During a routine Thursday at school on Sept. 22, Lauren Ferg began to feel a sharp pain in her abdomen area. With her mind on more immediate issues, including in her forefront, like homework and the pursuit of a conference tennis championship, the sophomore Eagan tennis player ignored it.

She battled through similar discomfort Friday but by Saturday morning, the once-irritating ache became a serious medical concern.

Ferg was diagnosed with appendicitis and needed to have her appendix removed.

“[My stomach] became so painful that I could hardly walk,” she said. “We went to urgent care, and I had surgery the next day. … The entire time I was just worried about when I’d be able to go back to school and play [tennis] again.”

Her surgery was successful. Doctors said she could resume everyday activities and even athletics as soon as her pain became tolerable. Ferg missed school and matches on the following Monday and Tuesday to rest but was back in school Wednesday.

Still, it was unlikely she would be able to play in third-ranked Eagan’s conference-deciding match with Eastview, scheduled for the next day, Sept. 29. The match had been rescheduled after a Sept. 15 rainout, which meant that if Ferg, who was in the lineup for the match, couldn’t play, she would have to forfeit.

The Wildcats’ conference hopes without Ferg seemed slim. With a 16-0 record, she had played a pivotal part in Eagan’s success, splitting time at No. 2 and No. 3 singles.

Just when all hope seemed lost, Ferg’s parents called 17-year coach Scott Nichols on game day with good news.

“Her folks told me that she was going to gut it out and play,” Nichols said of Ferg’s return to action four days after surgery. “I couldn’t stop smiling because I had kind of written that one off, but she is a lot tougher than people give her credit for.”

She played the match but was unable to serve or hit overhand. Those restrictions aside, Nichols said the three-year all-conference singles competitor looked like she had not missed a day of practice. She won her match 6-1, 6-2 — her 78th career victory — good for seventh in school history.

After sophomore Eesha Varma scored the match-deciding fourth point in a 4-3 victory, the Wildcats won their first South Suburban Conference title.

“I started crying when we won,” senior captain Chloe Asuncion said. “Ever since I was a freshman [winning conference] was my dream, and Lauren’s commitment to playing was such an inspiration for us.”

Eagan’s conference victory was the culmination of a team stacked with varsity experience that repeatedly fell short of topping the standings. Nichols said without Ferg’s grit, the Wildcats would have lost the Eastview match.

Tricia Ferg, Lauren’s mother, said her daughter’s competitive drive was evident far before her conference-clinching performance. She has always pushed to be the best whether in tennis, on the basketball court or in school.

“In her mind taking a forfeit would have been a failure,” Tricia Ferg said. “She’s a perfectionist, and the type of kid who always tries her best.”

Eagan earned a No. 1 seed for the Section 3 playoffs. The Wildcats defeated St. Paul Harding on Friday to advance to the section semifinal on Tuesday.

Ferg’s coach and teammates hope to keep using their conference-winning momentum and Ferg’s heroic comeback as fuel to a state tournament run.

“My teammates have always been very supportive of me, and we all work so hard,” Lauren Ferg said. “So I wanted all this to just pay off and didn’t want my injury to affect everyone else’s hard work.”