COURTING IMPROVEMENT

Because Columbus North plays such a brutal girls tennis schedule, Aubrey Smith regularly faces some of the state’s top players.

In fact, if the Bull Dogs and host Bloomington South both win or both lose their semifinal matches in today’s Conference Indiana Tournament, Smith will meet defending state singles champion Denise Azcui for the second time this week. Azcui beat Smith 6-2, 6-0 on Tuesday.

“She’s really good,” Smith said. “She never misses.”

Not that Smith is any slouch herself. After beginning the season at No. 2 singles and going 3-0, the sophomore is 10-4 at No. 1 singles.

“I’ve played some really good people, so I can’t get that mad,” Smith said. “It’s definitely good practice because everybody is so good. There’s never going to be an easy match, so you always have to be ready and prepared.”

Smith had a big week last week, going 4-0.

“You still have to be prepared, and I played pretty well then,” Smith said. “I didn’t want to let up and take it easy.”

Following Tuesday’s setback to Azcui, Smith bounced back with a 6-0, 6-1 victory against Lawrence Central’s Peyton Carroll on Thursday.

“She’s coming around pretty well,” North coach Kendal Hammel said. “A lot of times, her biggest battle is her own self and confidence. She gets down on herself too quickly if things aren’t going quite like she would like, if she doesn’t feel like she’s hitting the ball like she should be.

“She has a lot of high expectations for herself, but being in the No. 1 spot, she does play the top players,” he said. “Some teams have very strong players, and others don’t. She can compete with them. Aubrey can reach some good potential if she mentally focuses on some things that she needs to do and stays positive.”

Hammel said Smith has been hitting the ball harder than she was at the beginning of the season.

“That’s been part of her game — hitting the ball hard, but being able to keep the ball in play,” Hammel said. “Her serve has gotten better. She’s still working on her volleys, but her groundstrokes and her intensity, she’s right there.”

Smith will face a big challenge in today’s 10 a.m. opener against Terre Haute South’s Lauren Hambrock, an All-State player last season.

“I heard she’s a good player,” Smith said. “Kendal said she’s one of the top players, so that should be a good match.”

North enters today’s tournament with a 11-6 record. Five of the six losses have come by 3-2 scores.

“Some of our matches have been close, and some of them we could have pulled off,” Smith said. “We just need that one more match. I know Center Grove, we lost, and I should have won that match for us.”

The Bull Dogs will be a heavy favorite to win the Columbus East Sectional, but then would likely face challenges from Seymour and Bloomington North or Bloomington South in the regional.

“I’m hoping that we get to semistate because last year we lost in the regional final,” Smith said. “That’s our big goal — to get to semistate this year.”

If you go

Pairings for today’s Conference Indiana Tournament:

Championship bracket at Bloomington South

Columbus North vs. Terre Haute South, 10 a.m.

Bloomington South vs. Franklin Central, 10 a.m.

Championship match, noon

Third-place match, noon

Fifth- through eighth-place bracket at Bloomington North

Southport vs. Bloomington North, 10 a.m.

Terre Haute North vs. Perry Meridian, 10 a.m.

Fifth-place match, noon

Seventh-place match, noon

Author photo
Ted Schultz is sports editor for The Republic. He can be reached at tschultz@therepublic.com or 812-379-5628.