Ada tennis partners Cadenhead and chat about winning state

May 14—Ada junior tennis partners Jerzie O'Neal and Lilly Cadenhead had no business winning their final match at the Class 4A State Tournament.

Anna Golloway and Analiese Whittington of Elk City defeated the Ada duo 6-4 in the first set. and then things got worse. All of a sudden, O'Neal and Cadenhead found themselves down 5-2 in set No. 2 — only four points from a loss in the No. 2 Doubles fifth-place matchup.

Unbeknownst to them, an outright state championship was on the line in that matchup. Win and the Lady Cougars would win the 4A state title all by themselves. Lose, and they'd have to share a piece of the state title pie with private-school power Christian Heritage Academy.

What happened next was a comeback for the ages. Cadenhead and O'Neal won the second set in a tie-breaker, 7-6, and used that momentum to dominate the third set 6-1 and send the Elk City team packing.

The match lasted over three hours and was played before a wild, mostly anti-Ada crowd.

That fifth-place medal in the No. 2 Doubles draw couldn't have felt sweeter.

The Ada News had a chance to sit down with Cadenhead and O'Neal to chat about that wild ending at the 4A State Tournament last week. Following are excerpts from that conversation:


The Ada News: All right you guys. You lost the first set and found yourselves down 5-2 in the second set. How in the world did you guys turn things around after that?

Jerzie O'Neal: "I think one of the big things is we just kind of put that past us. We didn't really think about the score. We knew we'd worked hard. We knew we'd hit more tennis balls, so we just gave it our all."

The Ada News: And you guys weren't aware that if you won that match, the Lady Cougars would win the state championship outright, correct?

Lilly Cadenhead: "We had no idea!"

The Ada News: What went wrong as far as getting down that far in that match?

Lilly Cadenhead: "I feel like we had the teamwork we needed. We just weren't fully playing to that level. I feel like we needed something to bring it out of us. We had to open our eyes ... and pull this win through."

The Ada News: Was there one thing you guys could point to that kind of flipped the switch in your favor?

Jerzie O'Neal: "Yes, footwork. Footwork was one thing we focused on. We played about a three-hour match. We were getting tired, and we knew the only way to win was to move our feet."

Lilly Cadenhead: "I also think that my biggest fear in a match is getting down on myself and not being able to pull myself back. and I think when you get inside your head, it's so hard to pull yourself back out to be the best you can be for your teammate and for yourself. We brought back our mental state and I knew if we did that we could pull the win through that we did."

The Ada News: So what was the message from coach Terry Swopes during the first part of your match after you fell behind? What was he telling you guys?

Jerzie O'Neal: "He was mostly telling us just go out there and have fun. As a team, that is one big, important thing to us ... we're going to enjoy it and have fun no matter what."

Lilly Cadenhead: "Yeah, and he always tells us to never give up. Always run until the ball bounces twice."

Jerzie O'Neal: "Hills and valleys. We went through valleys that first part of that match, and we realized we needed to get it together for our team."

The Ada News: Was there a certain point in the match where you guys thought, hey, we can do this now? We can come back and win this?

Jerzie O'Neal: "So all year long, we've played a ton of tie-breakers. and that is one thing we've done amazing at."

Lilly Cadenhead: "Coach actually called us the tie-breaker queens!"

Jerzie O'Neal: "We've never lost a tiebreaker, so we knew once we got it there, once we got it to 6-all, that's where the switch flipped, and we were pumped up and ready to go."

The Ada News: So what was it like playing in front of such a big crowd with a good amount of them cheering against you?

Lilly Cadenhead: "It was mentally exhausting. We had other teams, like Jerzie said, cheering against us. We had the people from that crowd, and we had our own teammates relying on us."

The Ada News: So what was it like at the end, after that amazing comeback, when coach Swopes told you that win won the team the Class 4A State championship?

Jerzie O'Neal: "It was amazing. As a team, that's so important to us."

Lilly Cadenhead: "Ohhhhhhhhh. I looked over at Jerzie, and I was like, Jerzie!, and I just started bawling. and I was like, we're state champions. Like, we actually did it. It was so amazing."