Hurricane freshman Lexi Smolder displayed composure of a veteran in capturing the Class AAA No. 1 singles tennis state championship May 11.
Smolder, the Mountain State Athletic Conference player of the year, defeated Cabell Midland senior Channing Varnum 6-3, 6-3 to win the state title behind nerves of steel.
“The mental ability that she has to stay focused and not get rattled is absolutely incredible,” Redskins coach Kendra White said. “It’s just something I’ve never seen from girls team, even as a senior.”
The Smolder-Varnum matchup marked the fifth time of the season the pair met on the court, and Smolder employed a unique approach to prevail.
“I try to keep the ball in the middle of the court,” Smolder said. “It really depends on the person I’m playing, but at finals in states, I tried to keep the ball in the middle of the court and not go for as many winners, because if you keep your targets bigger, then you’re not going to make as many errors.”
Her mental approach propelled Smolder throughout the season, White said.
“She’s determined,” White said. “Probably one of her biggest strengths is her mental ability. She never gets worked up. She’s always calm. Earlier this season, she was down big time to a girl, and she came back and won. Usually, at that point in time, most people just say ‘OK, we’re going to give up here,” but she’s a fighter.”
It’s important to keep moving forward and not dwell on any one shot, Smolder said.
“I try to just brush it off and not think about it too much,” Smolder said, “because if you get it in your head, you can start playing worse, and it’s just one point, so you just try to brush it off and keep going.
“Focus is key throughout all of tennis, because you have to be focused every point. You have to make sure you’re watching the ball. It takes a lot of focus. You just have to have focus the whole entire time.”
There are few, if any, weaknesses among the physical aspects of Smolder’s game, too.
“She can hit the ball hard,” White said. “In my mind, she doesn’t really have a weakness. A lot of times when we play, we say hit to their backhand or hit to their forehand. She’s not weak on either one of those. Her serve is strong. She plays a lot of tennis. She takes probably four or five clinics a week, so she’s spent a ton of time playing tennis.”
With her physical talent and mental ability as a freshman, Smolder’s title represents the first rewards of a very successful career to come.
“She’s outstanding,” White said. “She’s very good. I think she’ll do great things in the years to come even after this big accomplishment as a freshman.”