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MSUM-bound Smith brings winning attitude to Packers

West Fargo senior tennis player Sammie Smith hopes to make the most of her senior season before playing for Minnesota State University Moorhead in the fall. Carrie Snyder

West Fargo High School senior Sammie Smith has been a constant on the Packer girls tennis team for six seasons. In her fourth year as the team’s No. 1, her coach hopes she continues to do what she has always done in the past.

“She is probably one of the most dependable girls I have around,” head coach Chad Anderson said. “She is one of those girls who will go out and play and I can work with others without worrying, because I know she will take care of her business.”

Smith has been playing tennis since she was 4 years old, after her older brother Zach got her into the sport.

“It’s my passion,” Smith said. “I love the whole idea of it being individual, but there is a team around you.”

The daughter of Tom and Shelley, Smith is the third and final kid in her family to go through Anderson’s tennis program. Her sister Cassie graduated in 2011 but was her sister’s doubles partner prior to that. After that, she grew to enjoy singles competition more.

“When she first started … she was always like a little kitten following its mother,” Anderson said. “Since her sister left, she has really taken control of the team on her own.”

Anderson admits that he has tried to place Smith in an active mentoring role but believes it has been somewhat in vain, as “you can’t really force Sammie to do anything.” However, he believes his athletes can learn a lot from simply watching her practice.

“What she does is not a vocal type of senior leadership,” Anderson said. “She leads by example. The way she plays and how hard she works shows everyone else how to play.”

The Packers are currently 6-1 on the season, and 3-0 in the Eastern Dakota Conference. Smith attributes the success of the team — which has five seniors in its top six — to their dedication to tennis.

“I feel like it is going really well,” Smith said. “We have put in a lot of time over the winter, and I think we are really having fun and just enjoying it.”

According to Anderson, Smith’s hard work in the offseason — which includes three lessons a week, weekend matches with local players and plenty of tournaments — is what sets her apart from the average player, giving her a distinct advantage at the high school level.

“When she steps out on the tennis court, she has a good idea of what to do and how to win,” Anderson said. “You can’t teach kids that. That comes from all the hard work she has done.”

In her senior season Smith hopes to win the individual state title. After being plagued by a thumb injury during the postseason last year, Smith is fully recovered and believes taking the title is a strong possibility.

After she graduates, Smith will join her sister as a member of the Dragons tennis team at Minnesota State University Moorhead. She also joins Dragons’ coach Oliver Summers, who has served as her offseason coach.

“I'm really excited that Sammie has chosen to be a Dragon,” Summers said in a press release announcing Smith’s signing. “She is one of the hardest-working, driven athletes I know and is always striving to get better. She has the talent and drive to be state champion this year and will make an instant impact in the NSIC for us next season.”

While she is excited for the new challenge against stiffer competition next year, Smith’s focus is firmly on this season and the team around her.

“I just want us to play our best and really come together this season. We are all really good friends, and there is no drama with this team.”

Smith plans to major in business administration at MSUM and feels college-ready as both a student and an athlete.

Her coach believes that, with her strong work ethic, she will find plenty of success both on and off the court after she leaves the halls of West Fargo High School.

“Whatever Sammie chooses to do, I am sure she will be successful,” Anderson said. “I can’t say enough about her and what she can do. The sky is the limit for her.”

The Packers will continue their season on Thursday, traveling to Wahpeton for a 4:30 p.m. contest. They then face the Grand Forks Red River Roughriders on Monday at 4 p.m.