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Ray tennis partners, Webster, Hilliard return family genetics to state

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Ray’s Carl Hilliard and George Webster play for state doubles titles as their parents did for King during the 80s.
David Sikes/Caller-Times

Ray doubles partners Carl Hilliard and George Webster, share more than complimentary strengths, uncanny court communication and impressive net play.

Genetically speaking, they could have an edge on the competition at the UIL State Tournastate championships in College Station this week. Between them, they share more DNA than some high school doubles teams.

You might say these talented cousins inherited their tennis fate. Before they were born, the Websters were named a U.S. Tennis Association Texas Family of the Year.

USTA lists the award recipient for 1992 as the Dean Webster Family, who for decades spread their love for tennis in Corpus Christi and beyond. Dean and Mary Lois Webster served in various roles for the Corpus Christi Tennis Association as well as the Texas Tennis Association and the USTA.

Carl and George are their grandsons, whose parents further bolstered the family’s tennis legacy at King High School during the 1980s. Dr. Rob Webster, George’s dad, and Nancy Hilliard, Carl’s mom, both played singles and competed at state competitions before playing for Division I colleges.

Ray tennis coach Kyle Bowers said the cousins display similar promise as players. They possess an innate synergy that allows each to know where the other is on the court, a key skill in doubles play. This frees them to place all of their focus and energy on their opponents, allowing them to predict their next move.

“I hope this combines with their heritage to give them a competitive edge,” Bowers said. “Carl and George are really a great team. They balance each other out. Carl is the fire and George is the ice. Carl is fiery and passionate on the court and George is a kid who plays with ice water in his veins, always calm, collected and cerebral.”

Hilliard, a senior, said his doubles partner is the most competitive person he knows, who will never go down without a fight.

“George is as good a teammate as he is a friend,” Hilliard said. “We’re able to keep each other focused when things get tense. He never gets angry at me or puts the blame on me. He’s a very reliable partner and it’s always fun playing beside him.

“When we play each other in singles, Carl usually wins. For now.”

George is equally complimentary of his partner.

“I honestly couldn’t ask for a better teammate,” said George, a sophomore. “He picks me up when I’m not playing great, and I couldn’t even imagine playing doubles with anybody else. Off the court, he’s funny, outgoing, hardworking, and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.”

The Webster tennis ethic, which began in the 1970s, helped Rob Webster earn a tennis scholarship to The Citadel, where his attention turned to medicine. The family physician still enjoys tennis, occasionally stepping on the court with his sister, Nancy to hit a few balls across the net to their sons. 

Nancy Hilliard looks back and sees herself and her older brother in the lifestyles of Carl and George.

“Rob and I were much the same growing up,” Hilliard said. “As teenagers, the two of us spent countless hours on Texas highways, traveling to our various tournaments. I looked up to Rob in all ways, trying my hardest to measure up.”

Webster said his sister far surpassed his tennis reach by playing for Trinity University when it was a tennis powerhouse. Carl will follow Mom’s lead as a player at Trinity, which offered him an academic scholarship.

But he’ll have a long way to go to catch up with mom, who today remains a top-ranked player in the ITF Young Seniors circuit. She and Carl recently won a national championship in the mother/son division.

In recent years, Hilliard has represented the United States in ITF competitions in Croatia and South Africa. And throughout her competitive exploits, she’s given credit to the same coach who helped turn a quiet high school sophomore into a tennis dynamo.

“I still call him coach,” Hilliard said, referring to former King tennis coach Paul Cass, who she still trains with weekly at the H-E-B Tennis Center. “I just can’t bring myself to call him Paul. His coaching legacy is unrivaled.”

Two years ago, the Paul Cass family joined the Webster clan as a USTA Texas Family of the Year. He already was listed in the Texas Tennis Coaches Association Hall of Fame.

And now Cass extends his tutelage to George Webster, though these days he mostly helps adults with their game.

“He’s been fun to work with,” Cass said, referring to the young player’s respect for the game’s traditions. “He’s a throwback to the old days in that he likes offense and is not afraid of the net. And he’s got a live arm.”

Cass nicknamed Webster “Little Is” (pronounced eyes) because his powerful service game resembles that of 6-foot-10 tennis pro John Isner.

Cass agrees with Bowers regarding Webster’s serve, which has been clocked at 127 mph.

“One of the best weapons this team possesses is their service game,” Bowers said. “Carl’s serve is very consistent and George really has a cannon.”

Bowers and Cass said they like the team’s chances at state, in part because currently there is not much separating the skill levels of doubles teams in Texas, Cass said. In this atmosphere, players such as Webster and Hilliard, who don’t rattle easily, usually do well, he said.

“Carl and George play off each other and they just get along so well,” Cass said. “Carl’s experience and background makes him more even tempered and low key to George’s explosive personality. It just wouldn’t work as well if they were the same. Plus, they talk to each other.”

Bowers said the boys have been a joy to coach, in large part because they are disciplined and coachable. They believe in themselves, and in each other, Bowers said. 

“They have embraced this us versus the world kind of attitude that really helps them achieve what they have done this year,” Bowers said. “I’ve coached football, basketball, and tennis, and I truly feel that both of these kids are the best competitors that I’ve seen. It’s the passion and the dedication they have for the sport and for each other.”

The road to College Station will be filled with Websters and Hilliards this week, who will watch to see if George and Carl can carry on a family tradition.

“For me, the biggest thrill has already taken place,” Nancy Hilliard said. “Watching my son Carl and my nephew George play as doubles partners. They’ve worked hard together, but more importantly it’s good for the heart to see them support and encourage each other.”

UIL STATE TENNIS TOURNAMENT

When: Thursday-Friday

Where: George P. Mitchell Tennis Center and the Omar Smith Intramural Tennis Center, Texas A&M University



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