Sprecher looks to return to 2017 form after national team experience

Sprecher+looks+to+return+to+2017+form+after+national+team+experience

Photo by Kate Holstein

A week after the 2017 season ended, women’s soccer head coach Markus Roeders needed to talk to then-freshman Kylie Sprecher.

“At first I thought I was in trouble,” Sprecher said. “But I couldn’t think of what I could be in trouble for.”

Sprecher wasn’t in trouble, though — she was about to hear about the opportunity of a lifetime.

Roeders took her on a drive to tell her she was in consideration for the United States U20 Women’s Youth National Team training camp, which brought in 26 of the best players in the country.

Assistant coach Nick Vorberg hurried to find Sprecher’s offensive and defensive highlights from her freshman season. The U20 head coach said she liked the video and thought Sprecher had a pretty good chance of making the team, but it wasn’t a guarantee.

Sitting in her English 1001 course, Sprecher received an email from the Women’s Youth National Team coordinator.

“I remember sitting there and it popped up on my laptop, and I freaked out,” Sprecher said. “We weren’t supposed to have our phones out or anything, but I remember just pulling my phone out and smiling. Everyone sitting near me was like, ‘What are you doing? She’s so weird.’”

But she didn’t mind the weird looks. Her first text message went to Roeders. The second went to her mother, who played soccer at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

However, Sprecher did not have much time to dwell on the appearance. The camp started in Sunrise, Florida, exactly three weeks after Marquette’s loss to Georgetown in the BIG EAST Tournament last October.

Once she got there, she was greeted with a grueling routine for the next week. She had meetings with coaches every morning and night. Coaches forced constant evaluation, asking players to answer questions about recent performances and upcoming goals.

“‘What did you think you did well? What are your weaknesses? What you want to work on and learn during this camp?’” Sprecher said. “They would sit down and go through your touches on the ball and what you did.”

Every practice and scrimmage was filmed, allowing for countless hours of watching footage.

“Prior to those camps, I never really had to watch myself,” Sprecher said. “It’s a whole different angle.”

It also meant she had to watch and be accountable for every mistake she made.

“There are no excuses,” Sprecher said. “It’s right there in front of you.”

Practices at the camp never lasted longer than 75 minutes, so each touch during those minutes had more importance than a typical Marquette practice.

“Every practice, they had it written down to the tee on the time,” Sprecher said. “They had expectations for you, and once it was done, it was done and you move onto the next thing.”

A thousand miles northwest of Sunrise, Florida, Sprecher now has a different challenge: getting back on track after possibly her worst injury in her soccer career. The sophomore still vividly remembers how it happened.

When Marquette’s scrimmage with Iowa last March was cancelled because of snow, the team just scrimmaged against each other. She felt toe pain but assumed it was just because she was wearing old cleats.

“I was just running in the scrimmage, and all of a sudden the bottom of my foot underneath my toe started to hurt really, really badly,” Sprecher said. “At first … I didn’t think anything of it.”

By the time she returned to the team’s locker room in the Marquette Gym, her foot was significantly swollen. It was clearly more than just an old pair of cleats.

An MRI revealed she had sesamoiditis. She grew up with two separate sesamoid bones in her foot, and there was inflammation and fluid between those pieces of bone. The player who didn’t miss a game as a freshman had to wear a boot for the next 16 weeks.

“Instead of going forward, I was kind of at a standstill,” Sprecher said. “It really humbled me. I really took for granted being able to play like that.”

By early August, she visited Dr. Robert Anderson, who has operated on Derek Jeter, Kyrie Irving, Cam Newton and Kevin Durant. Anderson also conducted Joey Hauser’s ankle surgery last December.

“I’m going to release you, and you can do whatever you’re able to with or without pain,” Anderson told Sprecher. “And if for some reason you can’t make it through the season because there’s so much pain, we’ll think about doing a surgery to remove it.”

She has played through the pain, but the 16 weeks in the boot set her back in fitness. From May to early August, she was on the sidelines instead of using the much-needed time to train for the next season.

“The fitter you are, the less you have to focus on that, and the more you can focus on your ball skills,” Sprecher said. “I didn’t touch a ball for 16 weeks, and I didn’t run for 16 weeks, and that doesn’t just come back.”

While her teammates had practice, she was only fit enough to handle a couple minutes of workouts. She played five minutes in the opener against Cal Poly, a college located in San Luis Obispo, California, because that was the most she could physically handle.

“Every time in the preseason I would make one sprint with Kenny, and I’d do fitness and I was dead,” Sprecher said. “I’ve never been set back like this before where my body hasn’t been able to do what my mind wants it to do … It’s hard not to be at 100 percent, and I’m a perfectionist, so I always want to be at my best for the team.”

And she’s gradually realizing her battle with sesamoiditis isn’t going to end overnight.

“I’m not going to wake up one morning and be completely fit and as good (as) I was last season,” Sprecher said. “It’s been an interesting journey.”

The recovery has slowed her offensive production. Through the first 10 matches last year, she had two goals and three assists. This year, she has yet to score a goal or assist on five shot attempts.

Part of the dropoff is due to an inexperienced cast around her. At the start of last year, then-seniors Darian Powell and Eli Beard and redshirt junior Carrie Madden drew plenty of attention, giving Sprecher more breakaway opportunities.

Powell and Beard have graduated, and Madden has been recovering from injury.

“That’s going to put more concentration on Kylie,” Vorberg said. “Against a Butler, where they always play with a five-back system, you are constantly getting doubled.”

Vorberg said he is confident Sprecher will return to the productivity that gave her a spot on the U20 and U19 training camp rosters. It just might take some creativity.

“Kylie is going to get her goals this year,” Vorberg said. “It just might not be as many opportunities as last year.”

With an injury-beleaguered start to the 2018 season and immense competition for training camp spots, there’s no guarantee Sprecher will return to Sunrise, Florida. That hasn’t fazed her, though.

“Whether I get invited back or not, so many people wish for that, and I’ve been dreaming of that since I was a little girl,” Sprecher said. “To be able to say that I even had those opportunities was so amazing to me.”