By Ricardo Cruz
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
Kansas State junior guard Kendra Spresser took a unique route when joining the women's basketball team. Hailing from the small town of Dresden, Kan., Spresser never could have foreseen the opportunity to revive her basketball career.
As a senior at Hoxie High School, Spresser was a standout player. She averaged nearly 20 points a game and helped lead her team to a state championship berth in 2009. She garnered several accolades including All-State and All-League honors. Her play would earn her the opportunity to continue her career at Seward County (Kan.) Community College. In her first year with the Lady Saints, Spresser helped the team to a 31-3 record and a runner-up finish in the Region IV tournament. She earned an invitation to play in the 2010 NJCAA All-Star event in Pensacola, Fla.
Everything was looking good for a strong sophomore season, until injuries took a toll.
"I had hip surgery my sophomore year, knee surgery my junior year and another knee surgery in the summer of my junior year," said Spresser. "I had been out for about two and a half years."
After a series of injuries, it looked like it was the end of Spresser's collegiate playing career. She decided to enroll at Kansas State as a full-time student.
Even though she thought her playing career was done, her passion for the game never left. The thrill of teamwork and competition rejuvenated Spresser and gave her the desire to compete at a higher level.
"I prayed about it, and I asked God, that if he wanted me to play to put the desire in my heart," said Spresser. "I really just felt the desire to play again."
Her former coach Toby Wynn at Seward dished out an assist in helping out his former player.
"He had been talking with (assistant coach) Shalee Lehning and gave me a call to tell me that I had a meeting with her," said Spresser. "At that point, I had not picked up a basketball in a year or more."
With such a small amount of time to get ready, Spresser went to the K-State recreational facility and played a pick-up game with random students for her tryout.
Even though she had not played competitively in such a long time, she impressed Lehning enough to meet with head coach Deb Patterson and discuss opportunities for her.
"Anytime Shalee has something to say, I listen," said Patterson. "It was a step-by-step process where we wanted to see what kind of young person she was and if she might fit the build of our program."
She obviously did, signing to play with the team about a week after her tryout.
Transitioning back into a collegiate sport can be a difficult task. For Spresser, she met the challenge head on. The daily grind of workouts and practices can take a lot out of someone who may not be prepared for it. Spresser found the change difficult at first, but once she was able to get into a groove, it all came naturally to her.
"It was hard at first, I did not know how my body would react," Spresser said. "It was just a shock to my body, but it felt good to be part of a team again. It is like you have another family."
Once Spresser got back onto the court, her natural talent began to show. Her basketball prowess took over and her dedication shined bright.
"It is a tribute to the type of player that she is," Patterson said. "She brings toughness, intangibles, heart, desire and a love for the game."
Spresser was finally living one of her dreams. She grew up a big K-State fan and always wanted to play for the program. Now here she was finally getting ready to make her dream a reality. Her path there may have been different, but she arrived there none the less.
K-State began the year with two exhibition games. Spresser played sparingly in the first game, recording seven minutes of court time. It was in the second exhibition game though, where Patterson made a change, inserting Spresser into the lineup. To the average fan, the change seemed normal. Only those who understood Spresser's journey truly appreciated what was happening.
On Nov. 9, 2011, Spresser made her regular season debut in the purple and white, playing 24 minutes in a win over Idaho State. It will always be a date that will have a special meaning for her. A walk-on who, only two years ago, thought her playing career was over. Now, she was starting for her favorite college team.
For the season, Spresser has seen action in 19 of 20 games for the Wildcats with six starts, averaging 2.4 points, 2.7 rebounds and 1.1 steals in 14.7 minutes per game.
"I went from sitting on my couch to starting at a Division I program that I had always wanted to play for," said Spresser. "It really is a dream come true."
There are not too many athletes who can be away from a sport for two years, come back, compete at a high level and make an impact. Spresser is one of those few who have.
"It really speaks to her competitiveness and desire to be a part of something at this level," Patterson said. "Who would have thought that she would come in and literally impact us like she has this season?"
Spresser is a shining example that even when it seems like a door may be closed; there is another one that opens. It might just take a year or two.