Longwood walk-on contributing as starter
Don’t bother telling Kate Spradlin she isn’t supposed to start for the Longwood women’s basketball team.
As the team’s lone walk-on, Spradlin wasn’t supposed to become the team’s No. 3 scoring option this season. After missing nearly all of last season with a shoulder injury, she wasn’t supposed to bounce back to become the team’s top three-point shooter. After not receiving a single Division I scholarship offer out of high school, she wasn’t supposed to win a starting job on a Division I basketball team.
But here she is, all of those things.
Spradlin’s journey from walk-on to major contributor in less than a year’s time is no accident. She didn’t luck into her success, and she had many opportunities along the way to settle for less. Settling for less, however, isn’t in her makeup.
“Kate Spradlin is, in a nice way, an animal,” said Longwood seventh-year head coach Bill Reinson. “She puts in a ridiculous amount of time on her own in an effort to improve. You can walk through the gym any time, any day and it would not be surprising to see Kate getting some shots up.”
Spradlin’s internal drive to better herself might border on obsessive, if it weren’t so inspiring to those who witness it. She has been known to be the first to the doors of Willett Hall in the mornings, waiting for a Longwood staff member – or anybody with a key – to let her on the court so she can get an early start on the hundreds of shots she takes each day. She is equally well known for practicing on her own well into the night, putting up hundreds more shots to the soundtrack of maintenance workers sweeping the court in the background.
Those early mornings and late nights have paid off in Spradlin’s sophomore season. After bouncing back from shoulder surgery during her freshman year, she has blossomed into Longwood’s third-leading scorer in 2016-17, averaging 7.0 points per game, and is the Lancers’ top three-point threat, shooting at a .341 clip.
With her twin sister Kellen also at Longwood, Kate joined the Longwood women’s basketball program prior to the 2015-16 season after lettering in basketball her junior and senior seasons at Lord Botetourt in her hometown of Blue Ridge, Va.
Despite enjoying success at the high school level in multiple sports including basketball, Spradlin was unable to attract offers from Division I colleges since the sport wasn’t the sole focus early in her career. With several Division II offers in hand, Spradlin still wanted the opportunity to challenge herself at the Division I level.
“I had some Division II offers, but I really wanted to see if I could play D-I, so I contacted Coach [Bill] Reinson,” Spradlin said. “They watched some film and Coach [Wanisha] Smith came to one of my games and they had me [on campus].”
The Conference 31 Player of the Year following her junior season and a first-team all-conference selection following her senior campaign, Spradlin was able to impress the Longwood coaching staff so much that they provided a spot to her as a preferred walk-on.
“From the first time we watched her play, it was apparent how hard she worked and the type of passion that she has for the game,” Reinson said. “We need those type of players. Once we had the opportunity to meet her, it was a no-brainer.”
Last season, Spradlin was able to get her first taste of Division I basketball, appearing in five games and averaging 1.0 points per game. However, a shoulder injury that developed over time limited her range of motion and forced her to the bench for the remainder of the season.
For Spradlin, however, that was just another challenge to overcome.
“When she was injured last year, I had no doubt that she would rehab and return better and stronger than she was before,” Reinson said.
While her team played, Spradlin had to watch on the sideline and rehabilitate her left shoulder, working with the Longwood athletic training staff daily throughout the year.
“When I was finally able to shoot again, I remember I was so excited,” Spradlin said. “I was just running around the gym shooting at every basket.”
Once back, Spradlin seized every opportunity thrown her way throughout the preseason. With her work ethic, hustle and ability to knock down shots, Spradlin worked her way into the Longwood starting lineup.
“Her talent, dedication and work ethic are what earned her a starting spot, and nobody has taken it away from her yet,” Reinson said.
“I didn’t come into the season expecting that at all, especially coming off an injury,” Spradlin said. “I guess they liked what they saw.”
In addition to working her way back from injury, Spradlin’s relentless attitude has manifest itself in the classroom where she has been named to the President’s list – which requires a 4.0 grade-point average – in each of her three semesters at Longwood.
While majoring in business administration, Spradlin, who wants to eventually become a financial advisor, was named to the 2015-16 Big South Presidential Honor Roll for achieving a perfect 4.0 GPA for the 2015-16 school year.
After opening the season with the squad at Marquette and scoring five points in her first game action in close to a year, Spradlin suffered a setback in her opposite shoulder – her right shoulder – that cost her five games of the season. However, for Spradlin, she was relieved that it was just a minimal setback.
“My initial reaction was that it hurt worse than the left,” Spradlin said. “I thought ‘oh no, I’m done’ then I started to get range of motion back and they said I would be able to play through it.”
Since returning to the court, Spradlin has blossomed into one of the top scoring options and three-point threats for the Lancers. Her game-high 22 points in Longwood’s win over Delaware State marked the third 20-point game this season for the Lancers and her six three-pointers were the most by a Lancer since Chelsea Coward hit six treys at NC State in 2012.
“It was so much fun. I had so much confidence that I knew when I got the ball and put up that next shot, it was going in,” Spradlin said. “I was completely focused. The rim looked three times larger than normal.”
Spradlin has continued to earn the praise of her coach for her energy and has played the full 40 minutes in each of Longwood’s past two games, as the Lancers are faced with a roster decimated by injury.
Spradlin continues to shoulder the load for the Lancers, as they continue through Big South play. However, don’t bother to tell her she isn’t supposed to do that just because she’s a walk-on.
Story by Todd Lindenmuth