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Concord’s Cistulli hopes to cap career with title or two

  • Greg Cistulli of Concord hits the ball in his first match against Bill Tong of Dover; April 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Greg Cistulli of Concord hits the ball in his first match against Bill Tong of Dover; April 2, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Greg Cistulli of Concord hits the ball in his first match against Bill Tong of Dover; April 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

    Greg Cistulli of Concord hits the ball in his first match against Bill Tong of Dover; April 2, 2013.

    (SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

  • Greg Cistulli of Concord hits the ball in his first match against Bill Tong of Dover; April 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)
  • Greg Cistulli of Concord hits the ball in his first match against Bill Tong of Dover; April 2, 2013.<br/><br/>(SAMANTHA GORESH / Monitor staff)

One of Greg Cistulli’s earliest memories is of a trip to Virginia Beach when he was 3 years old. He was fascinated by the military jets he saw overhead, but the most vivid details he recalls are his Spider Man headband and Spider Man tennis racket.

“I would look up when the jets passed, but I always had that racket in my hand,” Cistulli said. “I just always seemed to have some racket in my hand.”

Some things never change. He’s moved on from the Spidey brand, but Cistulli still likes to wear a

headband, and he still likes to have a racket in his hand. He became a year-round tennis player at age 12, played as high as No.2 on the Concord High tennis ladder as a freshman, worked his way to No. 1 as a sophomore and he’s been there ever since.

This year, as a senior captain, Cistulli led a young Concord team to a surprising 14-2 record and a spot in the Division I semifinals. The season is done for the Crimson Tide as a whole, but Cistulli still has the state singles tournament left, where he’s the No. 3 seed, and the doubles tournament, where he’s the No. 2 seed with freshman Justin Toler. Singles play begins today at Pinkerton Academy and doubles starts tomorrow.

“He has the upside to win (the singles). He’s playing as well as I’ve ever seen him play, but at the same time he recognizes that there are a lot of good players out there,” said Concord Coach Dave Page, who knew Cistulli back in the Spider Man racket days. “He feels good about his season so far and he’s coming in with a lot of positive energy, and he knows this is his last shot, so he’s going to give it everything he has.”

“I’m pumped, and I’m ready, but whatever happens, happens,” Cistulli said. “I’ll just hope for the best.”

He’s no stranger to wanting the best. Cistulli began taking lessons at age 9 with local teaching pro Alan Chandronnait, who asked his students to set short-term and long-term goals. For Cistulli, “my goal as a little kid was always to be number one in the world.”

In the short term, he wanted to move up the USTA New England rankings. Thanks to his natural talent, the strokes formed by Chandronnait, and all the time he spent on the court with his father, PJ, he did just that.

“When he was in middle school, which wouldn’t start until 8:30, we would go out at 5:30 or 6 and go hit for a half an hour, do some drills, and then go get a breakfast sandwich,” said PJ, an avid player who has been an assistant coach at Concord for the past four years. “Those were some of the best times for us.”

While the younger Cistulli had success in the USTA tournaments and playing at the high school level, there was one thing holding him back – his mental game. He was prone to dramatic mood swings on the court, yelling at himself or smacking his racket against his foot or the ground when he missed a shot, or celebrating too vigorously when he made one.

His coaches, and father, worked with Cistulli on the problem, but it wasn’t until he got fed up with his own attitude that changes really happened.

“About two years ago I just decided I didn’t want to be like that anymore; I finally got that self control,” Cistulli said. “And I was playing at a tournament in Hartford last summer and some woman commented that I looked really stoic when I was on the court, that I had no emotion if I missed or if I hit a winner. So I changed that much in four years.”

That stoicism certainly helped Cistulli this year, and it will be a plus for him next year when he plays at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Va. The increased maturity also helped the entire Concord team this season. Cistulli became more involved with helping the other Tide players improve, working with them on their games and suggesting drills to the coaches that might be beneficial for everyone.

“He took a young team that maybe didn’t have high expectations and helped us to a lot of great wins and a really good season,” Page said. “His play was important, but also his leadership, I don’t think we would have gone as far as we did without that. And I hope he can get a state title in either singles or doubles, because he’s a terrific kid and one of the better players we’ve had here.”

One of the players Cistulli has worked closest with is Toler, his doubles partner. Like Cistulli, Toler was taking lessons with Chandronnait at a young age, had early success at the USTA level, and played No. 2 for Concord as a freshman. Also like Cistulli, Toler has a tendency to lose his cool on the court.

“I’m a friend of his and I’ve known Justin for a while, so I can kind of talk to him about it,” Cistulli said. “He reminds me of me when I was a freshman, and I’m just trying to help him jump ahead and fix it before I did.”

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

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