Bureaucracy for Chance to Compete for National Title

Nebraska-Omaha Athletics

UNO Maverick track athlete Sami Spenner is the number one pentathlete in the country, and number three currently in the world. However, with UNO's recent move from Division II to Division I, she is not allowed to compete in the NCAA post-season.

She’s a coach’s dream. The kind of athlete whose raw talent is matched by her drive to get better. She’s number one in the nation in the pentathlon, and is currently ineligible to compete in the NCAA nationals.

Sami Spenner is on the track team at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). She competes in the pentathlon during indoor season, an event composed of five individual disciplines; The 60M hurdles, high jump, shot put, long jump and 800M sprint.

In 2011, all of UNO’s athletics jumped from Division II to Division 1, except for Men’s Ice Hockey, which already competed at the Division I level. As part of the change, the Mavericks faced a four-year ban from appearing in NCAA post-season.

Last indoor season, UNO appealed to the NCAA for a waiver to allow Spenner to compete in the indoor nationals. The NCAA denied the waiver. This year Sami has continued to set the world on fire, scoring a 4,406 on January 31 at a meet at the University of Northern Iowa. The 4,406 pentathlon score gives her the highest mark of any athlete in the country, and ranks third in the world right now. She is also one of only six collegiate athletes in history to ever score a 4400 or above. If UNO athletes were eligible, she would clearly be the favorite to win the pentathlon.

The 4,406 pentathlon score gives her the highest mark of any athlete in the country, and ranks third in the world right now.

Spenner started her collegiate career as a volleyball player at Wayne State College in northeastern Nebraska. That experience didn’t work out, so she transferred to UNO to major in Exercise Science. UNO offers degrees through a doctorate in the discipline.

I talked to Sami via text message on Friday night (her track coach and I attended high school together). She said the original idea to compete for the UNO track team came from her father, who threw it out when she said she was transferring. As a senior at Scotus Central Catholic High School in Columbus, she had competed in long jump and triple jump, so as a freshman, she competed in those events during the outdoor season.

"Chris (Richardson, current Head Coach of UNO Women’s Track and Field) brought up the multi kind of jokingly and the next year we started training for it," Spenner told me. She finished fifth in the heptathlon the next spring at the NCAA Division II Outdoor Nationals.

I asked Coach Richardson why he encouraged her to try the multi-discipline events.

"She had speed and more spring in her step than most people. She started improving in the long jump and triple jump almost immediately which told me that she could learn things quickly. In order to be successful in multi events, you have to be athletic and be coachable. She was both."

Obviously the hard work has paid off. Sami now has dreams of being an Olympian in 2016. [Editor's note: Imagine the story line should Ms. Spenner make the Olympic team: "Here she is in the Olympics, but she was never allowed to compete for a NCAA national title....", because the NCAA needs more of that kind of publicity.]

Currently, UNO is petitioning the NCAA for a waiver for her to compete in the Indoor National Championship March 14 and 15 in Albuquerque, New Mexico.  If granted, it should also allow her to compete in the heptathlon at the outdoor championships. Spenner applied for a waiver last season, but it was denied with the NCAA stating that her story lacked "uniqueness".

Sami asked that the word be spread about this situation. Share the information with friends on social networks so Sami’s story can be spread, and follow her at @smspenn on Twitter.

Sami wrote about her track and field dreams at Track and Field News much more eloquently than I could. Please read her article and spread the word about Sami Spenner’s dream to compete for a national championship.

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