ASHLAND — Macy Spielman laughed aloud when recalling one of her favorite childhood stories about growing up the athletic daughter of an Ohio football legend.
Her third-grade basketball team had just lost 18-6 in a tournament championship game. She watched as other parents hugged their children and praised them as team members received second-place trophies.
“My dad was like, ‘What do you want me to do? You want me to lie to you? You guys just got blown out,'” said Chris Spielman’s daughter, a smile creasing her face as she recalled the moment.
“He was so honest with me. But he’s always been honest with me, which has made me the athlete and person I am today,” she said.
The athlete and person Macy Spielman is today is a crucial cog in the machine that is the No. 1-ranked Ashland University women’s basketball team, a 34-0 powerhouse that has advanced to the NCAA Elite 8 on Monday night in St. Joseph, Mo.
It’s a far cry from the third-grade squad that fell in an elementary tournament. But her dad, whose fame began when he was on a Wheaties box as a high school football player at Massillon, has been there every step of the way.
She said her father has tried to separate his role as dad from that of the famed OSU and NFL linebacker who thrived on competition. He attends as many AU games as he can, but remains in the background.
The AU women’s basketball team plays on Monday, March 20 in St. Joseph, Mo. against UT Tyler. The Elite 8 game starts at 7 p.m. Visit NCAA’s website for instructions on how to watch the game live.
“My dad is my dad and I think he has approached sports in a way that he’s been my dad. And obviously there’s times he can’t help it. And we’re very similar. We just think alike. We are both extremely competitive. My entire family is,” Spielman said after a recent practice inside AU’s Kates Gymnasium.
The now 57-year-old Spielman was a two-time All-American for the Buckeyes and was the Lombardi Award winner his senior year in 1987. He was then a four-time Pro Bowler in the NFL and now works as a special assistant to Detroit Lions President Rod Wood.
His daughter, a psychology major, admitted there has been extra pressure being an athlete in Ohio named Spielman. Like her famous father, she has learned to use that pressure to her advantage on the court.
“I love talking about my dad. I think he’s the best. He’s the best dad in the world. But I think there has been a pressure to that, which I’ve loved in some ways because I like pressure,” she said with a laugh.
She plays for AU with the same fire that drove her dad to record 29 tackles in a single game against hated-rival Michigan.
“I like trying to be in situations and opportunities where I can step up. But I’m also a 22-year-old who has feelings. So sometimes it can be a little overwhelming, especially here and around this area.
“Just being in Ohio, people know him well, which I love. He’s earned that. I know that and I love that for him and about him. But like I said, he’s my dad, I’m his daughter, and that’s the most important relationship,” Spielman said.
The 5-foot-10 junior guard, who broke Upper Arlington High School records with 1,622 points and 348 assists, has been a powerful force off the AU bench for coach Kari Pickens.
Spielman has started just once, but has appeared in all 34 games, averaging 7.4 points and 2.2 rebounds while playing nearly 20 minutes per night. Against Grand Valley State, in the regional title game this week, Spielman hit a key bucket in the fourth quarter of an extremely tight game. Then she added two pressure-packed free throws with 11 seconds remaining to account for the final points in Ashland’s 61-58 victory.
It’s her second year at AU after two years at Bowling Green State University, a team led by former Eagles coach Robyn Fralick. A knee injury sidelined Spielman as a redshirt freshman and she played in 13 games in her second year.
Spielman said she enjoyed her time at the Division 1 school in Wood County, despite the injury.
“I tore my ACL the first week I was there. It was totally a God thing. I think it was one of my favorite years of basketball and I didn’t play a single second.
“I really learned in that time just the aspects of a team and what I can contribute in ways other than scoring or minutes, which is what I was so used to in high school and in every other area that I played my sport in.
“Honestly, I feel like that prepared me for my next season at Bowling Green and even moments here, too. I learned that basketball is so much bigger than just myself, and the ways that I could contribute, there’s so much more than what I knew,” she said.
Spielman appeared in just 13 games during her second year at BGSU, averaging 1.5 points and less than rebound per game.
After the season ended, she did some soul searching.
“I love those people (at BGSU). I love Coach Fralick and I love the rest of those coaches. But the basketball, I just fell out of love with it, unfortunately, which is not what I would ever want (from) my experience.”
Spielman needed a change. And she wanted to make the decision herself.
“It also wasn’t solely based on feeling, so I knew something was missing. In that process, in deciding to leave (BGSU), it was not just an impulsive (move). There was so much that went into it. There was so much prayer that went into it,” she said.
“Then Coach P and Ashland came around and I was so thankful. I had grown up playing here in the summers. I was well aware of them.
“Obviously Coach Fralick coached here, but in this process, I just wanted it to be me. I felt like I was at a time in my life where I really wanted to make my own decisions and have nobody else kind of chime in on that,” she said.
“It took me a second … transferring was kind of an overwhelming process. But once I settled in, I was like, ‘OK, Ashland’s the place for me. It truly has been such a gift and such a product of (God’s) grace,” Spielman said.
Like her teammates, Spielman is focused on winning three more games and capturing the national title — a feat even her famous dad never accomplished.
“It goes back to pressure. I love that. I mean, there’s a target on your back and people want to play you because they want to beat you.
“This whole year, I think, we’ve seen it first-hand. People have nothing to lose, where as we have everything to lose. People have played us like it’s their national championship game.
“We’ve been in environments where we’re getting the best competition, which I think has prepared us well. But the pressure … that’s the privilege, right? You want people to want to play you.
“I’m excited to get people’s best because we’re going to bring our best, too, which is exciting. It’s just a bunch of good basketball. We’ve all dreamed of being in this situation before.
“I want to make the most of this opportunity and step up to it. I know these girls will. So it’s really exciting.”