Gate City's Rosa Smith is all smiles after winning the VHSL 2A girls singles tennis state championship on Thursday at Radford University.
RADFORD — Rosa Smith's two previous appearances in VHSL state singles tennis tournaments were emotional roller coaster rides for the Lady Blue Devils top seed. Thursday's appearance in the 2A state bracket at Radford University's Dedmon Center Tennis Complex was no exception.
The big difference this time was Smith's emotional makeup when it was all over.
Finding the still point of her tumultuous world exactly when she needed to, Smith gave power-stroking opponent Kynadi Mauney of George Mason room to make the final, fatal errors and the Gate City ace collected a 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 state championship victory.
"After two years of losing, I really, really didn't want to do it again" said Smith , who is the first Gate City girls player to claim a state singles title since Tara Sheets in 2007.
The deceptively diminutive dynamo's two prior state singles title match appearances ended in heartbreak. As a freshman, Bland's Grace Sarver dealt her a 6-0, 6-0 send-off. Last year', Mason's Miram Salakaia beat her 6-0, 6-3.
Mauney got her own chance to chip away at Smith's confidence earlier in the week, collecting a 6-3, 7-5 comeback win at No. 1 singles as the Lady Blue Devils otherwise went on to a 5-2 win over Mason in the 2A state team tournament semifinals at Weber City.
Smith, a considerably harder hitter than her stature might convey, in the past had difficulty adapting to state tournament singles opponents who could blast it right back at her. In her first set against Mauney on Thursday she was a much more complete player, using her feet — and her brain — to minimize Mauney's advantage in reach and sheer physical strength.
"She has a strong forehand and Rosa would have to take advantage by using shots that didn't give (Mauney) her best offensive shots. Keeping it deep to her backhand was something Rosa needed to do," said Gate City tennis coach Delonda Spivey. "With Rosa being a little quicker, she knew that she could push her back and maybe use a short slice to bring her in and keep her moving."
A savvy player in her own right, Mauney counter-adjusted to Smith's attack in the second set. After trailing 2-1, the Mason raqueteer won four straight games to turn the tables. All Smith's previously-banished doubts and anxieties flitted across her face with each Mauney winner or error on her own part. At the water break, the bottle in her hand visibly trembled as she anticipated the prospect of split sets.
When it finally happened , the third set was a microcosm of Smith's state tournament career up to that point. She jumped out to a 2-1 lead and the Lady Mustangs netter immediately started to fight back.
At one moment Smith would be as commandingly cool as her ice-blue eyes. A minute later, she'd react to a setback as if on the verge of bursting into tears, then somehow shake it off and get down to business.
Mauney kept pressing for what at times seemed like an inevitable comeback. But this time, the emotional meltdown never happened. This time, at crunch time, Smith played like a champion.
"She knew she had to have a consistent game. She knew if she didn't get a winning shot, then she needed to be consistent so the other girl made the error," Spivey said.
Smith, whose preceding 6-4, 6-1 semifinal win over R.E. Lee's Lexi Chadwell was halted between sets for a 45-minute rain delay, beamed beatifically as she clutched her state championship medal.
"I know that I can do it, and when I make a mistake I get frustrated with myself . I've just got to know that everybody makes mistakes and when I make them, I just need to forget about them. I think this (championship) will help me do that," said Smith, who, like other Lady Blue Devils champions before her, wore pink in the state singles draw.
Mauney, a junior, could see more of Smith again in Friday's 2A doubles tournament finals. She'll pair with her younger sister, Carrinton, while Smith will pair with her sister, Emily.
The Gate City duo faces Wilson Memorial's Heather Shields and Landon Aud in Friday's 9 a.m. semifinal match. In the other bracket, the Lady Mustangs pair takes on Buckingham County's Abby Freed and Kristen Knowlesley.comments powered by Disqus