CHEYENNE – Ashli Smedley lost just three matches during her first season as Cheyenne Central’s No. 1 singles player.
All three were in straight sets. Two came to Natrona County’s Theresa Travjova, who was the state runner-up. The other was to state champion Finley Klinger of Kelly Walsh.
Klinger graduated while Travjova was a foreign exchange student. Smedley won her final two matches of the season to place third. The path is clear for her to win a state championship.
The junior isn’t leaving anything to chance, though. Smedley has continued to practice just as hard as ever before. She has worked to refine her groundstrokes and serves.
However, the area Smedley sought to improve the most isn’t one that’s abundantly clear – her mental approach.
Smedley went 19-0 playing No. 1 doubles with her older sister, Kaitlyn Smedley, as a freshman. Earning the No. 1 singles spot was a big step up in not just competition, but pressure. For the most part, Smedley thought she handled it well but knows she also could have been better.
Playing at a World TeamTennis event last month in Florida really brought mental approach to the forefront for Smedley.
“I feel like I’m better prepared for that pressure than I was last year, but I’m trying to get a little bit better at it every day,” Smedley said. “I’m more positive and I realize my strengths and weaknesses mentally. I’m trying to prepare myself to keep going even when things are hard.
“There were times last season – especially when I went up against really good players – that I kind of got overwhelmed and broke down.”
Smedley has worked to push through mental barriers by forcing herself to keep jogging even when her mind is telling her she needs to stop. She’s also immersed herself in 22-time Grand Slam champion Rafael Nadal’s book and another specifically on the mental aspects of tennis.
“Tennis is mostly mental and about the way you see things,” she said. “It’s about wanting more and enduring more than your opponent. Every day you have to go out, you have to get a little more mentally strong, you have to keep trying and never give up while remembering the positive aspects of your game.
“Remembering what you’re good at motivates you and pushes you to be better.”
Smedley is OK with being nervous before and during matches. She considers it normal and a sign that she cares about the outcome of her matches. The area she wants to improve upon is positive self-talk, not getting down on herself and letting a couple mistakes snowball and get away from her.
“I’ve been working on pushing out the negative thoughts and telling myself I’m good at tennis,” she said. “I get really tight sometimes, so I have to learn how to relax and play loose. This is the year I can be the player I want to be.
“I know what it looks like when things are getting away from me. I think I can stop it now.”
Being mentally strong is just as important as having a wicked serve or a killer backhand, if not more, first-year Central coach Ron Bronson said.
“The top players in Wyoming are pretty even,” he said. “They play each other all the time, and the scores are usually pretty close. If you can unlock that mental area, it will allow you to win matches you maybe shouldn’t win.
“Keeping your composure and being adaptable are important. Those are difference-makers in high school tennis.”
Bronson has been impressed with the way Smedley has carried herself during the first week of practice.
“She has senior energy because of the experience she has,” Bronson said. “I’m really excited to see her perform because I know how hard she has worked since last season ended. I’m ecstatic she’s a junior because she’s a great player to have on your team.
“There’s so much potential there, and her ceiling is really high. She’s good, but she’s also got so much room to grow.”