116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Editor's note: This story was written before this year's state team tennis tournament, where Decorah achieved is goal of winning the Class 1A championship on Tuesday with a 5-4 win over Fairfield Maharishi.
By Ryan Hageman, Decorah senior
DECORAH - The day had arrived after the long, successful season. We were finally headed to Des Moines for the state team tennis tournament.
Until this point, we had been almost unstoppable, dominating tournaments and finishing the season 10-1 overall. Our confidence was at an all-time high and adrenaline was radiating from our bodies.
Decorah, a dark horse, was knocking to the ground every team in its path. No one could stop us. We would not settle for anything less than a state championship.
One obstacle stood in our way - last year's state champions from Fort Dodge St. Edmond. The semifinals would be a hard-fought battle to see who deserved to compete in the finals. Deep down we knew we were the better team and deserved it more. However, it didn't matter what was going on inside our heads. The results would be determined by who played the best that day.
My five other teammates and I strolled out on to the forest green tennis courts. Twelve total courts spread across the flat landscape. We wandered down to the opposite end of the courts in the draining summer heat. After what seemed like an eternity, we split up and drifted to our individual courts to face the dreaded opponent.
Now alone, I stood on the court without any of my teammates to support me. Nerves were flowing as fast as the speed of light throughout my limp body. The match commenced and my legs felt like cement blocks stuck in the ground, unable to move.
Breathe, Ryan. You can do this.
My body inhaled a couple deep breaths and I regained my composure. I soon transformed back to my normal self and was able to focus on the task at hand. Every time the ball ricocheted off my racket, an explosion of power flew to the opposite end of the court with no return. I captured the lead early and had no plans of losing my momentum. I was in control and on my way to a victory. It didn't take too long and I had won.
Sneaking a peek at the scores of the other matches, however, devastated me. My once excited posture shifted to that of an arthritic lady. The majority of my team was losing. I tried my best to motivate them, but it didn't help much. After almost an hour, the final singles match ended. The overall score was now 4-2 - we needed to sweep all three doubles matches in order to win.
There's no way we can win all three.
During our break, we relaxed in a circle under the shade of a young oak tree, unsure of what to do next. All energy ceased to exist and our heads hung down with doubt. Doubles had been our strength all year, but could we power through all three doubles matches? Supporters drowned us in words of encouragement as the tournament director exclaimed 'It is now time for the doubles matches to begin.”
Gathered together like a pack of lions, we wished each other the best and launched ourselves toward the courts, determined to take down the enemy. After warming up for 10 minutes, the matches began. My partner and I took an early lead and had momentum on our side. Cheers for the other doubles teams erupted from a couple courts down. Our spirit overflowed with thoughts of victory as we realized we might actually accomplish our goal.
The encouragement and support of our fans carried us through the end of the match and to a victory. One down, two to go. My partner and I raced over to watch the others. Gable Lonning and CJ Cliff were merely seconds from winning, and I knew it wouldn't be long until they were sitting beside us. But Karl Sand and Caleb Urling at No. 1 doubles were competing in one of the toughest matches of the year. Each point went back and forth with no room for error. The crowd watched in awe, waiting for someone to end the suspense. Their heads moved side to side like a poor bird that knows it's being hunted.
The score was now 3-1. Only three more games needed and we would be in the finals.
If the other team won one more game, our season would be over.
My heart began to race. It felt like a volcano on the verge of erupting. Each point terrified me more and more and then ...
Smash. The ravaged ball went soaring toward the outside of the court right past my teammates and landed directly on the line. The match was over. We had lost.
My stomach dropped as fast as a roller coaster descending from its peak. I could taste the finals and feel it, so close to reach. Karl and Caleb plunged to the ground in tears as everyone stared off in defeat. Tears drown my eyes. Everything was a blur.
The season was over.
That night we arrived back home and did the unexpected. In the pitch black night on our home courts, we continued to play the sport we love. It didn't matter that it had been an exhausting day of tennis or that our legs felt like they had been mangled by an auger. We knew we had to work our hardest if we wanted to win state the following year.
The next season had just begun. We were no longer the dark horse. We would be the team to beat.