Jaelyn Smith

Lanier's Jaelyn Smith is the Daily Post's Girls Tennis Player of the Year after going unbeaten in 2021.

SUGAR HILL — Sometimes, a little time off can make a big difference for a highly-competitive athlete like Jaelyn Smith.

The Lanier junior didn’t shut down completely during the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020-21.

However, the 2021 Daily Post Girls Tennis Player of the Year admits that the significantly slower schedule she had in the spring of 2020 through the tournament season of the summer and fall had a positive impact on her 2021 high school season.

“For high school, I think we got maybe a month or two in,” Smith said of last year’s schedule. “Tournament-wise, all the tournaments were getting cancelled. (They resumed) probably around August or so, towards the end of the summer.

“I think I played maybe three (tournaments between August and the start of the 2021 high school season). The USTA was very limited with what they did. The UTR (University Tennis Rating) was, I guess, more open to it.”

Based on her results this spring, it would appear the break re-energized Smith, who posted a perfect 16-0 record as the Longhorns’ No. 1 singles player in their run to the Class AAAAAA state playoffs.

But it was more giving her a chance to recharge her figurative batteries mentally as much as physically that she believes was the biggest benefit.

“I don’t know, I kind of liked not taking (tennis) not as seriously,” Smith said of last year’s limited schedule. “I guess if I take it too seriously, it’s not as fun. So having a little bit of a break, I feel like made me love the sport a little bit more.

“And all the girls on the (Lanier) team were so nice to me. I guess it kind of feels a little bit like a family. So adding that to the sport made it a lot more fun.”

Of course with any fine-tuned athlete, there is always the “rest versus rust” concern that comes into play.

And even while trying to maintain a fairly regular training schedule after COVID shut down the 2020 high school season, Smith admitted that it took her a little while to get used to live competition again.

“I go to a tennis academy called UTA (Universal Tennis Academy),” Smith said. “During that time (in the pandemic), that was the primary area where I was practicing, but I worked a lot with my private lessons coach. I had private lessons every week and I would hit with one of my friends (Jake Cranor), who is (No. 1 singles) on the boys team (at Lanier). We’d play once a week, and kind of helped each other out to maintain that (competitive) level.

“It was very hard because I was used to (it being) more fun, not necessarily taking it as seriously as I had in the past. When it was time to go back into tournaments, it was definitely a bit of a mindset change. It just made it more serious.”

That Smith was able to eventually to make that transition back to a competitive mindset came as little surprise to Lanier girls coach Meredith Warren.

In fact, said she saw a side of Smith throughout the spring that she really hadn’t seen quite as much before, and one she expects to see more of moving forward.

“She’s very, very patient, and when she does get down or in trouble, she knows exactly how to correct it, an she will,” Warren said of Smith. “I would say that she … kind of started to come out of her shell a little bit. She’s still very quiet and kind of reserved, but I think it helped her with tennis being a little more outgoing.

“She’s been so good, I don’t think it really affected anything. To me, she’s a little more talkative that she was the year before, which I enjoyed. … “I think she’s going to be a good leader. At first in her freshman year, she was so quiet and and so shy we all kind of wondered. She was a great tennis player, but (not with) that leadership. And I think she’s definitely going to fall into that (next year) as far as being a leader. She’s very positive and she always motivates the other girls, which is good because they all look up to her. They all know how good she is.”

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