Daily photo by John Godbey|
Like his brother seven years earlier, Austin High’s Kyle Smith took home a singles championship from the sectional tennis tourney.
Austin’s tennis aces
Black Bears’ duo wins boys program’s first sectional titles since 2000
By Mark Edwards
Before Saturday, Austin High hadn’t won a boys individual sectional tennis championship since 2000. Then the Black Bears managed it twice in one day.
Sophomore Alex Worley won the No. 1 singles division at the Class 6A, Section 8 championships at Point Mallard, while junior Kyle Smith won the No. 2 singles title.
Worley beat Grissom’s Connor Rives 6-7, 6-2, 6-4, and Smith beat Huntsville’s Nathan Roberts 6-2, 6-2. The Austin duo played at the same time and on side-by-side courts, with Smith finishing his victory about 30 minutes faster than his friend and regular practice partner.
“This is very significant for the boys and for Austin,” Black Bears coach Debby Crowell said. “People are starting to know who they are. Alex and Kyle are getting their names out there and the school’s name out.
“Other coaches tell me, ‘Oh, you have a good 1 and 2 in your lineup,’ and teams want to play us because of them.”
The last Austin boys player to win a sectional championship in singles was Kyle Smith’s brother, Nathan Smith, who also played at Alabama-Huntsville.
Kyle Smith was a fourth-grader when Nathan won No. 1 singles in 2000.
“This is pretty cool. It always seems like I’m in (Nathan’s) shadow,” Kyle Smith said with a smile. “It just feels great to win.”
Both entered sectionals as the favorites in their divisions. Worley had compiled an 11-3 regular-season mark, and Smith had a 12-2 record.
The last Austin player to do better than their marks? Of course, it was Nathan Smith, who went 22-2 as a prep senior.
However, the day wasn’t a complete success for Smith and Worley. After winning their singles matches, they played in the No. 1 doubles final and lost to Grissom’s Michael Little and Rives 6-4, 6-3.
Also, Austin finished fourth in the team standings, and only the top two squads advance to the state tournament. Receiving two points for every singles round won and three points for a doubles round, Grissom won with 55 points. Huntsville was second with 32, followed by Bob Jones (24), Austin (22) and Florence (14). All but four of Austin’s points came from Smith, Worley or a combination of the two.
The winners at No. 1 singles and No. 1 doubles advance to the state tournament even if their teams do not make it. That means Worley will advance. However, Smith will not because the No. 2 singles winner doesn’t get the same benefit.
“It’s good to know our hard work paid off in singles,” Smith said, “but we couldn’t get it done in doubles.”
In singles, both players staged rallies at critical times. For Smith, he led Roberts 4-2 in the first set but trailed 40-0. He came back, won that game and then put away the set in the next game.
In the second set, he again led 4-2 when he found himself behind 40-15. Again, he rallied to win that game and then put away the match in the next game.
“It pumps me up so much to come back like that,” Smith said, “and you know it has to upset your opponent.”
Worley fell in a first-set tiebreaker but managed to polish off the next set quickly and outlast Rives at the end. The two players were tied 3-3 at one point in the third set, but Worley broke Rives’ serve twice in a row to take the match.
“When we first came out, I thought he played harder than he usually does,” Worley said. “After the first set, I had to settle down and take deep breaths. I started hitting the ball hard and full out.”
However, they didn’t have the same success in doubles.
“We had some opportunities, but they played better than we’ve ever seen them play,” Worley said.
“We didn’t come out 100 percent, and when we didn’t do that, we couldn’t beat them.”
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