After losing their state semifinal tennis match 0-6, 4-6 to Breck on the morning of Oct. 24, Litchfield seniors Kennedy Sommerfeld and Kalley Spreiter were grappling with a difficult reality: win or lose, the next match would be their last.
As they dealt with the knowledge that a Class A state doubles championship was no longer a possibility, the duo found inspiration in an unlikely place: a quote on the wall of the Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center, where they would play that final match.
“’Success is a journey, not a destination,’” Spreiter read from her phone, where she had saved the quote. “’The doing is often more important than the outcome.’”
That mentality provided succor to Sommerfeld and Spreiter as they faced two match points, down 2-6, 1-5 in the second set to Eveleth-Gilbert’s Cora Delich and Katelyn Rice in the battle for third place.
Sommerfeld was serving with the match on the line and knew that, facing such a vast deficit, the duo really had nothing to lose.
“It was 30-40 them, and I’m sitting there, second serve, and I was just like, ‘OK, let’s see what happens,’” Sommerfeld said.
With their backs to the wall and their season — and high school tennis careers — on the line, Sommerfeld and Spreiter stopped worrying about the outcome and just played.
“I thought before we were just trying to hope the ball over — just hoping we’d hit it in,” Sommerfeld said. “Then we finally just relaxed and hit the ball. Obviously in those situations you don’t think people would relax, but we did.”
“I told her when we were down 1-5, ‘Let’s just win a game and see where it brings us,’” Spreiter said. “And it brought us to a win.”
Sommerfeld ultimately held serve in that nerve-wracking seventh game, and the game seemed to flip a switch for the duo.
The next game, Sommerfeld and Spreiter quickly broke E-G’s serve, winning the game on a beautiful passing shot from Sommerfeld; Spreiter then held serve to bring Litch within 4-5, and another emphatic break tied the set at 5-5; Sommerfeld held serve to give Litch a 6-5 lead, and the final game of the seesaw set was actually the least dramatic, with Sommerfeld and Spreiter breaking E-G’s serve without conceding a single point.
The comeback tied the teams at a set apiece, and after Spreiter held serve to open the third and decisive set, Sommerfeld and Spreiter had won seven consecutive games.
“I think it was the best seven games I’ve ever seen them play,” said Litchfield head coach Matt Draeger. “They were just automatic.”
Litchfield carried that hot play through the third set, as Sommerfeld and Spreiter traded service holds with Delich and Rice until, with the score 5-4 in their advantage, they picked the perfect time to break E-G’s serve, winning every point of the final game to seal the third set and win the match 2-6, 7-5, 6-4.
Leaving a lasting legacy
The state tournament trip was the second in two years for Sommerfeld and Spreiter, who lost their only two matches in the state tournament last year.
This year, they won their first two in the opening rounds on Oct. 23, setting the stage for the excitement of the final four on Oct. 24.
After their exhilarating victory in the third-place match, memories of 2013’s disappointment and the morning’s tough straight-set loss to Breck’s Grace Zumwinkle and Kendall Kozikowski had vanished, and Sommerfeld and Spreiter were able to reflect on the importance of their accomplishment.
“To us, that was first place,” Spreiter said after the third-place finish. “That was our championship.”
“Coming here and bringing home some hardware, it’s insane,” Sommerfeld added. “It’s insane.”
For Draeger, watching his two top seniors end their careers on such a high note prompted an emotional response; he was not the only one drying his eyes on the Litchfield side.
“Unbelievable,” Draeger said when asked to describe the careers of Spreiter and Sommerfeld. “See, what people don’t understand is that three years ago we were 1-17, and a lot of kids would not have come back, when they’re good athletes. But every year it’s gotten better.
“They’ve kind of saved the whole tennis program,” Draeger said.
When Spreiter and Sommerfeld began picking up steam in that second set against Eveleth-Gilbert, Draeger took a step back and let his girls do the work.
“It was so much fun to watch — because that’s all I did,” Draeger said. “I didn’t talk to them at all; I just watched.”
The day before, during the duo’s Oct. 23 wins over Parkers Prairie’s Renee Warren and Kathryn Burquest and Foley’s Kalya McIver and Kylee Funk, a large Litchfield contingent — including many of the younger Dragon tennis players — was on hand to watch Sommerfeld and Spreiter reach the state semifinals.
According to Draeger there were 40 people at Reed-Sweatt watching Spreiter and Sommerfeld, which “is unheard of,” Draeger said. “Kids want to be around them, everybody wants to see them do well. … I’m just so happy for them to end like that — it’s huge. All of our young kids were here yesterday watching, and they don’t get that opportunity unless (Spreiter and Sommerfeld) are here.”
As a coach, Draeger saw the immense impact that two senior leaders could have on his younger tennis players.
“You want (the younger players) to feel like they can be here someday — having a goal in mind, having a vision,” Draeger said. “And they saw — they saw it for the first time. Thanks to those two, they got that opportunity.”
Girls tennis results
Class A State Tournament
Oct. 23 and Oct. 24 from Reed-Sweatt Tennis Center in Minneapolis
Spreiter/Sommerfeld, Litchfield, def. Warren/Burquest, Parkers Prairie, 6-3, 6-2
Spreiter/Sommerfeld, Litchfield, def. McIver/Funk, Foley, 6-4, 6-4
Zumwinkle/Kozikowski, Breck, def. Spreiter/Sommerfeld, Litchfield, 6-0, 6-4
Spreiter/Sommerfeld, Litchfield, def. Delich/Rice, Eveleth-Gilbert, 2-6, 7-5, 6-4
Litchfield Independent Review, 10.30.14. Link: http://goo.gl/jDc7IM