Spotak: leading the Salukis forward

By Brooke Buerck, Sports reporter

It’s impossible to tell freshman forward Emma Spotak was once completely out of the game due to injuries. 

Today, the standout forward who wears jersey number three is one of the quickest players on the team, and is one of many talented athletes who have helped the Salukis jump out to a strong start in their program’s first season. 

Spotak comes from Palatine, Illinois and is studying biological sciences. She said her parents have been very supportive of her as an athlete.

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“Growing up, my parents encouraged [my sisters and I] to try every sport,” Spotak said. “I just stuck with soccer.”

Spotak said her father played soccer as he was growing up, and her family enjoys attending her games.

“They hate to miss any game that is away,” Spotak said. “They try to come to as many as they can.”

Spotak said she has been playing soccer since she was very young. 

“I started right when I was in kindergarten,” she said. “When I was in fourth grade, I started playing club, and from then on it got more competitive. As the years went by, it made me realize I wanted to play college soccer.”

Spotak said her long history of playing soccer competitively has caused several injuries, including a lot of broken bones and injuries to her ACL and meniscus, which she has had two surgeries to repair.

“Those definitely held me back from soccer,” she said. “I remember sitting out of every game. I just wanted to get back in and it made me work harder.” 

Spotak said she no longer has any issues, and the injuries don’t affect how she plays.

“That’s because I put the work in to bounce back from those injuries,” she said. 

Teammate Madison Bennion, a freshman midfielder, said this hard-working attitude is something Spotak brings to the team’s dynamic, and it’s something that motivates her to perform her best. 

“You see her make a 60 yard run back, and you’re like, ‘If she can do it, then I’m going to get back because she can do that,’” Bennion said. “Her work rate is incredible because you know she’s going to get down the field and you know she’s going to get back.”

Spotak said having Grant Williams as a coach has helped her grow as a player. 

“I feel like I’ve learned more from coach [Williams],” she said. “At the level that we’re playing at, some things are different, [such as] the style of play. I’ve learned more about what I can do as a player, too, within the game.”

Williams said what attracted him as a recruiter in the first place, and what he saw in Spotak as a potential player for his team, was speed.

“You can’t coach speed,” Williams said. “You need attacking players to have something different. Emma gives you [that] any time that we can get her into space. She’s quick enough that she’s going to be dangerous.” 

Spotak has already proven herself to be a threat on the field just within the team’s first seven games — she is one of the top two scorers on the team, recording two out of the team’s six total goals. In addition, Spotak leads the team with the best shot percentage, her two goals coming off of just eight shots altogether. 

Spotak said her favorite moment of the season is when she and Bennion scored during their win against University of Illinois Springfield on August 23. 

“It was our first official game that counted for our season [and] a lot of people came to the game,” Spotak said. “It was a really good win.”

Spotak and Bennion said they have felt a great amount of support from the university and the Carbondale community. 

“The whole City of Carbondale is really supportive, which is really fun and exciting for everybody,” Spotak said. 

Spotak said she thinks the season has been going really well, and believes it’s interesting to be a part of a first-year program.

“We’re making history,” she said. “A lot of people, going into it, weren’t really expecting much out of a first-year program. I think we’ve proved people wrong because some of the results we’ve had are pretty impressive.”

Bennion said she also thinks the season has been going well, and she hopes to see the team improve throughout the remainder of the season.

“We know what we can do,” Bennion said “We just have to do it.”

Williams said even within the first games of the season, he has seen his team improve. 

“We’ve seen some growth and development. Anybody that’s come to watch us play recognizes that we have enough talent to be competitive at the Division I level,” he said.

Williams said coaching this talent doesn’t come without some adversity.

“The challenge has been them individually not recognizing how hard they have to train, the speed of the game, the accountability daily that they really have to be their best and try to be their best,” he said. “They can’t really go through the motions in training or on game days and expect to have success.” 

He said they will continue to work on playing consistently at a high level, and maximize the team’s plethora of talent on a daily basis.  

“I’ve given them an impossible task,” Williams said. “We are competing against programs and kids that have had a year or three or four years of experience. It was always going to be an uphill battle. Nobody’s going to give us any days off or feel sorry for us when we can’t keep up.”

The Salukis’ next home game is on Sept. 19 against the Lipscomb Bisons. Game time is set for 6 p.m. at the Lew Hartzog Track and Field Complex. 

Sports reporter Brooke Buerck can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter at @bbuerck25

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