Hamilton, ON- When reflecting on her growth and journey over the years, Mia Spadafora is proud. Proud of her journey. Proud of the person she’s become.
The McMaster Marauders guard points to her personal growth – on and off the court – during her six years with the women’s basketball team. She’s nearing the conclusion of her McMaster playing career. It’s one that’s seen her change as a player and person.
“I just find it really humbling to track my progress,” she said.
Spadafora made the team as a walk on in 2017 coming from nearby Westdale Secondary School. As a rookie, she played with her older sister Lexie – who was then in her last season at McMaster. “She kind of held my hand through it all and we got to where we are today,” she noted.
The team made nationals in her first season and won the OUA and national title in her second. However, it was her third season when Spadafora really started to excel.
Her minutes doubled and her production and role increased. She averaged career-highs in points, rebounds, assists – almost all the categories.
Spadafora’s always been a good shooter. In her second season, she averaged shooting 40 per cent from three and 47 per cent from the field. She’s evolved in that area as well.
This season, Spadafora’s set a career-high shooting 45.6 per cent from deep. Against Lakehead on Nov. 24, she scored a career-high 24 points and made eight threes. Against Algoma on Jan. 21, she nailed five-of-11 three-pointers for 15 points.
“We’ve been for her whole career trying to get her to shoot more,” Marauders head coach Theresa Burns said. “She’s a pretty unselfish player but she’s finally buying into ‘yeah, I’m allowed to take these shots in a game’ so it was nice to see her knock some down.”
For Burns, Spadafora’s increased shooting comes from her mentality and commitment. It comes from understanding that shooting an open shot isn’t selfish.
Spadafora remembers being in her own head about when to shoot. It was frustrating for her given her nature, her role as a facilitator who likes to pass first. She was passing a lot of shots up.
Then, she remembers Burns telling her: “You are the look on offence. The more you pass up open looks, we’re working even harder to find someone else open.”
Her teammates and coaches showed their confidence in her. Now it became a matter of finding that confidence within herself. She found it from her mentality.
“Just keeping taking the next shot,” she noted. “Despite the last shot I just took, whether it was in or out, don’t bog myself down mentally and take that next shot.”
While Spadafora has continued to shoot more – and make more – shots on the court, she also found her confidence and voice off the court as well.
In high school, she found her voice as a leader and team captain. It was a transition once she came into university but she eventually did find her voice at McMaster as well. Spadafora became a calm presence.
“Having teammates that you love and want to be around all the time, when you’re able to give yourself to your teammates and they’re able to give that back to you, that’s when you really excel and grow as a person and a teammate,” she said.
Spadafora found herself thinking more about the impact she had on her teammates as a leader rather than the stats she recorded on the court.
As she found her voice, she also recognized her responsibility to use it. “I think the only way people can hear you and know what you can bring is if you step up and bring it to the table and use your voice,” she said.
Burns pointed out how she’s so on top of everything…and often multiple things at once.
Spadafora would be the one leading the way in organizing team activities. The one organizing events such as Pride Night and the Shoot for the Cure game. The one always coordinating with those in the athletic department and other athletes as part of her leadership roles on the McMaster Varsity Leadership Council and the Women’s Athletic Leadership Council.
“While that’s going on, she’s talking about what’s going on in the Nest (the team’s post-game meal and gathering with family and friends), what’s happening on the court and who’s picking people up to get rides,” Burns added.
The one Burns turns to during games to give directions and information. “She gets it,” Burns noted. “It’s short, it’s sweet. She knows what I want. She relays it. Just been a tremendous leader for us.”
The one cutting teammate Delaney Bourget’s hair on the Burridge Gym court as part of the team’s Shoot for the Cure initiative after the Algoma game. The team was cutting hair to donate to the Canadian Cancer Society as well as raising money throughout Think Pink week. Spadafora was in the middle of it all – as involved as always.
For Spadafora, her involvement springs from an understanding of giving back to the community. It springs from being a well-rounded human being.
“To be able to know what you can do past basketball, beyond basketball,” she noted. “You’re a two-tiered person.”
As time went along, Spadafora came to understand that it wasn’t about being a basketball player first and a person second. It was about both. She learned from being around McMaster and being involved with various events. She credits her personal growth to the great women she’s been around.
All that work and time commitment leads to Spadafora being a very busy person – on top of her basketball and academic commitments. The workload can be tough at times with lots of hard work and planning, she admits.
“It’s worth it in the end to feel like I’m leaving here as a well-rounded human being,” she said. “I’ve learned as much as I could and to give back to the community that brought me here.”
When the 2020-21 season was cancelled, Spadafora said it was tough being without basketball – the piece of her life she felt most connected with. There was a silver lining though.
“You really realize what you value and how much you love it and need it,” she noted. “I just took that to heart.”
Now, in the second half of her final season, she realizes she only has some many games and only so much time left in her university playing career. Spadafora tries not to think about it.
“It’s definitely going to be upsetting,” she added. “It’s what I’ve known for six years. It’s who I was as a person for six years but I’m just excited I get one more chance.”
Spadafora and her senior teammates will chase another OUA and national title. Once it’s all over, she said she’ll miss her teammates and coaches the most from her McMaster experience. She counts herself fortunate to be part of a group of players that become a pack every year. They’ve become a single unit where they’re all best friends with each other.
“I’m lucky I’m doing it with an amazing team and to leave with amazing people,” Spadafora said.
She’ll leave as a well-rounded person – as more than just a basketball player. A proud one as well.
Featured Image: Myra Whitfield/McMaster Athletics