OREM, Utah (ABC4) — Pickleball is one of the fastest-growing sports in the country. One Utah player, in particular, is poised to win big at the Margaritaville USA Pickleball National Championship happening this week at the Indian Wells Tennis Garden in Palm Springs, Calif.
Callie Jo Smith was a 4-time state tennis champion when she attended Orem High School, and she went on to play for the University of Utah. She is currently ranked no. 9 in the world for women’s singles by the World Pickleball Rankings.
Ironically, she did not have a good impression of pickleball when she was first introduced to the sport.
“I thought it was the biggest joke of all time,” she said. “The noise drove me crazy, the strokes drove me crazy. It’s not a sport, it’s not a hobby. No one should be playing this. It just drove me nuts. Even the name is so dumb.”
But everything changed on one fateful night.
Smith and her husband were challenged by some older players at pickleball, and to her surprise, they were defeated.
“How that heck are they beating us?” Smith questioned. “They’re not strong. We should be blowing through them, so I said ‘Rematch,’ and they beat us again. I said, ‘OK, there must be a little more to this sport than I thought.'”
She swallowed her pride, called a teacher and learned the game. And not only did she fall in love with the sport, but she has also become one of the top professional players worldwide.
“It’s just fun,” Smith said. “I think a lot of it is social too. The court is small, so you can talk. It’s not so far away like tennis courts. Even though I still love tennis, [I think pickelball] brings a lot of people together.”
Callie’s mom once told her that she was too nice on the court. Smith said that has changed. She is now a fierce and competitive player who is a force to be reckoned with. She also claimed to have ranked no. 1 in the world for women’s double.
“It was a chase to get to number one,” she said. “But I saw myself getting there, so I knew I could [do it.] That was the goal, and I made it. I’m number one in the world, which is awesome, but that’s not enough now. My next goal is to have a triple crown, where you win singles, mixed doubles and women’s doubles all in one tournament.”
There may be a chance for Smith to complete that milestone at the Nationals this week.
“I have a great partner whose name is Lucy Kovalova,” she said. “My mixed doubles partner is AJ Kohler, and I think we have a great chance to win. In fact, I feel like we should win if we play our game. I don’t think anyone can beat us.”
Besides the competition, Smith just really enjoys the game that she once despised.
“It’s an addiction, for sure,” she said. “It’s just fun to see how much people love and enjoy this sport.”