Bob Furey has witnessed a lot of change in his 29 seasons at the helm of the girls’ tennis program at Concord-Carlisle High School.
Most recently, it has been the ongoing construction project at the school, and the unveiling of new courts this spring. Then there’s perennial mix of new faces each season.
But one aspect has remained steadfast: unparalled success.
No high school tennis program in Massachusetts has won more state titles (15) or made more state final appearances (16) than the Patriots — nearly all of which have come under Furey’s tutelage.
As for the new players who come aboard each spring, the tradition “is one of the things that really motivates them,” said the 73-year-old Furey, who has worked at Concord-Carlisle in one capacity or another since 1968.
This season’s edition has not disappointed.
The four senior captains — Sophie Hibben, Hailey Hoffman, Amylou McBride, and Isabella Stone — are three-time state champs.
They represent the program’s first dynasty since the Patriots won 10 out of 11 state titles from 1984-1994, a run that produced future pros Jen Callen (class of 1990) and Wendy Crabtree (’92).
Depth and dedication is what sets the Patriots apart.
“Every starter on varsity plays all year round, which is incredible,” said Stone, who, like many of her teammates, picked up a racket before entering grade school.
Though other schools can’t match that history of success, several of the state’s top programs come from the same affluent pocket of towns.
The Wayland High (Division 2) and Weston High (Division 3) boys’ squads won team titles last year, and have tallied a combined five state crowns since 2010. The Lexington High boys are the defending Division 1 champions.
“They’re all tennis towns,” said Furey. “They’re towns in which the kids have families who have dedicated themselves to playing the game.”
The area also hosts some of the top tennis clubs in the state.
George Conlin, who coaches at the Longfellow Club in Wayland, says some kids drive an hour for their lessons.
“Individual coaching, clinic coaching, playing tournaments and matches — the combination of all those things make you more of a competitive player,” said Conlin, who also coaches the Weston boys.
Stone, who plans to play tennis at Bates College, says being a part of a club with a private coach is vital because “tennis is such a technical game. It’s important to have a coach to not only give you strategy, but to also give you good stroke foundation.”
And it all starts with building that foundation as a youth; local feeder programs are becoming more prevalent in area communities.
Furey gushes over one in particular that is led by one of his former standouts, Jen (Callen) Beveridge.
In 2010, she founded the Callen Tennis Program, an after-school clinic in Concord for children from kindergarten to third grade.
Her coaching formula involves smaller rackets, smaller courts, softer balls, and smaller nets, a combination that she says “provides these kids an opportunity to have great success from a young age because tennis is a high-skill sport, and it’s hard to play with a regular ball and a regular court when you’re not even taller than the net.”
The former Women’s Tennis Association player believes it is vital to expose players to the sport at a young age, as flocks of children are now drawn to soccer and lacrosse.
“If we didn’t have this, we’d lose so many of these kids to other sports,” says Beveridge, who was ranked No. 8 nationally in singles while at the University of Virginia. “Once you get hooked at five or six to soccer or lacrosse, you’re not going to all of a sudden go to tennis.”
Those who stick with tennis tend to fully dedicate themselves to the sport. One common theme among the top tennis players in the area is that it is the only sport they play.
In years past, according to Conlin and Furey, a multisport tennis athlete was very common.
“The players have just become so competitive,” says Conlin, who only has one multisport athlete on his roster.
The Weston boys, like the Concord-Carlisle girls (18-1 last spring), are in the process of building a tennis dynasty.
In 2010, behind three-year Globe All-Scholastic William Spector, the Wildcats captured their first state title since 1976. Weston repeated in 2011, then won again last spring behind the leadership of junior Ethan Chen, who is entering his fourth year as the squad’s No. 1.
Chen, who plans to play at Tufts, trains year-round at the New England Academy of Tennis in Natick, and believes “it is tough to excel in multiple sports. You can definitely be athletic enough to be good at multiple sports, but to reach the next level, I think you really have to be focused on one.”
Concord-Carlisle junior Meredith Block adds, “It’s not something that you can just put down for a month and pick back up. Freshman year, I played field hockey in the fall and so I wasn’t practicing every day, and it really affected me.”
Though Furey appreciates the good old days of the multisport athletes, he says in order to be a top team now, the players have to be fully committed in the offseason, “going off to private coaches and private lessons during the winter so that when they come out in the springtime, they’re ready and raring to go.”
As for his girls, they return more than ready to pick up their fourth consecutive title and continue the ever-growing legacy at Concord-Carlisle.