Sehome sophomore girls' tennis standout and defending Class 2A State Tournament doubles champion Lauren Smith finished as the second best player in the state this spring, falling to defending singles champ Chloe Goyette in the 2A title match.
What's odd is Smith, on a talent-rich Mariners team, played No. 2 singles all season.
She never could beat No. 1 singles teammate Andrea Clawson in challenge matches to earn the team's top billing. Last season it bothered her. Not this year, though. And Smith's new approach to the game and her attitude are arguably the largest reason she exceeded even her own expectations.
"It's definitely not as important this year," said Smith, in a phone interview, of being labeled Sehome's top player. "I definitely felt like I had something to prove last year, and this year I knew I'd been working hard, and either way I had gotten better, and for me I realized it doesn't matter what position I play."
Smith played more free, smarter tennis, and at the end of the year proved on the court why she was the best player in Whatcom County, beating Clawson twice in postseason matches and nearly running the table at state. She compiled a 25-1 record, won sub-district and district tournament titles and has been selected The Bellingham Herald's All-Whatcom County Girls' Tennis Player of the Year.
Mariners coach Bonna Giller, who guided Sehome to a historic season, has been selected Coach of the Year. The Mariners easily won a Class 2A State Tournament title with an all-classification record of 41 points. Giller believed the previous record was 35 points. Sehome also qualified nine players for state and each contributed to the win.
Giller said Smith's improved care-free attitude allowed her to eventually let her talent shine and beat Clawson. She combined that with a more patient playing style.
Smith has always impressed with her varying shots and hard-hitting ability.
"She's got a lot of shots in her toolbox," Giller said. "When the season ended, she could execute all different strokes. She has a ton of pace. The only person I have seen hit harder than her is Chloe (Goyette)."
Combined with Smith's improved shot selection, her play flourished at the most important part of the year.
"You want every shot to be a winning shot," Giller said, "but you have to be patient. Her growth and maturation over the last year has been impressive, knowing when to whip that shot over for a winner and when to hold back and wait. It's one of those things she's had to deal with, and she's done a lot better."
Smith didn't lose a match until her state championship final. She was 25-0, and Smith credited the strong play to a concerted effort in picking her spots.
"That was my main focus, definitely," she said. "I think I used to hit it as hard as I could and hope I'd win the point, but I've been trying harder to develop the point and be more selective with shots."
After winning a doubles state title with Clawson, Smith said her goal was simple this year: reach the state tournament in singles.
She admitted she never imagined she'd reach the state finals. Her momentum started with a confidence-building win in the sub-district title match against Clawson in which Smith won 6-2, 6-1.
Smith followed the sub-district win with a 6-2, 7-5 win over Clawson at the district tournament.
"It was exciting," said Smith of getting the best of Clawson, "but we've played each other so much we are used to it, but it felt good to win. We've played with each other since elementary school."
Smith carried the momentum into state and dominated through the semifinal match. She beat Olympic's Melina Johnson 6-0, 6-0 in the round of 16, beat Prosser's Daphne Reilly 6-0, 6-0 in the quarterfinals and moved past Pullman's Tori Berditchevskaya 6-4, 6-1 in the semis.
"She knew she had total control," Giller said. "Even with Chloe in the championship match, she knew she could win the match. She wasn't pressed until the finals. I'm not saying she bulldozed the competition, but her competition in the first three matches, she didn't leave a lot of room for error."
Smith joined teammates Clawson, Ali Morrow, Emily Webster, Natalie Knops, Madison Harris, Taylor Harris, Simone Hall and Lizzie Friesen to form the best group Giller said she's ever had.
"I really enjoyed it," Smith said. "I honestly didn't think I knew our team was as good as it was, and I didn't think we'd qualify all nine people to districts or even to state, so that's pretty cool."
Reach Andrew Lang at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 360-756-2862. Follow @bhamsports on Twitter for Whatcom County sports updates.
ALL-WHATCOM COUNTY GIRLS' TENNIS PLAYERS OF THE YEAR
2014: Lauren Smith, Sehome
2013: Bella Hoyos, Bellingham
2012: Bella Hoyos, Bellingham
2011: Bella Hoyos and Megan Mullarky, Bellingham
2010: Leah Strickling, Squalicum
2009: Brandi Benner and Jill Tornonchuk, Lynden
2008: Brandi Benner and Jill Tornonchuk, Lynden
2007: Molly Beaumont and Mandy Hatch, Bellingham
2006: Erica Bosman, Lynden
Reach ANDREW LANG at email@example.com or call ext. 862.