Panthers lived up to high expectations
Park Rapids’ Christina Smith, Julia Renner and Julia Smith made history at this year’s Section 8A girls tennis tournament.
Seniors Christina Smith and Renner capped off their final appearance at the Choice Health and Fitness Club in Grand Forks on Oct. 12 by repeating as the Section 8A doubles champions while Julia Smith capped off her freshman season by claiming runner-up honors in singles to earn spots in the state Class A tournament.
For Christina Smith and Renner, it was another historic achievement as the duo became the first doubles team in school history to win back-to-back section titles and qualify for two state tournaments. That duo was also the first doubles team in school history to bring home state medals after placing fourth last season.
Julia Smith also joined an impressive group by becoming only the fifth Park Rapids singles player to qualify for state.
Those three, who became only the third group to send a singles player and doubles team to state in the same year (joining Allison Reich in singles and Tanya Peterson and Jennifer Pederson in doubles in 1991 and Alison Utke in singles and Amy Luther and Lindsey Czeczok in doubles in 2005), will open state play Thursday at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis.
Smith, Renner defend section title
Christina Smith and Renner entered this year’s section tournament confident of returning to state.
Even though the duo played only 10 matches as partners this season, the Park Rapids seniors expected to defend their section title.
“I felt our chances were pretty good,” said Renner. “I wasn’t worried because we always do fine when we play together. There were a couple teams we were worried about, but we weren’t too concerned.”
“I thought our chances were really good,” said Smith. “We’ve played together so long that it didn’t take us long to get in a groove. The only team we were concerned about was Staples.”
The section’s No. 1 seed had no problems reaching the finals. Smith and Renner opened with a 6-0, 6-0 win over Alyssa Morris and Julia Pearson of Perham (the No. 17 seed) and followed with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over East Grand Forks’ Kaity Randall and Ashley Normandin (the No. 8 seed) in the quarterfinals. A 6-2, 6-1 win over Pequot Lakes’ Jaden Lindner and Haley Wiebolt (the No. 4 seed) in the semifinals sent the Park Rapids duo to the title match.
In the finals, Smith and Renner defeated the No. 2 seed, Kelsey Zetah and Nikki Edin of Staples-Motley, 6-3, 6-3 to return to state.
With back-to-back titles, Renner and Smith join Mindy Lawrence and Mary Kading in 2008 and Alyssa Carlson and Smith in 2010 as the only Park Rapids doubles teams to win section titles. The other Park Rapids doubles teams qualifying for state were Peterson and Pederson in 1991, Anna Pederson and Megan Luther in 1999, Megan Luther and Abbie McMorrow in 2001, Czeczok and Amy Luther in 2005, Alyssa Klingenberg and Carlson in 2008, and Kading and Carlson in 2009.
Smith, who qualified for state in singles in 2011 to become the only Park Rapids tennis player to advance to state in both singles and doubles, joins Megan Reich as the only Park Rapids tennis player to compete in four state tournaments. Smith has a 115-42 career record, going 47-35 in singles and 68-7 in doubles. Renner has a 122-35 career record, going 86-31 in singles and 36-4 in doubles.
That duo, which is 13-1 as doubles partners this season and 32-3 as doubles partners the last two seasons, will face Aubrey Green and Melissa Viesselman of Fairmont in their first-round match Thursday in hopes of advancing to the state quarterfinals.
“You never know what can happen, but we want to go out strong,” said Renner, who had a 7-0 record at No. 2 singles and 12-2 overall record at No. 1 doubles this season. “Hopefully we’ll place again.”
“It all depends on the brackets, but we want to be competitive again,” said Smith, who compiled a 9-4 record at No. 1 singles this season. “We placed last year and we want to play well and place again.”
Smith earned first state trip
At the beginning of the season, Julia Smith set a goal of qualifying for the state tournament.
Being the No. 2 seed in singles for the section tournament put Smith in position to achieve that goal.
“My main goal was to somehow make it to state as an individual,” said Smith. “Being the No. 2 seed made me more confident.”
Smith coasted to the championship match with a 6-0, 6-1 win over No. 15 Lydia Shafer of Crookston, a 6-0, 6-0 victory over No. 10 Lauren Bengtson of Pequot Lakes and a 6-0, 6-3 win over No. 3 Bethany Tangen of Roseau.
In the title match, Smith was defeated by the No. 1 seed, Mikayla Wing of Staples-Motley, 6-3, 6-2. Wing is the state Class A’s No. 5-rated singles player.
When Tangen lost to No. 4-seeded Chessa Jones of East Grand Forks 6-1, 6-3 in the third-place match, Smith had to face Jones in a true-second match to see who would advance to state.
During the regular season, those two split matches with Smith winning 6-4, 6-3 in a dual meet and Jones prevailing 1-6, 6-3, 10-2 in a quadrangular meet.
In the true-second match, Smith dominated with a 6-3, 6-1 victory to earn her first trip to state.
“I was hoping I’d do all right (in the championship match), but I was thinking more about the true-second match,” said Smith, who went 7-3 at No. 1 singles, 5-0 at No. 2 singles and 7-0 at No. 3 singles this season. “I was a little nervous because I was so tired. I was just thinking that I had to stay consistent and hit winners.”
That what she did as Smith joined Allison Reich (1991), Megan Reich (1992-1995), Utke (2005) and Christina Smith (2011) as the only Park Rapids singles players to qualify for state.
Smith will carry a 37-8 career singles record into her first-round match at state against St. James senior Lorena Hernandez. The top seeds in singles are No. 1 Sonya Das of St. Paul Academy (the defending champ), No. 2 Sofia Terzic of Rochester Lourdes, No. 3 Claire Christian of United South Central and No. 4 Abby Kantor of Foley.
“I’m going to be nervous, but I’m happy to get there,” said Smith. “I hope to win some games and have fun.”