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John's Journal: Surgeries, Screws Can’t Stop Thief River Falls Tennis

Overcoming Physical Issues, Pair Of Seniors Are Playing At State

Posted: Tuesday, October 25, 2022 - 10:06 PM


Stephanie Dagg (left) and Ingrid Anderson (right) with Thief River Falls tennis coach Shawna Spears.

Stephanie Dagg and Ingrid Anderson, senior tennis players from Thief River Falls, know how fortunate they are to be part of the team. The Prowlers are playing at the Class 2A state team tournament this week after winning the Section 8 championship, and that is historic. Not many teams make it to state in any sport and the Prowlers are plenty proud, as they should be.

For Stephanie and Ingrid, however, the gratitude goes beyond what happens at the state tournament. Both have endured serious physical issues, and both have had surgical screws inserted into their skeletal structures. Wheelchairs and crutches are also part of their stories.

When Stephanie was in eighth grade, her father just happened to look at her back as she sat in a chair. It was hard to pin down, but something didn’t look right.

“It wasn't painful or anything,” she said. “My dad said, ‘OK, we should get this checked out just in case.’ ”

After seeing their family doctor, they were sent to a specialist in Fargo. Stephanie was diagnosed with scoliosis, a sideways curvature of the spine. Her spine curved at about 60 degrees, and she needed surgery to correct it and hopefully ensure no serious problems as she continued to grow.

She had surgery over the holiday break, which gave her extra time to recover without missing school for too long. She stayed home for three weeks and wasn’t allowed to do any physical activity for six months.

“But then, after the six months, I was cleared to do everything and I haven't had problems since,” said Stephanie, who also is a track and field athlete.

Ingrid’s issues were more recent, involving her hip joints. She had started experiencing hip pain in seventh grade. She was a dancer with good flexibility but athletics can be hard on lots of joints, including the hips.

She, too, went to a doctor in Thief River Falls. The first possible diagnosis was a torn labrum. MRIs and other tests followed before a doctor in Fargo discovered she had dysplasia in both hip joints; that meant her hip sockets weren’t fully covering the ball portion of the upper thighbone, which can result in the hip joints becoming partially or completely dislocated. Like Stephanie’s spinal issue, it was serious stuff.

And here’s another problem with double hip dysplasia: You can’t have surgery on both hips at the same time. Otherwise you’d be flat on your back for months and months.

Ingrid had surgery on her right hip at Mayo Clinic in Rochester in March 2020, just as the Covid-19 pandemic started to surge. On the day of her surgery, school was cancelled due to Covid.

“I woke up and my mom's like, ‘Hey, school is canceled.’ So I couldn't have gone to school anyway.”

She began walking with a crutch three weeks after surgery, admitting, “You're supposed to wait until six weeks.”

Her left hip went under the knife in August 2020. In both cases, four-inch screws were put in place to hold everything together.

Ingrid’s screws were later removed, while Stephanie still has some screws in her back.

Appropriately, Stephanie and Ingrid stand side by side in the team photo that’s part of the state tournament program. In Tuesday’s Class 2A state quarterfinals at the University of Minnesota Baseline Tennis Center, the unseeded Prowlers fell to second-seeded Edina 7-0. Thief River Falls then defeated Visitation 6-1 in the consolation bracket and fell to Mounds View 6-1 on Wednesday in the fifth-place match.

Singles and doubles competition will be held on Thursday and Friday. The Prowlers, who will be represented in singles by senior Brooklyn Broadwell, have moved back and forth between Class 1A and Class 2A; their last trip to state came in Class 1A three years ago.

Second-year Thief River Falls coach Shawna Spears said Stephanie and Ingrid are “definitely hard workers. To be stuck on the sofa for how many months recovering, then to come back and work so hard to earn a spot. They’re great.”

It was hard to sit and wait for the healing process to be completed.

“I couldn't sit up or walk for a long time and I sat and watched my team compete when I was in a wheelchair and on crutches,” Ingrid said. “Now I'm sprinting and running. And I look normal, I think.”

Indeed. Rampant normality is everywhere. Young athletes, training, working, competing, being part of the team.

To miss out on tennis “would have been heartbreaking,” Ingrid said. “I wouldn't be here and I wouldn't be so close to my team or my coach.”

Asked about playing at state, Stephanie put it very simply.

“It's a dream come true.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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