T ry to give any one of Alexander Dawson's three Smith brothers a compliment about their play on the tennis court and they quickly brush it aside.

Instead, senior Austen and junior twins Carson and Ryan heap praise on coach Kathryn Benninghoff and their teammates on the Mustangs' varsity roster, refusing to take too much credit for the program's growing success.

That is commendable, but the results can't be denied.

"Beginning three years ago, the Smiths filled what had been a hole in our ladder," Benninghoff said. "The numbers are revealing."

In 2008, in the pre-Smith era, Alexander Dawson finished with a respectable 7-5 overall record. The next year, with all three brothers in the lineup, the Mustangs improved to 8-4, and then 10-2 in 2010.

This season, the team is 10-1 and the entire squad qualified for the Class 4A state tennis tournament, which begins today and wraps up Saturday in Pueblo.

Of course, the team as a whole deserves the accolades. But there is something about these brothers that has propelled Alexander Dawson into a higher altitude.

"They ... have helped us attain a new level of competitiveness as a team," Benninghoff said. "Furthermore, the Smiths manage to achieve what I haven't genuinely encountered before -- a fierce combination of brotherly love and brotherly assault.

"Day in and day out, they somehow manage to compete aggressively and yet maintain thoroughly tight and unbreakable fraternal bonds."


While Carson plays at No. 3 singles, behind Ryan Howarth at No. 1 and Ian Day at No. 2, Austen and Ryan combine for the powerful No. 1 doubles team.

That splits up the twins, but it doesn't cause a communication disconnect.

"We know each other better than other partners might because we've played with each other for so long. That works to our advantage," Ryan said. "Like any brothers we have beef every now and then, but we get along very well."

They must, as they have compiled an 11-2 record so far this season.

When asked the secret to their success on the court, Austen pointed to those around him.

"The biggest thing has been the coaching from Kathy Benninghoff. She is the best coach I have ever had in my life, hands down," he said. "She has inspired me and really carried this entire team along.

"That being said, this team is one of the best. The character and spirit that everyone shows is mind-blowing."

Like the other brothers, Carson appeared to have heard a question asking about his strengths as an individual player yet responded with an answer devoid of any self-recognition.

"Kathy drives us to success. She keeps us going and she really helps make the bond between the entire team really strong," he said. "You feel like you can become really successful really quickly."

The best motivators expect that success, and Benninghoff is among them.

Just as quickly and easily as the Smiths did of her, she speaks highly of all her players. But the steely drive is revealed when asked if the Mustangs' surge over the past few years is beating her expectations.

"I actually did expect success this season," she said. "Because of Dawson's steady, marked improvement every year over the past six years, I anticipated a stellar season. I knew we had the tennis talent from top to bottom, coming from the Smiths at their rungs and from other Dawson players at theirs -- especially from Ryan Howarth and Ian Day.

"Still, we had to produce results going into this season ... and we did."

Brady Delander can be reached at bdelander@times-call.com.