McKinley Smith first picked up a tennis racquet and started playing with her mom, Dena, at the age of five. She fell in love with the sport instantly and dreamed of playing it at the Division I collegiate level.
The 2019 Eastern View graduate was undefeated in conference and district play at No. 1 singles from her freshman year through junior year and was the state runner-up during her freshman and sophomore seasons. As a junior, she rode her undefeated regular season all the way to a Class 4 state crown.
The state title capped a magnificent high school career for Smith, as she opted not to play high school tennis her senior year.
On July 1, however, Smith was finally able to make her dream of playing D-I tennis a reality. She completed her 2023 cadet walk and oath at Army West Point, where she will not only play the sport she loves, but also be able to serve her country.
“I wanted to go to West Point because I wanted to pursue a career in the Army and follow in the footsteps of my father, who is a Lieutenant Colonel,” Smith said. “I also wanted to play for a team that feels like a family and represents its school with integrity and honor. Going to play for West Point will give me amazing opportunities after my collegiate tennis career to serve my country. My mom/coach always told me to work hard and have goals so that tennis could create amazing opportunities for my future, and that is what tennis has given me: an amazing opportunity to go to my dream school and have the pride and honor of serving my country.”
Dena Smith has coached her daughter throughout her entire tennis career, starting from USTA through her time at Eastern View. She admits it’s going to be hard having her daughter away from home, but is extremely proud of what McKinley has accomplished.
“It’s a feeling of total satisfaction as her personal coach, but as a mother it’s bittersweet because we have such a close relationship and I will miss her horribly,” she said. “I will miss her work ethic the most. She’s a very focused, determined athlete and is also just a very loyal, sweet person and daughter. I will always look back to all the blood, sweat and tears it has taken for her to get to this point and be thankful to have had this experience with her being my daughter and seeing her grow.”
Being an elite athlete isn’t easy, especially in tennis. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication and sacrifices. But McKinley had her goal set early on and wasn’t going to let anything get in the way of achieving it.
“Overall it was a lot of determination and hard work throughout the years, including maintaining a high G.P.A. and developing my physicality and my tennis ability,” McKinley said. “My experiences of competing throughout my junior tennis career, such as the national tournaments and teams I’ve played on, my high school tennis record and titles won while at Eastern View and staying highly ranked in my USTA junior tennis section and nationally have all helped me grow as a player.”
Her mom agreed.
“It has taken a lot mentally and physically from both of us,” Dena said. “From traveling all over the US for national teams, hours on the training court and the years spent at Eastern View coaching her. It was a lot of hard work from both of us, but it was all worth it for her to get into the school of her choice and for her to be able to play D-I tennis.”
On the academic side, West Point is a very hard school to get accepted to. Over 11,000 applications are received annually and only about 1,200 are accepted on average.
“Most people get the Congressional nomination for the application process, but because of my dad’s achievements and accolades throughout his career in the Army, I was able to receive a Presidential nomination,” McKinley said. “With all of this it has enabled me to live out my dream of playing NCAA D-I tennis and make a difference by serving my country as a female officer in the Army, while also receiving a degree in engineering from a school ranked No. 2 in the nation for engineering.”
After she graduates, McKinley wants to serve her country for at least five years.
“I will graduate as an officer in the Army and will serve the country for at least five years,” she said. “I’ll have the opportunity to travel, and after the five years are up I will have the option to continue my career in the Army or begin a civilian job in my field of engineering.”
Although it’s going to be hard being away from each other, both McKinley and Dena are looking forward to what the future holds.
“We are both looking forward to competing at a higher level,” McKinley said. “West Point has won its conference two years in a row and playing on a team on top and competing for another title will be amazing. We’ll miss traveling together to my tournaments and all the physical and mental training we do together on a daily basis. We will also just miss being with each other every day and spending time together.”