by Valerie Hancock
Lady Vol Taber Spani is keeping the faith —on and off the court.
Taber Spani has always been part of a team. As one of five sisters growing up in a tight-knit family in Missouri, the 6-foot-1Lady Vol guard learned early the importance — and fun — of working together. Camaraderie and a strong work ethic are traits her parents instilled in their daughters from the beginning. And those values have served Taber well in her years playing college basketball for The University of Tennessee in Knoxville.
“Being in a team environment from early on has really impacted me. Everybody needs each other. No one person can be the team in itself. You have to rely on each other,” Taber says of her teammates. “You have to go to work for each other and with each other. I think that makes it so much more fun.” She loves the team atmosphere and working hard to achieve a goal together. “You’re in practice day in and day out. You go through everything with them — the ups and downs. Then [you realize], ‘Wow — we did this together.’ It’s something special.”
And as any college basketball fan knows, the Lady Vols have a long history and solid reputation for working hard to achieve something extraordinarily special — namely multiple NCAA trophies under the leadership of legendary coach Pat Summitt, now head coach emeritus of the Tennessee Lady Vols.
A fierce competitor with an outstanding high school basketball career, Taber wanted to play at a university that competed for national championships. When Summitt offered her a scholarship to UT, Taber knew it was her calling. “The opportunity to play under her and learn from her is huge,” she says of Summitt, who Taber calls the “greatest coach ever in basketball.” When making her decision about college, she had the sense, “this is where I’m supposed to be. I just really felt like the Lord called me here.” Taber is known for her positivity and steadfast faith in Christ both on and off the court. Even in the face of injuries or setbacks, she keeps her motivation high and her spirits up.
Big Orange NATION — “We have such a great fan base, and young girls all over the country dream of coming to Tennessee. It’s special and unique in women’s sports to be able to impact others and do it in a wide-reaching way.” — Lady Vol Taber Spani
Taber became a Christian when she was seven years old—about the same time she started playing basketball. “I wanted to make Jesus the first priority in my life. I think from there I’ve continued to grow, and it’s going to be a life-long process,” says Taber, who’s driven by her desire to grow closer to the Lord every day. In the offseason, she’s been involved with several campus ministries including Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA) where she served in a leadership capacity. Church involvement is also important to fostering her relationship with Christ.
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS
- Book : Bible, no question.
- Movie : The Passion o f the Christ
- Song: I listen to all Christian music, all genres of it. I don’ t really have a favorite.
- Group or band: Same thing. I have so many that I love. I love Chris Tomlin, Britt Nicole, and Hillsong. Oh, I just love them all. I don’ t have a favorite.
- Bible verse: “But seek first the king dom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be provided for you ” (Matthew 6:33).
- Snack food: Chips and salsa. I could eat it every day.
- Vacation spot: Beach — anywhere.”
- Free-time activity: Either being with family and friends or doing something to help others .”
“My priorities are my faith, my family, school, and basketball… school has to come first. Basketball is going to end at some point, so you must have an education,” says Taber, who also excels in academics and has received the Academic Excellence Award at UT. Now a grad student, Taber graduated a year early with a degree in communications studies. “I like to talk. I feel natural doing it,” says Taber who does a lot of public speaking at churches, community events, and FCA team huddles.
And she doesn’t take those opportunities lightly, seeking to use her influence in the most positive ways she can. “I want my legacy to not just be on the basketball court. I want it to be how many people — through the Lord’s favor — I’ve been able to impact,” she says. “Because that’s really what matters. If one kid is impacted because they see how I live my life for the Lord, then to me, it’s worth it.”
Taber would love to continue playing basketball as long as the opportunity exists. She’s also interested in starting a nonprofit that combines mission work and athletics — her passion for the Lord and her love of basketball.
Athleticism runs in Taber Spani’s blood. Her father, Gary, was a linebacker with the Kansas City Chiefs (and still holds the record of all-time leading tackler). Her older sister, Shalin, played basketball at Kansas State and is married to Wildcats quarterback and Heisman Trophy finalist Collin Klein. Younger sister, Tanis, plays basketball for Southwest Baptist University. Her grandfather, Frosty Westering is a College Football Hall of Famer who played at Northwestern University and coached at Pacific Lutheran University. And her mom Stacey? She coaches high school girls’ basketball, including her daughters.
Taber’s parents showed her what it means to be a Christian athlete — how to play and compete in a way that’s pleasing to God. “They told us ever since we were really little and started playing sports that basketball was nothing but two hoops and a ball with air in it on a wooden court. If you don’t glorify the Lord through your sport, then you’re going to be wasting a lot of time,” says the Lady Vol guard. “I’m not just out here to play for myself, and I’m not just out here to aimlessly go through it. I have a bigger purpose and a bigger calling than that. That helps me stay motivated.”
VALERIE HANCOCK is a writer and editor living in Nashville, Tenn. Although she hails from Big 10 territory, Valerie can’t help but root for the Lady Vols come college basketball season.