HIGH SCHOOL TENNIS: Jonnah Smith stands out as Wink starts strong at regional tournament

Wink’s Jonnah Smith has been in this position before, having qualified for the UIL Tennis State Championships each of her first two years in the Wildcats’ program.

Another strong first day of play at the Region I-2A Tennis Championships has her on the verge of a third straight trip.

Facing strong competition, with a dose of West Texas wind thrown in for good measure, Smith won twice to advance to today’s semifinals at the Ratliff Tennis Center.

She defeated Shanee Popwell of Wellington, 6-1, 6-0, in the morning before coming back to defeat Jadyn Conde of Seagraves, 6-2, 6-0, in the afternoon.

“The biggest challenge was just trying to keep the ball in play,” said Smith after she completed her afternoon match. “I just wanted to keep my mind focused on that and not on everything else going on around me.”

It was a challenge early as both Smith and Conde battled a crosswind with gusts of more than 30 miles per hour.

With the match deadlocked at 2-2 in the first set, a change in strategy by Smith proved to be the difference as she won the next 10 games to earn the victory.

“I figured out that you couldn’t hit the ball as hard on one side as opposed to the other because of the wind,” Smith said. “You had to adjust to that every game and that was a little frustrating early. I think I adjusted well though.”

Seeing those tweaks was an encouraging for Wink head coach Wendy Ratliff, who said she was proud of how Smith handled the elements.

“I really liked how composed she was,” Ratliff said. “The wind is gusting and blowing hard and I could tell she struggled with it early on. Once she adjusted, she was able to settle in.”

Smith advances to face Emily Morgan of Boys Ranch in the semifinals at 8 a.m.

The winner of that match faces the winner of the other semifinal between top-seeded Kea Sandoval of Olton and Sarah Beth Cotter of Albany. The championship is slated to start at approximately 11 a.m.

With a similar forecast slated for Thursday, Smith looks to build on what she learned from the first day’s results.

“I just want to get a good night’s rest and work on being more consistent,” Smith said. “I just want to improve on how I did today.”

Smith was also not the only qualifier from Wink who played well.

The two regional qualifiers in mixed doubles and the girls double team of Sabrina Mercier and TyAnn Slaughter all won their respective opening matches.

Myah Torres and Kate Ramirez defeated Ricardo Paiz and Lauren Nichols of Sundown, 6-2, 6-2, while Zack Rosas and Kim Montes defeated Olton’s Jack Allcorn-Karla Arriolla, 6-4, 7-6 (9-7).

“I always feel like we have a chance of winning,” said Torres after his first match. “I always believe in my partner. We do a great job of picking each other up and I’m happy with how things turned out.”

As for Mercier and Slaughter, they defeated Hawley’s Rebecca Lee and Karigen Garza, 6-1, 6-1.

Ratliff was pleased with how well the teams played.

“It’s really encouraging to see,” she said. “We lost 11 of 16 players from last year’s squad so we’re coming into this tournament pretty green.

“Just getting here and getting their feet wet is a huge thing for us as we continue to build the program.”

>> OTHER LOCAL RESULTS: The other local regional qualifiers from Wink included Cory Stewart in boys singles and the boys doubles team of Grabe Muniz and Raul Salinas.

Stewart lost his opening match, 6-2, 6-1, to Kobe Richardson of Forsan while the doubles team fell 6-4, 6-3, to Forsan’s Jonathon Gabehart and Ty Freeman.

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