Tenino resident making history playing tennis at University of Arizona

Colton Smith was named an All-American in his junior season


Colton Smith, a junior at the University of Arizona and one of the top collegiate tennis players in the United States, represented his hometown of Tenino at the NCAA Singles Championships in Stillwater, Oklahoma, last month.

Smith, a lifelong resident of Tenino and graduate of Tumwater High School, recently finished his successful junior season at Arizona during which he qualified for the semifinal round of the NCAA Singles Championships before falling short to Columbia’s Michael Zheng. He finished the year with a 34-11 record in singles, marking a program record for wins.

Smith earned Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Singles All-American status to become the first Arizona Wildcat to take home singles honors in 18 years. He also helped the Wildcats win their third straight Pac-12 regular season championship and their first ever Pac-12 Tournament in program history, which Smith said was his proudest achievement this year.

“It was something that we’ve always wanted to do since I started going to Arizona. It’s always something we’ve talked about. We had come in as a top seed my first two years and ended up falling short pretty early in the tournament,” he said. “So that was one of the main goals this year. To beat Stanford in the finals after losing to them at home, that was one of the coolest moments. None of us really wanted to leave the court after we’d won.”

Smith said that the success during his junior year stemmed from a shift in his preparations off the court, including meditations and visualizations.

“I filled in the leadership role a little bit more within the team. I felt I improved quite a bit on that. But also, I think a lot of things shifted in order for me to make some of those improvements, just with my preparations off the court,” he said. “I didn’t really change too many things on the court, but the meditation and visualization definitely had a huge impact on my overall play.”

Smith was motivated to avenge his first-round defeat in the 2023 singles tournament against Ohio State’s Cannon Kingsley when he entered this year’s tournament. He went through a gauntlet of highly ranked players to reach the final four, a spot he visualized himself being in all season.

“It didn’t feel uncomfortable or new to me. It was something I’ve been preparing for, and so it was super cool when I got to that spot,” Smith said. “I was able to learn from the mistakes I’d made last year, like looking past the first round a little bit, and this year I really took it one match at a time.”

Because of his deep postseason run, Smith is confident that a singles national championship is within reach in his senior season, one in which Arizona departs the Pac-12 Conference for the Big 12 Conference.

“I think it’s super realistic. A handful of guys inside the top 15 or 20 in the country are graduating, so I think it’ll definitely be possible,” he said of a national title. “I felt like it was really possible this year, but I just came up a little short. I felt everybody there was pretty evenly matched, and it was dependent on the day. Anybody could beat anybody. I had quite a bit of confidence going into that last one, but [Michael Zheng] got me, and he played some of the bigger points a little bit better.”

In his final season, Smith said there are “a couple records I wouldn’t mind breaking” and that he wants to keep giving the programs firsts.

“It’s going to be the first year in the Big 12 for us, so I think there’s a ton of firsts that we can accomplish. The really cool part about getting to Arizona when I did is there’s a lot of firsts that you can accomplish because they haven’t always been the best program as far as tennis goes,” he said. “We won the Pac-12 regular season title for the first time ever my freshman year and backed it up the next two years, and we won the Pac-12 Tournament for the first time and hosted the regionals for the first time ever. There’s a handful of firsts that we could check off and I guess a handful of lasts for me.”

Smith hopes to turn pro after completing his senior season at Arizona. His tennis journey began at 7 years old when his father, Brodie, showed him tennis after the two initially enjoyed watching pingpong together. He found every avenue possible to practice, including working with Jody Rush at Northwest High-Performance Tennis.

“I owe pretty much everything to Jody just because it’s been hard to find people that I can hit with. Everybody that’s been on my side has been super supportive. That’s been huge for my success,” Smith said.

He added that his family’s support throughout his time at Arizona has fueled his success. His mother, Jennifer, made the trip with him to Stillwater for the singles tournament.

“They’ve been super supportive. My parents go to matches whenever they get the chance. I’ve got some family that live down in Tucson, so they’ve been super supportive as well,” he said. “My mom was in Stillwater at the tournament every day, so it was great to share those memories with her. Tenino’s been supportive as well, so it’s been really cool.”