Smith focused on present to reach state
Julia Smith didn't dwell on the past as she entered the Section 8A girls tennis tournament. Focusing on the present led to a return trip to the state Class A tournament for the Park Rapids sophomore. Smith entered the section tournament at Fargo'...
Julia Smith didn’t dwell on the past as she entered the Section 8A girls tennis tournament.
Focusing on the present led to a return trip to the state Class A tournament for the Park Rapids sophomore.
Smith entered the section tournament at Fargo’s Courts Plus as the No. 3 seed in singles. Staples-Motley’s Izabella Edin was the No. 1 seed and Pequot Lakes’ Haley Wiebolt was the No. 2 seed.
During the regular season, Smith had lost twice to both players. Wiebolt had defeated Smith by scores of 6-2, 6-1 and 7-5, 6-4 while Edin prevailed by scores of 6-4, 6-4 and 6-1, 6-1 in her two meetings against Smith.
Being the No. 3 seed, Smith wasn’t sure if she could earn another trip to state. Smith gained some confidence during the section team tournament with a 6-4, 7-5 win over Wiebolt as the Panthers avenged two losses to Pequot Lakes during the regular season with a 5-2 victory in the semifinals.
In the championship match, Staples-Motley qualified for state for the 10th year in a row with a 6-1 victory over the Panthers. Edin defeated Smith 6-2, 6-1 in that match.
Smith opened the singles portion of section tournament with easy wins over No. 14 Jaeden Lizakowski of Crookston (6-0, 6-1) and No. 6 Maddy Hinojos of Wadena-Deer Creek (6-0, 6-0).
That set up a semifinal meeting with Wiebolt. Smith used the momentum from her victory in the team competition to advance to the finals and secure a state berth with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Wiebolt.
“Julia played a great match against Haley in the team part of the tournament. It was fun seeing her become more confident in every game. I think she proved to herself that she is good and can play with anyone in the section,” said Park Rapids head coach Brianne Morris. “Julia is a very smart player and has put in a lot of time on the court to become a good player. The biggest difference was she is just so focused at the section tournament and knows what she needs to do to win. She has a drive to win and also had a drive to return to state. She played super hard and smart. She also plays really well inside without any outside elements.”
“I didn’t think my chances were too good. I was ranked third and had lost to Haley twice before. I wasn’t expecting too much,” said Smith, who joins Megan Reich as the only two members in the history of the Park Rapids girls tennis program to qualify for state in singles at least twice. “After I beat her in team, I felt I had a chance. I was really focused and was just concentrating on making it close. I play better when I’m not too confident. The pressure at sections makes me play better.”
Edin captured the section title with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Smith. However, Smith was happy qualifying for state as the Section 8A runner-up for the second straight season.
Last year, Smith lost to Staples-Motley’s Mikayla Wing in the section finals and capped a 25-5 season by splitting matches in her state debut. Smith won her opening match before being eliminated in the quarterfinals.
This year, Smith is looking to win at least one match again and hopefully advance to the second day. The state tournament begins Thursday morning at the Reed-Sweatt Family Tennis Center in Minneapolis. Smith plays Winona Cotter freshman Cindy Li in her first-round match. Li is the No. 3 seed. Holy Family Catholic’s Danielle Gannon is the No. 1 seed, Virginia’s Brylee Seitz is the No. 2 seed and Pine City’s Natalie Cahill is the No. 4 seed.
“Julia has played well all year, even though she has suffered some tough losses,” said Morris. “I want Julia to go out and just play her best.”
“I’m hoping to do a little better than last year,” said Smith, who enters state with a 22-12 record in singles. “I hope to win my first or second match and play both days.”