Claflin, Smith make history

Courtesy photo Gering’s Zoee Smith (left) and Bobbie Claflin became the first Bulldog tennis players to medal at the state tournament on Friday in Lincoln. Claflin finished third at No. 2 singles and Smith placed fifth at No. 1 singles.

After becoming the first Gering High School tennis players to advance into the second day of the Class B state tournament, Bobbie Claflin and Zoee Smith made more history by medaling during the final rounds of action on Friday in Lincoln.

Claflin, who advanced into the No. 2 singles semifinals with three wins on Thursday, ended up placing third.

Smith, who reached the quarterfinals of No. 1 singles, bounced back to register a pair of wins on Friday to earn a fifth-place finish.

Their impressive results helped Gering climb up to 11th in the final team standings, which is the Bulldogs’ highest-ever finish at state.

Claflin ended her senior season with a record of 35-10. Her win total is the most in school history for a single season.

“It was a really good way to finish,” Claflin said. “I’ve never made it to the second day before, so I kind of surprised myself at how well I played the first day.”

In her semifinal match Friday morning, Claflin faced a familiar opponent in Lexington’s Mallorie Buescher. The two met three times during the regular season. In the fourth matchup, Buescher prevailed in straight sets by scores of 6-1, 6-4 to advance into the final.

“I played her three times,” Claflin said of her history with Buescher. “The first time I rolled my ankle, the second time I beat her, and the third time she beat me. She just played better than me today.”

Claflin put that result behind her going into the third-place match against Omaha Duchesne Academy’s Abigail Brewster. After taking the opening set by a commanding score of 6-1, Claflin was pushed to a tiebreaker in the second set. She ended up prevailing 7-4 in the breaker to close out the victory.

“The second set took a while and I was actually down for a lot of it,” she said. “I had to bring myself back up and finish strong.”

Smith also stepped up to conclude her junior season with a strong finish. She recorded an 8-4 win over Crete’s Katelyn Jindra in the consolation semifinals. Smith followed that up with another impressive performance in an 8-4 win over Holdrege’s Kaylin Brown to claim her fifth-place medal.

Smith had her sights set on a high finish after experiencing some success at state last year as a sophomore.

“I was pushing to get into day two and hopefully get a medal,” Smith said. “It was just going to depend on how I played today and thankfully I played well.”

Smith ended her campaign with a final record of 34-11. Her win total is the second most for a single season right behind Claflin.

Smith said it was a thrill to join Claflin as Gering’s first state medalists.

“It’s really exciting that Bobbie and I were the first to medal,” she said. “It’s really cool and super exciting.”

With another season in front of her, Smith said her goals will be even loftier for her senior year.

“This summer I’ll work to improve a lot,” she said. “Hopefully, I can finish a little better next year.”

Alliance’s No. 2 doubles team of Diana Acosta and Taylor Manion also will return home with state medals. The pair earned an eighth-place finish to conclude their season with a record of 17-7.

Following a loss in the quarterfinals on Thursday, Acosta and Manion dropped an 8-2 setback to York’s Erin Case and Natalie Rockenbach in the consolation semifinals. The Bulldog team then fell 8-5 to McCook’s Megan Hodgson and Delaney Jumps in the seventh-place match.

Omaha Duchesne claimed the Class B team title with a score of 54. Grand Island Central Catholic finished second with 42.25.

Jeremy Woznick is the sports editor for the Star-Herald. He can be reached at 308-632-9048 or by emailing jwoznick@starherald.com.