It is no miracle that a doubles-minded tennis program like Friendswood High School is sending two teams to Thursday and Friday’s University Interscholastic League State Tennis Championships in College Station.
Or is it?
After overcoming a congenital heart disease, Mustang senior Noah Smistad, one of six local players competing in the two-day state meet, would be the first to call it just that — a true miracle, indeed.
As a sophomore, Smistad, who is teaming up with Race Haas in the Class 5A boys doubles, was diagnosed with anomalous origin of the right coronary artery, a rare heart condition that could shorten his life if he was under any form of physical stress, including playing tennis.
Smistad faced the choice of never again playing the sport he loved or undergoing open heart surgery.
“Thank God I had two options,” Smistad said. “I had the surgery that October and recovered by March.”
Even though less than 100 of this type of surgery have been performed in America, Smistad said “I had a condition that could be fixed.”
However, “You don’t know adversity until you really face it,” he added. “I had to be optimistic and trust in God, that there’s hope, that He has a plan for me.”
But full recovery on the tennis court itself would take a lot longer, in fact until Smistad’s current senior year.
“I had to redevelop my game and gain back confidence I had lost,” Smistad said. “Physicality-wise, it wasn’t there for a while.
“But fortunately I realized how this trial had benefitted me. That I can’t take things for granted anymore, like my teammates, my coaches, everybody here in the community.”
Not to mention his last chance to qualify for the state tournament, which he and Haas were able to do by way of a dramatic runner-up finish at last month’s Region III-5A Championships.
There, the two, seeded No. 3, lost in the semifinals to eventual winner College Station A&M Consolidated, then bounced back to win the third-place match against Alvin Shadow Creek to force a do-or-die playback with No. 1-seeded College Station High, the Mustangs prevailing once more 6-4, 6-4.
“I played my best tennis in those two matches,” Smistad said of the Shadow Creek and College Station victories.
Now Smistad gets to play in the biggest tournament of his high school career alongside his best friend since sixth grade at Friendswood Junior High.
“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Smistad said of state. “I never thought I’d be here, even before I had the trial.”
Making it even more rewarding is that the Mustangs also qualified their top girls doubles team, Maura Mitchell and Quinn Radtke, the two as regional runners-up, as well.
Joining the Friendswood pair in Aggieland will be their League City neighbors playing in the Class 6A singles — Clear Springs’ Alli Schwartz (girls) and Clear Creek’s Carter Crookston (boys).
“Every trip to the state tennis tournament is a special one because it simply doesn’t happen very often,” Mustangs head coach David Cook said. “But this group of kids has a little something else going for it.
“Through the miracle of science and medicine, Noah received a second chance and is making the most of it. His ordeal brought our already tight-knit group to a higher level of ‘family.’”
“We’ve been good friends for so long, so it was pretty rough playing without him, not seeing him on the courts,” Haas said. “But he would still come out and support us, and that was nice.
“Playing this season with Noah has been a lot of fun. We have great court chemistry and never get mad at each other. He has a good heart, no pun intended.”