Pottsville twins help win state tennis title

By Tammy Keith Published November 10, 2016 at 12:00 a.m.
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PHOTO BY: William Harvey

Twins Nathan, left, and Kyle Hudson, 16, have had success on the Pottsville boys tennis team, which won the state Class 4A State Championship in October. The brothers were the state Class 4A doubles champions in 2014, and Kyle won the state title in the singles competition in 2015 after Nathan tore his ACL. Nathan, who had heart surgery in March, won the state doubles title with Ethan Aylesworth this year.

Pottsville tennis coach Keri McAlister said she’s never seen players as unselfish as the boys on her team, especially twin brothers Nathan and Kyle Hudson.

The 16-year-old juniors helped seal the deal in October for the team’s third consecutive Class 4A State Championship at Arkansas Tech University in Russellville. One of the twins won in doubles competition, and the boys team won overall.

“The whole season, they had their eye on the prize, and that was to get a team championship,” McAlister said.

It meant putting themselves second.

The twins, sons of Ivy and Leonard Hudson, won the Class 4A doubles title in 2014; Kyle won the singles state title in 2015.

Instead of competing in an almost sure-fire win as a doubles team this year, they competed separately to rack up more points through the state-tournament bracket, the coach said.

“It’s the most unselfish thing I’ve ever seen,” McAlister said.

They were joined by Ethan Aylesworth, a senior, who stepped outside his comfort zone and competed in doubles with Nathan instead of singles.

The adversity that Nathan overcame, as well as he and Aylesworth in a hard-fought comeback, could be the story for a feel-good, made-for-TV movie.

Nathan tore his ACL during a ninth-grade basketball game and had to have surgery. He was out for the 2015 tennis season, so Kyle competed in singles.

In March this year, Nathan had heart surgery.

“After I was born, they did some tests — the left ventricle wasn’t right — a hole or something; they had to patch it up.” He had heart surgery in second grade. “I knew I might have to have [another surgery] when I grew older because my heart gets bigger. I knew it was coming, eventually.”

Nathan said this surgery was to clean out scar tissue. He said he missed about three weeks of school.

Not only that, but the comeback in the state tournament of Nathan and Ethan was the greatest McAlister said she’s ever seen in any sport — the pair were down 0-5, a point away from losing, when they summoned the will to win.

“It’s like something flipped,” McAlister said. “It gives me chills telling about it.”

Nathan said the decision was made to compete separately, and he knew his brother would go far in the singles competition, if not win it.

“We already had a state championship, and the school’s never had an overall win for boys,” he said. Nathan said playing doubles with a partner other than his brother took some getting used to.

“At first it was strange — they’re two completely different players, but after a while, we started syncing with each other’s habits of playing,” Nathan said.

Plus, Ethan was used to playing in singles competitions.

“I had to give him tips on strategy, where to stand, where to hit the ball — it’s the exact opposite of playing singles,” Nathan said.

McAlister said she was proud of both boys.

“They worked weekends — just absolutely threw themselves into it,” she said. “Ethan, being a senior, was right there in the trenches with them. They wanted [a state title] for him.”

During the state competition, it wasn’t going well for Nathan and Ethan in the finals.

“We were down 5-0 in the third set; we weren’t playing good,” Nathan said. When they switched sides of the court, “I look over and see our superintendent and our principal over there watching us; I just didn’t want to let them down,” Nathan said. He and Ethan conferred. “We talked about different strategies and how to win and to just go point by point and forget the ones we messed up on and just believe in ourselves,” Nathan said.

Meanwhile, Kyle was having his own struggles.

“In his semifinals match, he was losing 4-5 in the first set against a Pulaski Robinson player; Kyle came back and won 7-5.

“Our coach came out and told me Nathan and Ethan were losing, so I knew I had to step up,” Kyle said. “The second set I lost 4-6. I knew I had to win the last set. We ended up in a tiebreak. It was 6-4, and I knew how to get it. I flipped the ball past him, and it went in, and I won the match.”

It was a three-hour match, and Kyle took state runner-up after he lost in the finals 6-4 to the Baptist Preparatory player he beat in the state finals in 2015. Kyle was tired, but he gave the other player kudos: “He was

really good, though.”

About four courts away, Nathan and Ethan were making their big push. Kyle said he could hear yelling and screaming. Between points, he could hear his brother and Ethan yelling things like, ‘Let’s go!” or “Come on!” He especially heard their friend and classmate Landon Reed.

Nathan said all of their friends were watching, but Landon’s voice stood out. “He’s always there; he was cheering us on.”

McAlister said Nathan and Ethan “knew Kyle was absolutely out of gas; Kyle is a class act. He’s still playing really solid tennis, but knowing he was really tired, they thought, ‘If he doesn’t win, we have to.’

“Kyle is losing as well, so we’re thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, the thing we’ve been working for all year, we’re not going to get,’” McAlister said.

When Nathan and Ethan won the third set 7-5, “everyone was screaming; everyone was so happy. Coach Mac was crying,” Nathan said.

The pair finished just before Kyle’s match was over, but Nathan went as soon as he could to help celebrate. “I was really excited for them,” Nathan said of his brother and friend.

McAlister said it was more like a football game with all the yelling and cheering between points.

“It was amazing. Just in sports, period, I’ve never seen a comeback like this,” the

coach said.

Kyle said he saw Ethan “put in a lot of hard work and effort because this was his last year, and he wanted to go out with a bang, so he worked really hard and achieved his goal of winning a state championship.”

The coach said she was proud of her players for going the “unselfish route” and taking a gamble for the team.

“Ethan, Nathan and Kyle — they’re all great kids,” she said, adding that the young men are humble as well. “They’re great kiddos, and they are multitaskers.” Ethan and Kyle both play basketball. The twins also have 4.0 grade-point averages.

“They just have excellence in their DNA. They’re leaders, and everything they do, they do well,” McAlister said.

“For them to work so hard, because it was not easy — every step of the way there was some sort of obstacle and opposition — it was so cool to see them rewarded for it,” she said.

Senior writer Tammy Keith can be reached at (501) 327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.

Niche Publications Senior Writer Tammy Keith can be reached at 501-327-0370 or tkeith@arkansasonline.com.