Bennage claims top-spot in Red River Shootout
West Memphis’ top tennis player held off national competition in Louisiana to win the summer tournament
School may be getting ready to let out for the summer but West Memphis’ top tennis star Carlson Bennage is just getting warmed up.
Bennage knocked off three opponents this past weekend in Shreveport, Louisiana to carry back to West Memphis with him a first-place victory in the Red River Shootout, a Level 3 tournament for 18U tennis players throughout the nation.
The 16-year-old Bennage says defeating 18-year-old competition in the third biggest tournament competitive tennis offers is evidence that long hours spent conditioning in school tennis and preparing in individual practice is paying off.
“It’s the biggest tournament I’ve won so far,” Bennage said. “It’s kind of one of those feelings you cant’ describe. I’ve been working for this for so long and then something like this comes along as a little reward for it. I just want to keep going and try to win some bigger ones.”
Bennage flew through the quarterfinal and semifinal round of the tournament, defeating Mathew Dehart in the quarterfinal round 60, 6-2 and Dakota Bobo 61, 6-2 in the semifinal round match.
But, the West Memphis High School junior had to work a little harder to take home the title.
Bennage edged out Stafford Yerger 7-6 in the first set of the championship match and held a 3- 1 lead in set two before Yerger woke up, ripping off five straight points to take set two 6-3. Bennage says he took advantage of a three-minute break in between sets two and three to regroup mentally.
“I was kind of mad,” Bennage said. “I’m not going to lie, because I kind of let it slip away from me. I was up in the set and I kind o let it get in my head… So, we get a threeminute break if we split sets before the tiebreaker.
So, I just kind of sat down and calmed myself down and got my head in the right place so I could take him down in the tiebreaker.”
Bennage utilized every bit of mental fortitude he collected during that break, outlasting Yerger in set three to win the match 107 and clinch first place in the tournament.
“We were both trying to get in each other’s heads, screaming and all that,” Bennage said. “We were kind of going after each other mentally.”
After battling Yerger for two and a half hours, Bennage could walk off the court with his head held high, if it wasn’t for scorching hot temperatures “With the humidity and all that, it was probably around 95 degrees,” Bennage said. “It was a grind. I cramped up really bad after that one, but I’ll take it. I’ll take the cramp.”
Bennage, who ranks 132nd out of over 1,000 18U players in the Southern region, now shifts his attention to perfecting his craft and gaining even more national recognition over the summer.
“This summer, I’m hoping to improve my game and improve my national ranking,” Bennage said.
“Hopefully, I’ll get some looks from some college coaches and go from there.
We’ll see how that goes.”
The next step in getting that recognition for Bennage comes in the Arkansas Qualifier in Little Rock next weekend, a statewide contest that will send it’s top eight contestants to the Southerns, a regional tennis tournament for the best players in the South.
Bennage looks forward to carrying not only a firstplace showing in the Red River Shootout into the Arkansas Qualifier, but an abundance of confidence as well. “It’s just one of those points where I’m like, ‘Wow. I made it here.’ And, it’s one of those things where I see what I can accomplish, and it’s probably going to boost my confidence and get me going in the right direction.”
By Collins Peeples