Engaged in a close match Tuesday with a talented Williamsport tandem, Kelly Sprenkel continually offered encouragement to her Shikellamy teammate as every point played out in the first set of their doubles match.
With every point won, Olivia Weaver offered just as much encouragement to Sprenkel. Once the initial set belonged to the Shikellamy duo — even though they needed to survive a tiebreaker to prevail — the comfort level grew.
That comfort level continued to grow, too, as Sprenkel and Weaver nailed down a memorable victory.
For the 16-year-old Sprenkel, it was the first win of her varsity tennis career.
“We were talking to each other and telling each other to return it and look for an opportunity to get a good shot and win the point,” Sprenkel recalled. “(Winning the first set) definitely motivated us to keep pushing and win the second set.
“The whole season we’ve had trouble with winning the first set and losing the next two, so this time we kept within ourselves and won the second set as well,” the Shikellamy junior said.”
Success on local courts, along with the sparkling GPA (102%) she carries, is why Sprenkel is the first athlete this school year to land The Daily Item’s Scholar Athlete of the Week award sponsored by SUN Orthopaedics of Evangelical, as well as PPL Electric Utilities.
The award honors local student-athletes who thrive in the classroom, in the community and on Susquehanna Valley playing fields.
When Tuesday’s No. 1 doubles match finally came to a close, it was Sprenkel and Weaver bouncing off with a 7-6 (5), 6-4 straight-set victory.
“It’s the only win (they have), but they were competitive and it was good to see them break through,” first-year Shikellamy coach Bob Seebold said. “They’d get close in a couple of matches, but they just couldn’t get there. Sometimes, once you win, it builds that confidence. Now they know they can win, because they beat a really good team.”
For Sprenkel, who has been playing tennis for just over two years and is still relatively new to the lifetime sport, she’s committed to the blue print that Seebold has designed and began laying out in July. So, she works at the game every moment she can.
During her first two years in the Shikellamy program, Sprenkel was limited to exhibition action with the JV program. This time around, since the Braves graduated seven players from last year’s team, Sprenkel knew she’d get the opportunity to play.
“I’ve been getting more of my first serves in, which helped me ace a couple of girls the past few weeks. I’ve also been getting better with my ground strokes and keeping them in,” Sprenkel said. “Not only that, but I’ve been playing a very good net game lately.
“What helps is I’ve finally gotten my net game down, so I just play the net consistently and my partner took care of the back and the lobs over my head. I’ve learned to put shots away at the net, which I wasn’t doing back in July.”
Obviously, Seebold has been extremely pleased by Sprenkel’s rapid progress.
“I call her a savage at the net because she is aggressive and, at the net, eventually they have to lob over her head (since) she’s quick at the net. She puts a lot away,” Seebold said. “She’s a little on the shorter side, but she’s just quick at the net.
“She’s a very smart girl,” Seebold continued. “She’s No. 1 in her class, 102 (grade-point) average, 1510 SAT. She catches on quick.”
Although the Sunbury resident is part of her school’s remarkably successful bowling program and plays multiple positions on the Braves’ softball team, Sprenkel’s efforts inside Shikellamy’s classrooms is where she really warrants attention.
While Sprenkel’s sparkling transcript is littered with Honors-level subject matter, she’s already taken an Advanced Placement course in physics and is busy taking AP government and politics. Hardly satisfied with the 1510 she attained on the SAT — a perfect 800 in math and 710 in reading — she’s determined to improve her reading score.
Sprenkel’a course work also includes tackling an Introduction to Statistics course at Susquehanna. Next school year, she’s planning to enroll in the ACE (Advance College Experience) program offered by Bloomsburg University.
Sprenkel’s plan is to work as a chemist — quite possibly as part of the research and development unit within a major pharmaceutical corporation.
“I like the aspect of doing labs and everything,” said Sprenkel, who quickly mentions Notre Dame and Washington & Jefferson as possible college destinations once she leaves Shikellamy. “I just like the idea of helping people. And I feel like the best way that I could help people would be through chemistry, just because I’m good at that field.
“It’s just something about learning something at the microscopic level, like atoms and everything that just catches my fancy and drives me toward that field.”
Sprenkel is so serious about the field that she spent four days earlier this summer at Bucknell’s Chemistry Camp. One of 20 high school students chosen — from more than 50 applicants — Sprenkel was exposed to theoretical and laboratory applications.
“It definitely made me more driven in chemistry and definitely made me want to be more engaged in chemistry,” Sprenkel said. “One teacher’s assistant even offered me (the chance) if I want to go up one day and shadow her in her class just to get an idea of what college chemistry is like. … I’d definitely like to take her up on that offer.”
Since Sprenkel also attended the long-running Hugh O’Brian Leadership Conference last summer, she’s pledged to complete 100 hours of community service so she can return to the O’Brian next summer as an alumni assistant. She’s already at 61 hours.
Among Sprenkel’s projects is assisting her mother — her mother serves as the PTA secretary at one of Shikellamy’s schools — while another is the Caring for Kids initiative that involves feeding youngsters who might not have enough food at home.
Sprenkel’s pet project, however, is something she calls Crayola Color Cycles. Having placed boxes at a number of schools within the Shikellamy District, Sprenkel collects and counts spent markers that Crayola will melt down and recycle into new pens.
Not only does it save the company money, but it also keeps the old markers from going to landfills or winding up in the oceans. Last school year, Sprenkel needed just one week to round up some 1,500 markers that she dispatched to Crayola. So, she’s already encouraged.
And when Sprenkel is encouraged to try something — whether on the tennis court or elsewhere — look out.
“I definitely want to do something bigger this year and have it throughout the school year,” said Sprenkel, who is the secretary of Shikellamy’s service-based Key Club. “If this is successful, I’m thinking about a daycare or the library, see if I can set up a box there.”