Eat, sleep and breathe it

By Staff
Local Hartselle teenagers dedicated to the game of tennis
Nick Johnston, Hartselle Enquirer
It's possible they are the most dedicated athletes in Hartselle.
And no, they don't play baseball or softball, and most don't play basketball. Tennis is their game.
Jarrett Beasley and Candice and Keaton Light, each of Hartselle, play for Decatur USA Team Tennis, and each won team state titles this past weekend. They carry state rankings, playing in the stripes division, and will be vying for a Section Championship in Chattanooga.
But still, even with the success of these three and many other Hartselle tennis players, the sport seems to play second fiddle to other high school sports. Yet on second look, one might notice what tremendous dedication these three have.
A look at Jarrett Beasley…
Beasley is the least-experienced but highest-ranked of the three. He plays in the 14-year old division and carries a 21st ranking in the Alabama Tennis Association.
He played in his first tournament less than a year ago, but already had made a name for himself.
"I used to play soccer, football and baseball, but I gave all that up when I was 12," he said. "I got bored with it, but I think have done better in tennis than expected."
With tennis becoming more important, local tennis pro Pam Owen also has been involved.
Owen is a nationally-ranked player, and happens to be Beasley's aunt. She began working with her nephew, and big things started happening.
This time last year, Owen said Beasley was no more than a beginner.
"He's worked really hard though," she said. "He's gone from a beginner to a near-advanced type player. But, there's always something he could do better. When he first started, he could place one or two backhands out of 10, now it's six or seven. He's a good player, and has all-around type game. The only thing he might need to work on is his short volley."
Beasley has won one event this summer. In the "Battle at the Beach" in Orange Beach, he beat four opponents, including two who were ranked.
Training and dedication is key, according to both Owen and Beasley.
"This is one of those sports you can't just start and be good at," Beasley said. "You have to work hard and practice. You know, a lot of players quit when they first start, because it is so tough and so demanding. You have to be very athletic and stay in shape. It's hard on you … challenging."
"We will train 20 to 30 hours a week," Owen said of their training regiment. "This is a year round sport. It's not seasonal, and you have to train yourself."
A look at Candice Light…
Her smile and shy demeanor may fool some, but she is a shark on the tennis court.
Playing in the Girls 14 division, Light has played tennis since she was four years old. She is ranked 29th in the state in her division, and led her team to a state championship, going 4-1 this past weekend.
"Most of all I have a lot of fun with tennis," Light said. "I have to work hard to be competitive, and I practice all the time."
But, Light has other things going on other than tennis. She plays for the middle school basketball and volleyball team.
Add school to the mix and there's a lot of pressure on the eighth grade student.
"It gets hard after a while," she said. "Most of the time, at least right now, I play tennis right after volleyball practice. It gets tiring."
Light is fortunate as far as training goes. Basketball and volleyball training doubles up as her tennis training sometimes.
"It helps," she said. "But most of all in tennis, you have to perfect your strokes. In basketball, you can get lucky sometimes. In tennis, you know all these other players who are better than you, but you just have to go out and do your best. I just want to get better at it."
Playing in the white stripes division, Light led her team past four others for the state title. She finished the state tournament 4-1, but there should be an asterisk by the 1.
In the match she lost, Light broke a string and was forced to play with someone else's racket. She fell in the match but bounced back after her racket was fixed.
Light credits her will to work for her success so far and her expected success in the future.
"If you're not willing to go out and work your hardest, you're never going to go anywhere in this game," Light said. "You gotta get out there and pour your heart into it."
A look at Keaton Light…
Like his sister, Keaton has played tennis since he was four years old. But, it wasn't until he went to the state tennis meet this past year he realized what he wanted to do.
"It was the best high school players I had ever seen," he said. "I realized that's where I gotta be … That's where I want to get to. And this summer, that's what I've been working at."
He's on the right track, as Light has earned a 42nd ATA ranking. He and his hitting partner, Beasley, will both be in Chattanooga this weekend competing for the section championship.
But his future tennis career appeared to crash down at the beginning of last year.
Light was considered the best Motocross racer in the state three consecutive years – until the beginning of last year.
He misjudged a jump that had a dip in the top of it and it caused him to flip in mid-air. He landed somewhere within the 200 ft. jump, and his bike also landed on him – he had broken his first vertebra and hip.
"I kind of got a little scared at that point," Light said. "That was too close to being paralyzed."
He fully recovered and now says it does not affect his tennis game.
After the horrific crash, Light said it time to fall back on something he had known his entire life – tennis.
"I had always played tennis," Light said. "It was one thing I could always fall back on."
But according to Light, tennis is a tough game to just "fall back on." It takes hours and hours of training everyday.
"It's a long process. It takes a lot of practice and lots of tournaments to get good at this sport," he said. "Tournaments make you mentally tough."
As far as being physically tough, Light may have the most stringent of training programs.
"It's just non-stop tennis," he said. "At least every other night, me and my dad will go out to the tennis courts behind the junior high and play two or three hours straight. In-between sets, I go run the bleachers at the football stadium. I'll go back after that and do it all over again."

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