Kate Smith knew this was her last chance to win a state medal. And she wasn’t going to return to Racine without one.
Mission accomplished at the WIAA Division 2 Girls Tennis Tournament at the Sports Core in Kohler.
The senior for St. Catherine’s/Racine Lutheran persevered in a three-hour consolation match Saturday morning and then lost her fifth-place match in straight sets. But she earned that coveted medal and she knows what she’s going to do with it.
“This means so much to me,” said Smith, the No. 8 seed who finished the season 18-4. “All my hard work is represented in this medal that I’m going to put on my letter jacket and have it forever. It means so much to me.
“After I won my first match today, I was in tears because I was like, ‘Finally, I’m going to get a medal no matter what!’ So I was really excited.”
That epic first consolation match Saturday pushed Smith to the limit. Matched against fifth-seeded Fiona O’Flaherty (17-4) of La Crosse Aquinas, Smith reached back for everything she had to hold on for a 6-7 (5), 6-2, 7-5 victory.
“When I lost the tiebreaker in the first match, that made me want to re-set my pace,” she said. “I think the whole second set for me was really important because I really switched up my game and started putting more points at the net instead of just battling our ground-stroke points.
“I think the first game in the second set really got me going in a different way of playing the match.”
St. Catherine’s coach Todd Anderson has seen an abundance of matches over the years. But he hasn’t seen many the likes of Anderson’s showdown against O’Flaherty.
“The first set was a tiebreaker and they went back and forth and back and forth,” Anderson said. “Really, four of the six matches were completed by the time she was finishing the first set. It just kept going back and fourth and people were like, ‘Are you serious? They’re still in their first set?’
“There were a lot of long rallies, a lot of trying to finish points and it was a battle of give and take. Kate had opportunities to win the first match and they slipped by because the girl just kept raising her level of play.
“We switched tactics. I told her, ‘If we’re going to win this, we’re going to have to do it by getting her to the net.’ We worked hard this season at making her more accomplished at the net. She won that second set 6-2 by pushing her up to the net.”
After Smith finally finished off O’Flaherty, she had a two-hour break. She took a 20-minute nap and ate some chicken pasta at a nearby restaurant. She also drank plenty of Gatorade.
And then came the final match of her high school career. It was against third-seeded Lauren Lindow (16-1) and fifth place was at stake.
By that point, Smith was relying more on adrenaline. She lost the first set 6-1 and fought back in the second before losing 6-4.
“My adrenaline was running higher in the second set than in the first match because I was getting into it,” Smith said. “So I think I played better in the second set.”
But Smith only had so much to give on this day and Lindow eventually prevailed. For Anderson, he couldn’t be more proud of his top singles player, who was just 7-11 as a sophomore.
“She was seeded eighth and she took sixth,” he said. “And this Lindow took second in her sectional. So I think at every level, Kate has overachieved.
“It was an overachievement for her but also a validation for all the hard work she’s put in. Who she is in a wonderful young lady who has put a lot of effort into everything she does.
“She’s got everything to hold her head high about. She represented Racine very well.”
- Top-seeded Baluck Deang of Madison Edgewood won her second straight state championship with a 6-3, 7-5 victory over No. 2 Erika Curtin of Appleton Xavier.
In Division 2 doubles, top-seeded Kala Siddalingalah and Rebecca Daskal of University School of Milwaukee defeated Kylie McCormick and Bella Taleon of Appleton Xavier in the championship match.
Get in the game with our Prep Sports Newsletter
Sent weekly directly to your inbox!