What do you get when you combine tennis talent and a healthy dose of sibling rivalry? Nothing less than a winning combination, as proven by local siblings who are shutting down the competition one racket swing at a time.
By Pamela Boaz
The Caswells: Twin Threats
Harper and Samantha Caswell are twins and tennis partners, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t taken singular paths. While Samantha played tournaments by the time she was 7 years old, Harper came to competitive tennis later. Then while attending high school together at Baylor School, they joined forces to lead the varsity tennis team to four state championships and three national championships.
Both sisters agree that knowing each other so well gave them an advantage on the court. “Harper always challenges me because she succeeds in everything she does. I’m so proud of her,’’ Samantha says.
Harper has a similar appreciation for Samantha. “She’s the type of person you gravitate toward, the type who puts everyone around her at ease. Her success as a player only adds to her list of accomplishments as a person,’’ she says.
Harper’s accolades include being named to the all-tournament team at the DecoTurf National Championships for singles in 2013 and 2014 and for doubles in 2012 and 2013. Samantha’s accolades are equally impressive – she was the state of Tennessee’s No. 1 recruit from the class of 2014 and named MVP of the DecoTurf National Championships.
Leaving behind their impressive prep careers at Baylor, the sisters took solo paths to college. Harper, a four-time Best of Preps nominee, chose to continue playing tennis at Furman University, where the twins’ parents attended college and where their father, two-time NCAA All-American Ned Caswell, played before becoming a tennis pro. Samantha, who chose to join UTC’s tennis team, now has her sights set on winning a Southern Conference championship.
The Hangstefers: Six Times the Talent
Hailing from Signal Mountain, the six Hangstefer siblings have tennis in their blood. Oldest sibling Jim set the bar by playing college tennis during his freshman year at Chattanooga State before transferring to UTC. He was closely followed by younger siblings John, Katie, and Michael, who also played tennis at UTC.
Katie first took tennis lessons with her brothers Jim and John before becoming a four-year varsity tennis athlete and earning Academic All-American Honors in three straight years in high school. Following her college career, she turned her focus to coaching and currently serves as the head tennis coach at Converse College in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
Katie has also used her coaching skills to serve as the head tennis coach for the USA Deaf Tennis Teams. She says one of the highlights of her career thus far was helping lead the team to a gold and silver medal in 2013 at the Deaflympics in Sofia, Bulgaria, while her younger siblings Emily and Daniel, who are both hearing impaired, were on the team playing doubles together.
Emily, who graduated from UTC in 2012, was named the U.S. 2013 Deaf Sportswoman of the Year following the Bulgaria Deaflympics. She says practicing and playing with her brothers has made her the competitor she is today. “They hit with me the same as they would with a guy, and that challenged me to do everything faster,” she says.
Daniel, the youngest, is now continuing his career in tennis as head coach at Metropolitan State University of Denver. His perspective on tennis goes far beyond points and matches. “For our family, tennis is not just a sport,” he says. “It’s a life tool that teaches us how to see and respond to real-life situations.
“Sports and competitive situations bring out the character in people. You begin to understand them on a deeper level, which draws you closer to them.”
There’s no doubt the Kelly sisters – twins Kayla and Ahmee – are dynamite on the court. The duo had a stellar career as doubles partners first at Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences and then at Milligan College.
“It’s definitely a family thing,” says 22-year-old Kayla, when asked how they began playing tennis. “Our parents played before we were born, and they started bringing us and our older sister Albany with them to the court when we were babies,” Ahmee chimes in.
The twins say their parents, Dr. Kirk and Teresa Kelly, were responsible for teaching them and Albany, who also had a stellar career at CSAS and Milligan, the basics. The twins’ chemistry on the court, though, has something to do with being
“Kayla plays with a certain finesse and has an unbelievable touch,” says Ahmee. “She also knows my game inside and out and I know hers, so we’re able to magnify each other’s strengths.”
Kayla is just as enthusiastic about the partnership. “I think being twins made our work together on the court come naturally,” she says. “Meme (Ahmee) was my sanity! She kept me level throughout matches.”
As their high school and collegiate tennis careers have now come to a close, the twins point to winning the Tennessee State Tournament in doubles for two consecutive years and qualifying to play in the NAIA National Tournament as career highlights. But their athletic partnership certainly isn’t over. Now these talented twins are keeping their athleticism going by serving as basketball coaches at Chattanooga Christian School.
The Henrys: A Tale of Two Sisters
Born into a three-generation tennis family, the Henry sisters’ natural athleticism was encouraged by their tennis-playing family members from an early age. They began their middle and high school careers at Chattanooga Christian School playing doubles with other people. Then their high school coach urged them to reconsider being doubles partners.
“That was our turning point,” says Hannah, going on to describe how after they agreed to join forces, they won the 2012 state championship in the Spring Fling. “I knew it was going to change the rest of our careers.”
The sisters say playing to their individual strengths and personalities is what gives them a competitive edge. Hannah’s forte is cross-court play, while Ellie’s is attacking the net. Hannah tends to remain calm and controlled on the court, whereas Ellie is more vocal.
Ellie, now a sophomore at the University of Alabama, has continued to play tennis on a club team. A torn ACL this year ended high school tennis for Hannah, but she plans to continue her athletic career at Carson-Newman next year playing soccer.
The Cantys: Courting Victory
The spring of 2014 brought tennis roaring back to Brainerd High School thanks in part to 16-year-old twins Brianna and Brittney Canty, who won the District 6A-AA doubles championship. Their victory must have been especially significant for their coach and father, Alphonso Canty, whose goal is to revive the school’s tennis program, which has been inactive for almost 20 years.
Coach Canty, a certified teaching pro from Van Der Meer Tennis Academy, introduced tennis to his twin daughters when they were just two years old. The tennis playing Cantys also include the twins’ mother, Cora, who plays in the Atlanta Lawn Tennis Association, and the twins’ older sister, Ashley, who is playing in the International Tennis Federation Women’s Professional Circuit.
While both twins play singles too, they continue to join forces as doubles partners. “Together, our advantages are our power shots and great teamwork,” Brianna says. Brianna’s powerful backhand complements Brittany’s mean serve, and on the court, the twins communicate almost wordlessly, using only signals.
Now entering the spring season at Brainerd as juniors, these ambitious twins hope to continue playing in college and ultimately follow in their sister’s footsteps by becoming professional players.
The Joyces: Bringing Order to the Court
Hailing from Hixson, sister duo Sarah and Katie Joyce made a name for themselves playing tennis together at Notre Dame. The two partnered together to win the state championship for Notre Dame in 2012 and a Region 4 title in 2013 that earned them a berth at the Spring Fling where they reached the semifinal round.
Sarah and Katie say their family’s love of tennis put them on the court at ages 3 and 4, respectively. Like other siblings, they often played as partners when they were younger before moving on to individual play and pairing with other partners.
But also like other siblings, it was a serious return to their partnership during high school that paid off for them with major wins. “We were very close with our high school team and joked around a lot off court,” says Sarah. “On the court, though, we aimed to be as composed and determined as possible.”
Katie, now a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, continues to play club tennis. After Sarah graduates from Notre Dame, she plans to start her freshman year at UT and join Katie’s team. “Playing with your sibling is an incredible experience because you have such a strong bond on and off the court,” Sarah says.
Katie echoes her sister’s sentiment. “I will never forget the experiences we’ve shared as sisters and as a team,” she says.
The Vogeses: A Tennis Legacy
Sawyer, whose doubles victory clinched the state championship for McCallie during his senior year, is now 24 and a graduate of Birmingham-Southern College where he played collegiate tennis.
Callie, currently a junior at the University of Tennessee, demonstrates no less prowess on the court. She was a member of the 2012 Notre Dame High School team that won the state title in their division.
Turner, the youngest, is currently a senior at McCallie. He says that a healthy dose of friendly
competition with his brother challenges both of them to be the best they can be. Turner won the state doubles tournament in 2012 and finished fourth in the Tennessee State Tournament in individual play this past May. He says he looks forward to playing some form of college tennis, either in Division I, as his father did at the University of Tennessee, or in Division III, as Sawyer did at Birmingham-Southern.
All three siblings say that, regardless of how their futures in tennis take shape, the sport will always be part of their lives. “I couldn’t imagine my life without it,” says Sawyer.