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Panthers' duo joins elite group

Christina Smith will be making her third consecutive trip to the state Class A girls tennis tournament.1 / 2
Julia Renner earned her first trip to the state Class A girls tennis tournament by teaming with Christina Smith to win the Section 8A doubles title.2 / 2

At last year's Section 8A girls tennis tournament, Park Rapids' Christina Smith and Julia Renner almost had to meet to each other to determine which one would advance to the state Class A tournament in singles.

At this year's section tournament, both players advanced to state after teaming up to win the section title in doubles.

Last year as sophomores, Smith was the No. 3 seed in singles while Renner was the No. 4 seed in singles. Smith upset No. 2 Mikayla Wing of Staples-Motley in the semifinals before losing to top-seeded Jessamy Jones of East Grand Forks in the championship match. Renner lost to Jones in the semifinals and avoided a true-second match with Smith when Wing won the third-place match.

By finishing second in singles last season, Smith made school history by becoming the first Park Rapids tennis player to qualify for state in both singles and doubles. Smith qualified for state in doubles as a freshman with Alyssa Carlson and became only the second Park Rapids doubles team to win a match at state.

At this year's section tournament, Smith and Renner made history by becoming only the third Park Rapids doubles team to win a section title and the ninth doubles team in school history to advance to state. Jones and Wing claimed the two state berths in singles.

Renner and Smith entered the section tournament Oct. 12 at Grand Forks as the doubles team to beat after going 13-0 (including an 8-0 record against section opponents) during the regular season. The Park Rapids juniors didn't drop a set all season and were pushed into a tiebreaker only once.

That trend continued at the section tournament at the Choice Health and Fitness Club as the Panthers' top doubles team didn't drop a set in coasting to the section title.

"We thought we should win it," said Renner, who also went 5-1 at No. 1 singles and 10-1 at No. 2 singles this season.

"I thought our chances were really good," said Smith, who had a 6-5 record at No. 1 singles this season. "We knew if we played our game that we'd make it for sure."

The Park Rapids duo opened the section tournament with 6-0, 6-0 wins over No. 16-seeded Hannah Jacobson and Molly Kraemer of Wadena-Deer Creek and No. 9-seeded Sarena Kinkel and Lindsey Girtz of Park Rapids.

In the semifinals, Renner and Smith dominated Roseau's Bethany Tangen and Bailey Janzen early by jumping out to a 6-1, 3-0 lead. The No. 5 seed rallied to take a 4-3 lead in the second set before the Park Rapids duo prevailed 7-6 with a 7-5 win in a tiebreaker.

In the bottom half of the bracket, Crookston's Leah Trostad and Ally Tiedemann upset No. 3-seeded Eleanor Heggerston and Carly Fyle of Pequot Lakes and No. 2-seeded Maggie O'Keefe and Kelsey Zetah to advance to the finals. Trostad, a freshman, and Tiedemann, a seventh grader, entered the section tournament as the No. 11 seed. Smith and Renner had no problem with the Crookston duo in the title match by coasting to a 6-3, 6-1 victory as both teams qualified for state.

"We thought we'd be playing Staples in the finals," said Renner. "I was surprised and relieved when I saw they lost."

"There were a lot of upsets in the section," said Smith. "When we saw that Staples lost, we were super confident."

Renner and Smith joined Mindy Lawrence and Mary Kading in 2008 and Carlson and Smith in 2010 as the only Park Rapids doubles teams to win a section title. The other Park Rapids doubles teams earning state berths were Tanya Peterson and Jennifer Pederson in 1991, Anna Pederson and Megan Luther in 1999, Megan Luther and Abbie McMorrow in 2001, Lindsey Czeczok and Amy Luther in 2005, Alyssa Klingenberg and Carlson in 2008, and Kading and Carlson in 2009.

Smith, who joined Megan Reich (four times) and Carlson (three times) as the only players in school history to qualify for at least three state tournaments, and Renner will carry a 17-0 record to state. The Park Rapids pair open the double-elimination tournament by playing Lake City seniors Allison Harvey and Katie Wallerich Thursday morning at 10 at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis. The state tournament concludes Friday.

"Christina and Julia are smart tennis players and they're consistent," said Park Rapids head coach Brianne Morris. "It's a great accomplishment making it to state. I hope they go out and have fun. I'm very excited for them."

"I hope we don't embarrass ourselves," said Renner. "I want to play well and win at least one match."

"Every year I go down there, I want to win more. I don't want to lose twice and be done," said Smith, who went 1-2 in doubles as a freshman and lost both singles matches last year. "We want to play our best and win at least one match."