OMAHA, Neb. – Sami Spenner, who recently set the American college record in the pentathlon, would be the favorite to win the event at this week’s NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships at the Albuquerque Convention Center.
She’s not going, though. Her school, Nebraska-Omaha, is in the middle of a five-year transition to Division I and is thus ineligible for team and individual championships until 2015-16.
“Obviously, it hurts,” Spenner said. “I’m just proud I do have a score that’s still top of the nation right now. I wanted the experience of being able to go to an NCAA national meet. I think I deserve to go. But rules are rules, and I can’t get around those right now.”
Spenner’s plight became a hot topic in the track community after she finished second to two-time Olympian Sharon Day-Monroe at the U.S. indoor championships last month. Spenner, the youngest competitor in the field, amassed 4,498 points – the best score ever by a U.S. college woman in the event that combines the long jump, 60-meter hurdles, 800 meters, high jump and shot put.
UNO asked the NCAA to grant Spenner a waiver that would let her compete at the national meet, but an appeal was rejected last week. AD Trev Alberts said he knew it would be a long shot.
“It would be disingenuous for UNO, institutionally, to say we didn’t know what we were getting into when we made the move to Division I,” he said. “That doesn’t make it any easier for Sami.”
The native of Columbus, Neb., played soccer her first three years in high school and didn’t go out for track until she was a senior. Spenner went to Wayne State College in northeast Nebraska on a volleyball scholarship, but things didn’t work out, and she transferred to UNO for the second semester of her freshman year in January 2011.
UNO was still in Division II at the time, and she walked on to the track team for the 2011 outdoor season. A year later, she became a multievent athlete, and her career took off. She’s been on a full scholarship for two years.
“Every single time I think she’s hit her ceiling, she proves me wrong,” said her coach, Chris Richardson. “When I think she can’t jump any farther or jump higher or throw farther, she does it.”