Tennis requires intentional movement, arm strength, control and practice, practice, practice.
So when Williams Field High senior and four-year starter Clint Smith started feeling pain in his right wrist, he attributed it to his sport.
An X-ray last fall showed something other than regular wear on Smith’s wrist. Doctors discovered Smith had Kienbock’s Disease, a condition where one of the bones in the wrist is damaged because it does not get the proper blood supply.
Being right-handed, Smith underwent surgery in January, a month before his senior season began.
“I just thought I was done,” he said.
Smith wanted to be with his teammates and friends, so a few weeks after surgery, he went to practice, “Just to say hi.” For fun, Smith decided to hit the ball around using his left hand.
He was surprised by his ability to do it and kept practicing. With permission from his doctor, he joined the team again. In March, Smith played his first left-handed varsity doubles match for Williams Field.
“I won, and the last match, as well,” he said.
Williams Field coach Ken Jackson said Smith’s ability to continue tennis this year has helped with the team’s success. Smith was slated to be the team’s top player heading into the season, but without him for stretches the Black Hawks didn’t miss a beat: Porter Derrick (11-3 singles), Braden Shumway (6-4 singles, 10-4 doubles), Nicholas Kohnhorst (13-1 singles), Nathen Hayes (13-1 singles), Yin Feng (11-3 singles), Jonny Meere (13-1 singles) and Smith (8-0 doubles) set new standards for Williams Field, despite only having four courts for the boys and girls to practice on at the school.
While each division’s singles and doubles state tournament matches began this weekend, the No. 3-seeded Black Hawks finished the regular season 14-0 and host Flagstaff in the first round of the Division II team state tournament April 29.
In the last month, the Williams Field High team has been ranked No. 2 or No. 3 in Div. II.
“What we’ve done with this team is almost unprecedented. We’ve had three matches we won that we could have lost. We beat Notre Dame Prep, Campo Verde and Arcadia for the first time,” Jackson said. “We’re not really superstars. This has not been easy, but by hard work and some kids who are pretty good, we’ve been able to do this.”
Speaking of hard work, the right-hander Smith found a way to keep playing his sport his senior year: switching hands.
“If you’re used to swinging your right arm when you serve, it’s just natural. When you try to do it on the other side, it’s just not a natural thing you do, like when you write. It’s awkward,” Jackson said. “Clint can hit the ball pretty well. There’s just things he’s done in the past he can’t do because of being left-handed, not the way he did it before. He’s improved at it and gotten better at it.”
“I just had to start slow,” Smith added. “I knew what hitting was supposed to feel like. It just took a lot of practice.”
He cannot move or use his right hand for three months and wears a brace on his right hand while he plays. Since Smith has only one hand to use, he serves with one hand. He grips the ball with his thumb and the racket with his fingers, and taught himself to do a one-handed backhand.
In three months, Smith will know if the surgery was successful and if he can use his right hand again.
For now, he’s happy to be back with his Black Hawk teammates on the court before he attends BYU this fall.
“I do want to play college tennis in a couple of years if I can,” he said.
Michelle Reese is a public relations officer for the Higley Unified School District