By Chris Goldberg
Phillylacrosse.com, Posted 9/6/21
Malvern Prep’s John McEvoy jokingly says his only regret about coaching Eric Spanos was that he only had him on the field full-time for one year.
And perhaps one year of seeing Eric Spanos play erase all the pain and struggles the Friars’ standout attackman faced in his high school career, but the 2021 season proved to be a perfect ending.
After enduring enough injuries to fill a medical chapter and losing his junior season to COVID-19, Spanos fulfilled the immense potential bestowed upon a player who committed to Maryland in the spring of his 8th grade year. This year, Spanos emerged as the MVP of the Inter-Ac League champions, a USA Lacrosse and Under Armour All-American and, maybe more importantly, with the highest respect and admiration of his teammates and coaches.
Spanos finished with 62 goals and 20 assists for a Malvern Prep team that ranked as high as No. 2 in the National poll and closed at No. 1 in the Phillylacrosse.com region. His team rolled to the Inter-Ac title with a 14-5 rout of Haverford School.
For his efforts, Spanos has been named the Phillylacrosse.com Co-Player of the Year for 2021, shared with Radnor’s Grant Pierce.
“Eric has been through hell and back with Malvern Lacrosse,” said Malvern Prep senior All-American defenseman Jake Brownley. “His determination that was bread through his injuries allowed the team to be hyper focused on the main goal – winning lacrosse games. Everyone looked up to his grit and determination and it drove everyone around him to be better.”
Spanos first made headlines when he committed to Maryland early in he spring of his 8th grade year.
“When Eric was a young kid, not only was he better and more talented than everybody his age, he was more athletic and more competitive,” said McEvoy. “That’s an awesome quality.”
But when Spanos tried to break into the varsity lineup as a freshman at Malvern Prep, disaster struck.
“My first game of the JV season I planted and my knee cap popped out,” Spanos said. “I stumbled over and then straightened my leg and popped it back in, tearing my cartilage.”
Spanos underwent arthroscopic surgery, but later found he tore his Medial Patellofemeral Ligament (MPFL) ligament that held his knee cap (patella). That series of injuries wiped out his freshman year and caused him to be way behind heading into his sophomore year.
He was cleared to play to start the 2019 season, but said he could barely run without falling over. “He went through a growth spurt and was awkward, just as he was trying to come back,” McEvoy said.
Spanos had to sit much of the start of his sophomore year as many of his classmates began to make a big impact on a Malvern team that would ultimately surprise Haverford School for the Inter-Ac crown.
“This is a kid that had never sat before or was used to not being on the field, but he wasn’t playing,” said McEvoy. ” But he had a great attitude.
“It was tough, though, for him because he was a dynamic player and it wasn’t happening; he was an alpha who knew he was an alpha, but he hadn’t become an alpha yet.”
Spanos – who dealt much of the season with Achilles tendinitis – made some contributions that year, playing more as the year progressed. He had not yet come close to tapping his potential. Still, he appeared primed for a breakout year in 2020.
“Forget about how hard he worked to get fit,” McEvoy said. “What impressed me the most was his mental maturity; he grew so much. His parents were so supportive and I give him all the credit in the world.
“He came back junior year – and that summer before we saw he was back. I wasn’t sure where I was playing him because we had our whole attack back. He has great range and a big body and was a killer athletically that could hunt players all over the field. I thought of him as a middie perhaps.”
Of course, just before the first game of the 2020 season, COVID lockdowns hit – and Spanos had lost another year.
“Junior year I was finally starting to fully feel like my old self,” Spanos said. “I didn’t have any lingering injuries and my body was in shape.
“I remember looking forward to the first game. It was highly anticipated – vs. Loyola Blakefield (MD) at Malvern, under the lights. Everyone was pumped up and the whole school was chatting about it.
“Then after practice the day before we found out we weren’t going to be able to play and the season was on hold. It was brutal.”
By the summer of 2020, the 6-foot-3 Spanos had stamped himself as one of the top rising seniors in the nation while helping the Philly Under Armour Team advance to the championship round at the Underclass tournament held in the fall. Expectations for 2021 were at an all-time high – until, of course, another injury occurred.
“I was training with coach (Matt) Mackrides in the winter and planted my good knee, and the knee cap popped out,” Spanos said. “I was out for 6 to 8 weeks leading up to the season.
“I was worried. It was a huge mental thing for me. I had been through the injuries and in my head, I was saying, ‘This stinks, it doesn’t feel right. My season is all screwed up now.’
“I went to rehab and my parents drove me and helped me open up about my mental stress. They supported me; coach Mackrides supported me.”
Through sheer will, Spanos got back on track and was ready for the season. Malvern Prep was ranked among the top teams from the start and lost its opener to Archbishop Spalding (MD), but then got hot and dominated the region with Spanos leading the way.
“I got back into my training before the season and began working with my buddies in 2-on-2s and that helped me a lot,” Spanos said. “By the time the season came and we started playing scrimmages, I felt like a better version of myself and I kept building off that.
“In our freshman year, when we were kids, we always talked about being so good as seniors. After the Spalding game, everybody started playing well and we really came together. We lost to Haverford (in the regular season), but there was no better way to end it than beating them like that in the championship.”
Brownley said Spanos has the whole package.
“It’s the combination of everything that makes him such a good attackman,” he said “He has the size, but at the same time has very slick feet. His movements are extremely smooth and he doesn’t allow the defender to get to his stick. Then his stick skills are the best I’ve ever seen. His ability to shoot from all angles and pass from all angles makes defending him extremely difficult and tedious.
“A big contribution that I think people forget about is his ability in the ride. We ran a 10-man ride which is lacrosse’s equivalent to a full court press. Eric did an amazing job of hustling all the time during the ride. He never took a play off and ultimately that was what helped us win games.
Concluded McEvoy: “He really only played this one year. Watching him play and seeing how far he came through the injuries, I felt he had won already. He has learned everything he needed to go and play at Maryland.
“I am really proud of what he has accomplished. He has earned everything he’s gotten. As talented as the dude is, he loves to play, he loves to shoot the ball, his size is awesome. During all that time he had tp spend on the sidelines rehabbing, he was a cheerleader, but he was a phenomenal teammate and an example to people when no one was looking.
“He’s a generational type of player. He’s a coach when he is on the field. He sees the game so well, reading it not for just himself, but for the team. He’d be texting me at 9 p.m. at night with ideas about the game. Who does that?
“The only thing I regret is that i didn’t have him playing for 3 years!”