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Sister Connection Stretches Back Over Junior Cups

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September 19, 2016 11:11 AM

Story and photos by Ron Cioffi/USTA Southern

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Tatum is seen in horizontal photo at top and at left, below. Thea is hitting a backhand, above, and at right, below.

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Other siblings at the 2016 Icy Hot Southern Junior Cup

Kentucky’s Brandon (Boys’ 16s) and Michael (Boys’ 14s) Chou
Mississippi’s Callie (Girls’ 16s) and Mathis (Boys’ 14s) Billman
Mississippi’s Meredith (Girls’ 18s) and Emma (Girls’ 14s) Roberts
South Carolina’s Avery (Girls’ 14s) and Grant (Boys’ 14s) Durham
Tennessee’s Georgia (Girls’ 14s) and Sam (Boys’ 18s and MVP) Fischer

If you chat with sisters Tatum and Thea Rice beside a tennis court, chances are they will be crossing their legs over each other, entwined in an affable tennis tangle.

The Rice sisters love the tennis camaraderie at Junior Cup, as they have modeled making junior tennis a joint venture over their teenage years.

But, before we delve into their time at a combined nine Junior Cups, let’s go over the head-to-head record.

“We’ve only played three times when we’ve faced each other in the (Arkansas) state championships,” said the elder Tatum. “I won all three.”

“I’ve let you win all three,” countered Thea. They both play for Lakeside High School in Hot Springs, a perennial state powerhouse in girls’ and boys’ tennis.

Those results mirror the girls’ rankings: Tatum, 17, is No. 4 in USTA Southern while Thea, 16, is No. 25. Tatum won the Southern Closed Girls’ 18s Championship last June, beating Madeline Meredith from Vestavia, Ala., in the singles final but partnering with her to win the doubles. Thea had super results at the Icy Hot Southern Level 2 Championships in April, winning doubles with Maggie Cubitt, of Spartanburg, S.C., and reaching the semis in singles.

Many have said the sisters’ athletic genes come from their mother, Tracy Webb Rice, who was a standout high school tennis player. But her best sport was basketball and she was inducted into the Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame for her hoops play as a University of Arkansas Razorback.

While the girls’ tournament results have gotten them selected for the Junior Cup, they talk about the ability to be a part of team that keeps them coming back.

“It’s always about the people you get to know,” Tatum said. This is Tatum’s fifth and final Junior Cup.

“We come together and get along so well … it’s like family,” Thea added.

That bonding is a tradition for Arkansas that motors to Chattanooga in an RV. “It’s our party bus,” said Tatum. “It allows us to bond before our matches and watch some football games together.”

“Definitely it’s great to sit in the same section and cheer for our players,” Thea added.

Tatum said that while she is senior now and this is her last year, “I look forward to (Junior Cup) every year. It has grown on me.”

 

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