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Concord’s tennis title hopes gone with the wind

There wasn’t just one nemesis waiting for Concord High at Memorial Field yesterday, there were two – Exeter and the wind.

The Crimson Tide lost to Exeter in last year’s Division I boys’ tennis semifinals, and the No. 3 Blue Hawks (14-2) pulled the trick again yesterday, beating No. 2 Concord, 7-2, to advance to their fifth straight D-I final.

“I think we just ran into a team with a little more experience on the big stage, and they used that experience to their advantage,” Tide Coach Dave Page said.

The Blue Hawks were also more comfortable in the wind, which was whipping across the courts. That’s a common occurrence at Memorial, but Concord (14-2) still struggled with the conditions.

“Even though we practice here and we play here, we’ve always had trouble playing in the wind,” Concord senior Greg Cistulli said.

When Exeter came to Memorial during the regular season on May 6, the Tide came away with a 5-4 win, a decision that gave Concord home court yesterday.

“We were feeling confident because we beat them here during the regular season, so we were pretty confident that we had a good chance of beating them again,” Cistulli said. “But we might have been a little too confident, and we weren’t thinking about what could happen. Everyone lost their heads a little bit.”

That regular-season meeting also had an impact on the Blue Hawks.

“Team morale was definitely high today,” Exeter junior Ty Cloyd said. “After we came up here and lost, it really motivated us for the rest of the season.”

The Blue Hawks clinched the match during singles, and it was Cloyd who earned the deciding point as he came from 7-4 down, and overcame leg cramps, to beat Thomas Bengtson, 9-7, at No. 5.

“I just focused in and tried to make shots, tried to limit the dumb errors, and it worked,” Cloyd said.

Exeter also got a comeback win at No. 2 singles, although it was much less dramatic, as Ryan Posternak claimed an 8-6 win over Justin Toler after being down, 6-5. Posternak kept his game simple, hitting the ball into the middle of the court and allowing Toler to make mistakes.

The Blue Hawks’ other singles wins were more convincing. Chris Lietz beat Evan Hewey, 8-2, at No. 3, Chip McNaughton downed Josh Pifer, 8-3, at No. 4, and Tyler Russ won, 8-4, at No. 6 against Mattias Lambert. It was a major turnaround from the regular season when Concord won four of the six singles contests.

“We knew it was going to be tough, we knew winning four singles matches was going to be a reach this time,” Page said. “But to have it over in singles, I was a little surprised. But credit Exeter, there were a lot of close matches and they did what they needed to do to pull them out.”

Concord’s lone singles point came at No. 1 as Cistulli won the final six games against Corey Guen to take an 8-3 win. Guen’s flat strokes worked well against the wind, and the Exeter senior is one of the few players in the state who isn’t overwhelmed by Cistulli’s power, so he gained some confidence early on and held a 3-2 lead. But once Cistulli adjusted to the wind, he was able to keep Guen pinned to the baseline and take command.

Cistulli then followed up by teaming with Toler for an 8-0 decision at first doubles over Guen and Posternak.

“I wanted to show ’em what we have, because we still have the individual and doubles tournaments to play,” Cistulli said. “Our goal was to not let them have a game, and we succeeded.”

Exeter won the other two doubles as Lietz and McNaughton beat Hewey and Bengston, 8-4, and Russ and Kenny Schleicher beat Pifer and Lambert, 8-2.

It was a difficult defeat for the Tide to swallow, but the future looks bright for this Concord team. Cistulli is the only senior on the roster, and while he will be a big loss, Toler, just a freshman, should provide strength at the top of the ladder for the next three years, and there will be talented and experienced depth behind him.

“We told them this isn’t an end point, this is the beginning of next year, and if we work really hard in the intervening months, we can come back with a shot at a state title,” Page said. “We just have to use this as fuel to work hard, and maybe those days where we don’t have the internal fire, we’ve just got to use this to motivate us to get better.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3371 or or on Twitter @timosullivan20.)

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