ERIE, Pa. – Back in 2002, Gannon University men’s water polo was just a year old program at the varsity level still trying to establish itself. That’s when former player, Elliot Spaeder, came in and helped make a name for the Golden Knights in just its second year of action.
Recruited as a swimmer due to his high school All-America status, Spaeder also caught the eye of water polo coach Don Sherman and made an immediate impact for the team.
Spaeder posted 18 goals, 13 assists and 29 steals in his freshman campaign and continued to add to his totals over the four years. His career wrapped up in the 2005 season, and he finished with 61 goals, 62 assists and 131 steals through the four seasons. Spaeder’s 131 steals sits 11th on the all-time lists.
Since his water polo and swimming days at Gannon, Spaeder has remained in the Erie area and is a partial owner in his family’s company. He also picked up a hobby of running and became just the 16th person to swim across Lake Erie. Read on to hear more about what Spaeder had to say when he caught up with the Kayla Peterson of the Gannon media relations staff:
Peterson: What made you choose Gannon?
Spaeder: My brother went to Gannon and was a 2000 graduate. My mother was a graduate of Gannon and my father also attended Gannon. That was kind of the prime reason I was looking at the college. Then Coach Don Sherman, who has now since retired, was recruiting me to be part of the swimming and water polo teams. He made such a good pitch on getting me to go there that it really convinced me. And two of my teammates from high school joined me, which helped answer my question on where I was going to go to school. Recently, I came back for my MBA. I started in 2013 at just one class per semester, and I graduated in the spring of 2018.
Peterson: Water polo was a fairly new sport when you started at Gannon. What was that like and how was it helping build the program?
Spaeder: The first Gannon water polo team my older brother played for and they were club water polo back then. I used to go watch the games back when I was younger. The year I was deciding where to go to school, another reason why I picked Gannon, they decided to go varsity water polo for men’s and women’s. So that was a pretty big reason on attending Gannon. The first year of the program I know the teams weren’t that successful and they had maybe one or two players that had any experience playing. When I went there with my recruiting class we brought in a ton of experience. We turned that program around almost instantaneously. Going from having only one or two players who even knew the game before to having a full team assembled of players. We had a pretty strong recruiting class that really helped booster the program. Out of the seven starters, four of them were freshman my freshman year including myself. It was a new program so everybody was new to us. We would go to these schools like Navy, Princeton, Bucknell, Johns Hopkins, George Washington and all these teams that were established before us. We’d show up and no one would know who Gannon was and the first game or two they saw we were pretty serious so it was fun. We shocked some of these teams and showed them that the little school could compete with some of the bigger teams. I’m still in really close touch with a lot of my teammates from Gannon. They’re some of my best friends still. Coach Sherman has been a lifelong mentor of mine and I’m still really close to Don, too.
Peterson: How did you get into water polo? What other sports were you involved with?
Spaeder: In high school I did water polo and swam. I was a two-year letterman for water polo and four-year letterman for swimming. I was probably more highly recruited on a swimming level being an All-American in high school. I was brought on to the Gannon swim team and immediately made an impact being one of the swimmers getting higher point totals in the meets. I was someone who was counted on to lead the charge in some of the events. I was on multiple relays my freshman year and all throughout my career.
Peterson: Are there any games or practices that stick out to you after all these years?
Spaeder: We were beating a team, I think it was one of the local teams, down at Bucknell for water polo. We were beating them pretty good. It was a shutout going into the third or fourth quarter. I was always 100 percent giving my all, and I was known for my speed so I was never going to let that go. But coach Sherman decided he was going to pull all the starters and he looked at me said “everybody but Spaeder is coming out.” He kept doing it after two or three more time outs, and he had this rule when we were winning by so much we couldn’t shoot the ball unless there was five seconds left on the shot clock. I had a breakaway and there was 28 seconds left on the shot clock. I was swimming, I picked the ball up, I looked over at Sherman, and I scored the goal. He started laughing and yanked me out of the game. That’s one of my favorite memories from water polo. Plus being on our long trips with my teammates was just a lot of fun.
For swimming, my last dual meet was against Ashland when we were in the GLIAC (Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference). We never beat Ashland when I was there and it was a pretty big meet being our last of the year. I decided to swim some events that are kind of difficult at least doing that many of them in the same meet. I swam the 500, 1650, and the 400 IM. Normally no one would stick somebody in those three events in one small meet like this. I signed myself up to do more than I normally would because I knew how close the meet was going to be. During that meet, the 1650 and the 400 IM were back-to-back events. I ended up taking first in the 1650 and had to do the 400 IM right after. My team couldn’t believe I was doing this. The cool thing was after I got done with the 400 IM I ended up taking third place and helped secure our win over Ashland. The people from the other team were clapping and shaking my hand after that event. It was just an unreal experience. To have that as my last hurrah for a dual meet was pretty cool.
Peterson: What have you been doing since you graduated and left Gannon?
Spaeder: After college I went to work for my family’s business, Wm. T. Spaeder Company. We’re a mechanical contractor and have been around for 108 years. I started working in that business from the bottom all the way up to now as a current partner. I’ve been an owner of the company the last five years here. I am a project manager and run some of the plumbing, sprinkler, and mechanical projects in Erie. I have been back on the Gannon campus numerous times working on many construction projects throughout the campus including the current I-Hack project. Since college, I’ve also gotten married and had two kids. My wife, Molly, got her MBA from Gannon and her father is retired from Gannon. He was a former Dean of Students. Molly and I have two future Golden Knights, Sienna (3) and Landon (1).
In my free time, I’ve picked up some athletics. I never ran before and have started running. I’ve ran a couple marathons. In 2014, I decided to get back into the pool and eventually swam across Lake Erie. Doing that, I helped raise $20,000 for the downtown YMCA of Erie. As part of the swim, I was the 16th person ever to swim across Lake Erie. I had numerous former Gannon student athletes on my team with me to help me out. I also serve on the board of the downtown YMCA.
Peterson: How did you train for your swim across the lake?
Spaeder: My last swim meet ever back in 2006 and I swore off ever getting back in the pool again. And maybe a handful of times I got back in the pool. Then I ran a couple marathons and I realized I could probably do it. It was always a lifetime goal of mine after living in Erie and seeing that lake and swim across it. So knowing I could run marathons and fit the training in with work and my masters, I thought alright lets get back in the pool and start swimming again. So I took an eight year hiatus from any type of swimming, to swimming seven days a week, three hours a day. Some days or weekends I even swam eight to ten hours a day. It was about a half year long process of getting trained for it and get my body back in swimming shape.
Peterson: What has it been like working for a family owned company?
Spaeder: My second cousins are my partners in the business. They are third generation owners and I’m the first of the fourth generation owners. I enjoy it. It has its own dynamics for sure, but even though we’re cousins, we all have the same goals and work together as a team. Even though we all have our hands on different parts of the business, when it comes to having the one goal in the end everyone helps each other along the way to achieve our company’s goal.
Peterson: And finally, what advice do you have for the current student athletes?
Spaeder: Enjoy your time and remember your times with your teammates, both in the pool or on the field or wherever you play and outside of that. Those people are like a second family almost because you’re with them more than you are with your own family. You’re living with probably the same people, practicing, and going through the same school stuff with them, so enjoy those times. Remember that all of the hard work you’re putting in will be remembered and gear you up for the rest of your life as best as possible. You know what it’s like to put the hard work in.
Release courtesy Gannon University Athletics Communications