Anna Rogers and Alana Smith aren’t your average tennis doubles duo. Paired up last season because of an injury to Rogers’ former partner, the sophomore Smith and senior Rogers weren’t expecting to play together when Smith first stepped foot on NC State’s campus as a highly anticipated recruit in fall 2018.
Rogers was coming off back-to-back NCAA Doubles Championship Sweet 16 appearances, back-to-back All-ACC Third Team honors, and was already one of the most successful players in program history. Meanwhile, Smith was a five-star recruit and the No. 1 recruit in Maryland. But once they were paired together, it didn’t take long to see their potential.
“Once we got them on the court, we could see [their potential] in practice, but it can be different in competitive match play,” said women’s tennis coach Simon Earnshaw. “But based on what we saw in the [first fall tournament] in two days, it was pretty clear that there was going to be a very high ceiling.”
Since then, they’ve become the best doubles duo in NC State women’s tennis history.
After becoming the first doubles duo in program history to reach the NCAA Doubles Championship Elite Eight in 2019, they finished the season ranked No. 4 in the country, the highest doubles ranking in program history. Smith became the first All-American in Wolfpack women’s tennis history while being named to the All-ACC Second Team, and Rogers was named to the All-ACC First Team, her third straight year with All-ACC honors.
The duo meshes together seamlessly on the court, both in playing style and emotional output. Emotionally, Rogers takes the role of the fiery upperclassman, always wearing her emotions on her sleeves and not afraid to yell at any point in a match. Opposite her, Smith is more naturally calm, someone who prefers to be a silent assassin and let her play do the talking.
“Anna is very loud and energetic,” Smith said. “I’m very quiet and to myself and very calm, so I think we balance out each other.”
Right across from a video screen lending credence to Smith’s statement, showing Rogers screaming and fist-pumping to celebrate winning a point, Rogers echoed her teammate’s sentiments, knowing how the duo’s polar opposite on-court personalities work well when one needs to be hyped up or calmed down.
“I think that we complement each other very well,” Rogers said. “She’s more laid back, so when I’m too uptight, she tells me to relax, but when she needs to up her energy, then I’ll get her going.”
That emotional connection is peanuts compared to how their physical playing styles match up with each other. Both women are tall and athletic, but each has a different style of play when they’re together on the court. Smith is more of a power hitter, someone who can smash an ace while serving, whereas Rogers sometimes likes to play the finesse placement game.
“I think we’re both really aggressive at the net,” Rogers said. “She has a big serve which really sets me up, and she’s really quick and can hit overhands. On the ad [left] side, she likes that forehand return down the tee, and I like the backhand more down the tee that I can go cross-court with, or I can pull it. I think it really plays to our strengths.”
That perfect blend of emotional and physical complementary play has led them to where they are now. The duo is the No. 1 doubles duo in the country, has amassed a 20-2 record this season, and hasn’t lost a match since the week after Halloween. But that No. 1 ranking hasn’t led to even a whiff of complacency; Rogers and Smith are still hungry as ever.
“I think it’s just proving to other teams and programs that we can be this good and can consistently be this good,” Rogers said. “We’re No. 1 right now, but I really don’t feel like we are. I feel like there’s still so much to chase. And honestly, a ranking’s a ranking, but I feel like at the end of the year, that’s really when it means the most.”
To Rogers and Smith, the end of the year means one thing and one thing only: winning a national championship. As the highest-ranked returning duo from last season and the No. 1 ranking duo all season, they and their coaches haven’t tempered expectations at all. They’re expecting to win the national championship, and anything short of that would be a letdown.
“I knew whatever we did [last] year, this year was going to be tremendous,” Smith said. “So obviously since we did that last year, this year I’m like, let’s go win a national championship.”
However, the duo isn’t only thinking about a national championship on its own. The NC State women’s tennis team is 9-1 and ranked No. 8 in the country, with its only loss coming at the hands of No. 7 Texas. The team has dominated the competition with six wins of five or more, and with Rogers and Smith always ensuring at least one win in doubles, the team’s expectations are sky high.
“I think we can win [the national championship],” Rogers said. “There’s definitely some close matches to come, but two years ago if you’d have asked [the team’s ceiling], I don’t know what I’d say. The expectations are so much higher now … It’s kind of scary.”