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Smith makes history with state trip

Christina Smith made history with her runner-up finish in singles at the Section 8A tournament. Smith became the first member of the Park Rapids girls tennis team to qualify for state in both singles and doubles.

Christina Smith continues to make tennis history.

Last year, Smith became the first freshman in the history of the Park Rapids girls tennis program to qualify for the state Class A tournament in doubles.

Following a runner-up finish at this year's Section 8A tournament, Smith became the first player in the history of the Park Rapids girls tennis program to qualify for state in both singles and doubles.

"I thought my chances were pretty low (of qualifying for state)," said Smith. "My confidence was low at the beginning of the season, but as the season went on I got more confidence."

Smith entered the section tournament at Grand Forks as the No. 3 seed in singles with a 14-9 record, including a 10-9 record against section opponents. However, six of those losses were to top-seeded Jessamy Jones of East Grand Forks and Staples-Motley's Mikayla Wing, the No. 2 seed. Jones is rated No. 4 in the latest state Class A poll and has competed at state the last two years, finishing fifth in 2009 and fourth last season.

Jones defeated Smith in all four meetings during the season in straight sets by scores of 6-0, 6-0; 6-2, 6-2; 6-4, 6-4; and 6-1, 6-1 while Wing prevailed by scores of 6-3, 6-0 and 6-4, 6-3. That latter score was in the section semifinal team tournament at Grand Forks on Oct. 14.

Smith opened the section tournament with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Roseau senior Ashley Larsen in a first-round match on Oct. 14. Larsen entered as the No. 14 seed.

During the section quarterfinals on Oct. 15, Smith eliminated Pequot Lakes senior Kaycee Nelson, the No. 6 seed, 6-0, 6-1 to earn a showdown with Wing in the semifinals.

Smith avenged the two previous losses to Wing and advanced to the section championship match with a 6-4, 6-4 victory.

"I made a mental note that this is the match that counts and I had to go for it," said Smith. "That was the best match I played all year."

Even though Smith dropped a 6-0, 6-0 decision to Jones in the championship match, the Park Rapids sophomore earned her second consecutive trip to state.

"(Christina) was playing the best tennis that I have seen from her (at the section tournament)," said Park Rapids head coach Nicole Brandt. "Christina worked hard and played very well. She truly earned her trip to state."

Smith becomes only the fourth member of the Park Rapids girls tennis team to qualify for state in singles. Allison Reich was the first in 1991 and lost her only state match. Megan Reich qualified for state the next four seasons, going 1-1 in 1992, 0-1 in 1993 and 1994, and 2-2 to finish fourth in 1995. Alison Utke advanced to state in 2005 and went 1-2.

Smith has some state experience after advancing to last year's state tournament with Alyssa Carlson and going 1-2 to become the first Park Rapids doubles team to advance to the second day.

Smith will face Annandale junior Kaytlin Kuefler in a first-round match at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis on Thursday morning. Kuefler was a state competitor in doubles last season. The second round will be played Thursday afternoon with Smith facing either Stewartville junior Elizabeth Bardwell or Waseca junior Alicia Knoll.

Also in Smith's bracket are three other players who competed at state last season: Mounds Park Academy senior Amber Washington, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle senior Kimmy Mrozek and St. James junior Aryn Eckstrom. Washington is the top-rated player in the state and is seeking her sixth state title. Washington won four straight doubles titles before winning the state title in singles last year. Eckstrom won the consolation title last season.

Four players, including Jones, return in the lower bracket. Also earning return trips to state are St. James senior Paige Olson, St. Paul Academy and Summit School sophomore Sonya Das and St. Peter senior Sidney Dirks. Das finished and Dirks finished sixth last season.

The championship and consolation semifinals and finals are set for Friday.

"I would like to see her make it to play on Friday," said Brandt.

"It would be nice to win a match," said Smith, who has a 51-29 record in three varsity seasons. "I hope to play my best and be competitive. We'll see what happens."