Smith, Sackett take lead as Norse compete in ITA Regional


Sofia Sackett (‘24) prepares to hit a forehand during the Luther Tennis Alumni Meet on September 18. Sackett was the only player in the American Rivers Conference to win two rounds in both the ITA Singles and Doubles tournaments. (Photo Courtesy of Luther Photo Bureau)

On September 24 and 25, the Luther women’s tennis team participated in the 2021 Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Midwest Regional. The tournament was hosted by the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater and was played at various sites, and tennis players representing colleges from Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin competed in singles and doubles tournaments. For Luther, Natalia Smith (‘24) advanced to the Round of 16 in the ITA singles bracket, while Sofia Sackett (‘24) and Shelby Cook (‘22) made it to the Round of 32. In the ITA doubles bracket, Sackett and Ana Olimpio (‘25) won two rounds before falling in the Round of 32.

With the performances of Smith, Sackett, and Cook, Luther became one of four schools to put three singles players in the Round of 32, the other schools being Grinnell College, Gustavus Adolphus College and UW-Whitewater. Smith thought that her physical and mental game worked well throughout the tournament, and said she gained confidence from competing with the best players from other colleges.

Specifically, in my round of 16 match [against Mary Francis Hose of Carleton], I learned that there are just a few key things that I must work on to be able to compete even harder with the girls at [a high level],” Smith said. “Since it was my first time competing in this tournament, I didn’t really know what to expect, so my goal for the tournament was to simply go out and compete hard and to come out of it feeling good about what I accomplished.”

Luther also had players playing in the smaller Midwest Open singles and doubles brackets, with Lexi Hastings (‘23), Renata Martinez (‘25) and Riley O’Donnell (‘25) winning their respective brackets. In total, Luther players won 36 matches over the span of two days, in both singles and doubles. The normal setup for meets during the regular season is playing both singles and doubles; players (like Cook) just enjoy the opportunity to play in two different match types.

“It’s nice getting to play [both singles and doubles] because the two are quite different,” Cook said. “I prefer doubles because it’s fun to have a teammate by your side.”

Luther Tennis Head Coach Adam Strand (‘04) highlighted the performances of Sackett and Smith as ones that lead the team. Smith was the furthest advancing singles player from the American Rivers Conference, and Sackett was the only player in the conference to win two rounds in both the ITA singles and doubles draws. Overall, Strand said he was happy to see his players embrace the moment and learn from watching teammates compete.

“I thought that our team, including our first year and sophomore players, handled the opportunity well and learned a lot from competing in the event,” Strand said. “Playing against such outstanding competition this past weekend will prepare us well for the opportunities and challenges that lie ahead in our upcoming matches, including six more matches against ARC opponents.”

The Norse will now set their sights on defending their conference championship and continuing an undefeated run in conference play that dates back to the 2018-19 season. Luther already has two conference wins this season, against Dubuque University and Loras College. In order for the winning to continue, Strand acknowledged that the team will have to improve their doubles play.

“Our singles depth is very good right now, [so] we plan to spend some time in practice working more on playing offensive doubles, mixing in different formations, and improving our on court communication with our partners,” Strand said. “Doubles will be a key for our team, as always, as we continue with ARC matches in the coming weeks.”

Luther Women’s Tennis will next play a pair of matches on October 2 against Nebraska Wesleyan University and Buena Vista University. The match against Nebraska Wesleyan will be at 9 a.m. in Lincoln, Nebraska and the subsequent match against Buena Vista will be at 3:30 p.m. in Storm Lake, Iowa.