ONA — Hanley Riner’s opponents in the state tennis tournament will be strong players, but nothing like her practice partner.
Riner worked out with former South Point High School and Marshall University star Madison Riley on Monday. The former Pointers and Thundering Herd standout challenged the Cabell Midland junior in a way she hadn’t often seen. That’s exactly how Riner wanted it.
“Madison has helped me a lot,” said Riner, the favorite to win her second state Class AAA No. 1 singles championships when the tournament is played Friday and Saturday at the Schoenbaum Tennis Center in Kanawha City. “She’s helped me with my game and with strategy, breaking down points and how to use certain strokes for this or that.”
The practices have been more than physical. Riner, who is 5-foot-9, said that even though she is bigger and stronger than when she won as a freshman, the mental part of her game has improved most.
“She has helped me learn to stay calm and positive,” Riner said of Riley.
Riner also frequently trains with Hurricane standout Lexi Smolder, her primary competition for the state title. Riner edged Smolder 9-8 in a tiebreaker in the Region IV finals, one week after defeating her 9-8 in the Mountain State Athletic Conference tournament.
Riner and Smolder know one another well. Riner plays more defensive, while Smolder is more prone to attack. Riner said the matches usually “go back and forth” with neither player putting much distance between herself and the other.
Riner said she won’t be surprised to see Smolder across the court from her again in the state tournament, but she is taking no early opponent for granted. She mentioned Huntington High’s CeCe Weiler as a strong contender, along with some players from the Eastern Pandhandle.
Riner said her desire to win a second state championship is too great to allow a letdown, especially after the 2020 tournament was canceled because of COVID-19.
Riner knows about COVID-19 first hand. She contracted it in December and was quarantined for contract tracing in April. She said the ailment wasn’t bad, more like a cold, but kept her off the court.
“It was really sad we never got a chance to play last year,” Riner said. “I was looking forward to winning another state title.”
Riner’s attitude isn’t one of cockiness. She is, however, confident, the result of the mental preparations she stresses. Riner also said she expects her team to contend for the state title.
“Tennis is such a mental game,” Riner said. “It’s important to be mentally strong, stay positive and not space out during a match.”
Riner’s tennis game also received a boost from soccer, another sport in which she and Cabell Midland excels.
“Soccer has helped me with conditioning,” Riner said. “It’s helped me mentally and tennis has helped me with soccer. I love both sports.”
Riner, who said she would like to become a physical therapist, is receiving considerable attention from college recruiters. She has performed well in national tournaments and ranked 514th in the country and 75th in the Atlantic Region, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.
“I’ve talked to a lot of schools,” Riner said. “I’m open to where I’m going.”
For now, though, Riner is focused on the state tournament.