xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

Girls Tennis Player of the Year: Beating a new foe

A quick glance at the county records shows Liberty's Megan Soderlund was just as effective on the tennis court as she was a season ago.

She followed a 13-0 junior season, by capping her career with a 12-0 county record to go along with another girls singles county tournament titles.

Advertisement

But this spring, Soderlund had to face a new foe — adversity.

Saddled with plantar fasciitis, Soderlund was unable to complete her usual summer routine of competing in as many tournaments as possible. She started to feel some discomfort before her match last year at states and afterward, Soderlund decided that resting was the best course of action.

Advertisement
Advertisement

It was evident during the early season that Soderlund wasn't her dominant self, when Winters Mill's Amanda Fewster and South Carroll's Marisa Cecil had her on the ropes at different points.

Fewster took the first set 6-4 on March 27 and even though Soderlund battled back to take the second, she was down 5-2 in the third set before rallying back for a 7-5 win.

Then Soderlund got rolling and didn't stop until the quarterfinals of the state tournament, except for a close call in the District VII championship, which she ended up winning.

Her efforts led to her being named the Times Girls Tennis Player of the Year for the second consecutive spring.

Advertisement

"My foot was hurt so it was kind of a little nerve-wracking coming back. I really had to work hard on getting everything back to what it was," Soderlund said. "I wanted to push farther and get better. I knew Marisa was going to be playing singles this year and she was someone I was worried about. I just wanted to say positive and I just had to stay confident and trust my skills."

Despite regaining top form, Soderlund wouldn't cruise through the postseason tournaments on the way to states. She easily handled Cecil in the county final, dispatching the South Carroll sophomore 6-2, 6-1.

But Cecil got another shot at Soderlund in the District championship match and it wasn't an easy win this time around. Cecil captured the first set 6-4 and raced out to a 5-2 lead in the second, putting Soderlund on the brink of elimination.

Turns out the early-season struggles and the familiarity with Cecil gave the senior some resilience. She responded, charging back to win the set 7-5 and rolled through the final set 6-1 to capture the title.

"When you have someone like Megan that didn't face a ton of resistance the year before, it can be a big adjustment when you are thrust into those situations," Lions co-coach Dave Abarbanel said earlier in the season. "She handled it well and was able to escape without losing. It just shows how determined and how driven she is on the court."

Soderlund rarely shows emotion on or off the court other than a quiet cheer for her teammates. Despite giving off the impression of being the silent-type, Soderlund's teammates say there is more to her.

"You would not know she is not a quiet girl out on the court. She fights for every single point," said teammate and friend Emily Gisriel. "She's really funny and really not a quiet person, she's very outspoken. It would be surprising to some people because she does seem like a quiet girl."

Lions co-coach Tim Brecker had a feeling when Soderlund arrived as a freshman that she could be pretty good. He said the talent was obvious from the start and she had a great work ethic for a young athlete.

There is also a strong tradition of girls tennis at Liberty, which has produced six of the last 11 players of the year. Debbie Jackson started the run in 2004 with Brittany Bolster winning three straight from 2006-08 and now Soderlund continues it.

Brecker also thinks a lot of people don't realize just how much effort and work is put into becoming an elite tennis player.

"It's very similar I guess to golf. People think you can just go out and play golf on weekends and get really good at it. But you have to put a lot of time and repetition into your shots, just like tennis," Brecker said. "It takes a lot to play this sport at an elite level and she's doing it."

While Soderlund proved to be superior against the county girls this season, her hitting partner, and boyfriend, has an equally impressive resume.

Brad Schug, who just wrapped up his second Times Boys Tennis Player of the Year campaign, is Soderlund's boyfriend and they play every once in awhile.

Who wins is not really the question, it's more of how legit is it.

"I beat him sometimes, but I know he is just letting me," Soderlund said laughing. "But it's fun to be around someone like that because we have similar interests and we can talk about the game."

Schug denied Soderlund's assertion that he lets her win, saying she beats him fair and square. Whether that's true, is up for interpretation.

Having done all she can on the county level, Soderlund plans to attend Salisbury University and hopes to play tennis next spring. Even though she is moving on, Soderlund will look back fondly on her time at Liberty, where she became just the second girl to compete at the state tournament three times.

"It's a great program they have here for tennis. I'm just lucky to be a part of it. It's a lot of great girls around me," said Soderlund of the Lions, who have captured seven consecutive girls tennis county titles. "I will miss it, but I am looking forward to playing in college. It's just another challenge I think I am ready for and I'm excited about it."

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement