Kyle Smithgall decided he wanted to be good at tennis.
âThe first time I saw elite players (in the Greater Spokane League) was when I was in the freshman,â said the college senior. âI was playing in the No. 4 singles and had never played tennis before. I saw guys who had played so much tennis and decided I wanted to be like them. I wanted to be able to compete with them.
“The next year I was No. 1 and I played them.”
There is a chasm in high school tennis. On the one hand, elite players like those who inspired Smithgall, players with a wealth of tennis under their belt and long resumes on the youth and USTA tennis circuit. On the other side, there are players like Smithgall – talented players who don’t play all year round.
Smithgall is doing his best to bridge the chasm.
âIt’s a bit of a big gap, but it’s good to have these people in the league,â Smithgall said. âThey are one of the reasons I excelled. I haven’t done as much training as these big guys. I train in summer and winter, and it helps me keep my consistency. But I try to treat tennis like a game. It kind of allowed me to develop my own style.
“What I think helps me the most right now is my experience and my maturity.”
This personal style combined with experience works for him. On Saturday, he won the No.1 singles title at the Tri-City Invitational tournament.
Smithgall defeated Mead’s top singles player Edward Liu in the final.
âI know him and I know what he likes to do,â Smithgall said. âBut in his defense, he played a monster game in the semi-finals. I can’t wait to play him in a league game and see how it goes.
Now in his third season as the No.1 Titans singles player, Smithgall is trying to play his cards up close. He hates tilting his hand.
âYou see guys wasting all the time,â he said. âIf things don’t go as planned, they just fall apart. They have high expectations for themselves and if things don’t turn out their way they can’t handle it. It’s hard to lose to someone you think you can dominate.
âIf I were to yell something like ‘My forehand sucks so bad today!’ I would just telegraph how to fight on any given day. But guys do that.
But he keeps track of his opponents and the strategies that have worked for him.
âI’m the analytical type,â he says. âI remember what worked and what I saw. “
Smithgall tries to keep the game in perspective and is careful not to let his expectations for any given game slip away.
âThe key for me is to understand that tennis is a mind game,â he said. “It’s about having some stability and consistency in your game and keeping moving forward.”
As a program, the University has worked hard to close the gap between itself and the tennis elites GSL – witnessing the Titans’ fourth-place team at TC Invite across 16 teams.
âWe’ve always had a pretty strong team, even though we have guys who are just learning the game,â he said. âWe’re not ahead of the pack, but we’re better than the middle of the pack.
âPart of our challenge this year is that we have lost about half of our team to graduation last year. The same is going to happen because we have a lot of seniors this year as well. “
Smithgall’s sophomore sister Katie is the No. 1 singles player on the women’s team – a source of pride for the family, and especially her older brother.
âI’m really proud of her and I think it’s been good for both of us,â he said. âWe’re able to go out and hit with a quality opponent, and that’s always good. Katie can be really good if she wants to, but she has to make that decision on her own. She just needs to develop that motivation to get better.
âThat’s what’s great about our family. This decision is still ours.