Devanny twins bring determintion, goals and saves to Concord High soccer

  • Concord keeper Liam Devanny keeps his eye on the ball.

  • Concord keeper Liam Devanny rises in a crowd to make a save against Bedford on Sept. 26

  • Concord’s Grace Devanny (left) celebrates one of her 17 goals this season with teammate Abby Crawford. Monitor file

  • Concord’s Grace Devanny scores against Merrimack on Sept. 12.

  • Concord’s Grace Devanny (3)is all smiles as she celebrates her second goal against Merrimack on Sept. 12 with teammate Ashley Kelly (13).

Monitor staff
Friday, October 13, 2017

The resemblance is clear. The youngest Devanny siblings both approach soccer with a relentless determination untainted by fear. Both are junior captains for Concord High, inspiring confidence in their teammates and making the Crimson Tide Division I contenders.

The differences are also clear. Grace Devanny uses her athleticism and fight to score goals for the Concord girls’ soccer team. And her twin, Liam Devanny, uses his athleticism and fight to stop goals as the keeper for the Concord boys’ soccer team.

“One is putting the ball away and one is trying to keep it out, but there are lot of similarities between them, too,” said Phil Tuttle, the head coach for Concord’s girls’ soccer team who has also worked with Liam at the club level. “There’s just a real quiet confidence about both of them and I would say their work rate is up there with anybody I’ve ever coached at the high school level.

“That’s one of the biggest things I’ve seen with Grace, and with Liam as well, is they always want to keep working, keep progressing, keep getting better. Every single day they make the decision to bring that to the field and say, ‘I am going to outwork everybody I’m playing against and do as well as I possibly can, not based off how good another team is, but just bring my best to the field every day.’ And I think training Liam and training Grace you see that in both of them.”

Grace earned D-I Honorable Mention honors in 2016 after helping the Tide to a 12-6 record and a spot in the quarterfinals. This year she’s already scored an eye-popping 17 goals in 12 games to lead Concord to an 8-4 mark, but that’s not all she does. Tuttle has also used Grace in the midfield as a playmaker and as a center back to solidify the defense as needed.

“Part of the fun of having a player like Grace is that you could put her just about anywhere and she’ll do a really good job,” Tuttle said. “I think at the high school level we coach a number of people who if you move them from one position to another they would completely lose it and say, ‘I don’t know how to play here.’ But with Grace there’s never a complaint, even if she’s just scored two goals and we move her to the back, she just goes there and does as well as she possibly can.”

That versatility requires a bright soccer mind, and Grace certainly has that, but it also helps that she’s an elite athlete. She won the 400-meter dash at the D-I championship meet as a freshman and won it again last year, beating her nearest opponent by more than a second (57.45-58.99). On top of that speed, Devanny has great balance and toughness and plays with a physical edge you don’t often see in high school girls.

Tuttle said she’s the best athlete he’s seen on D-I pitches this year. Grace said, “there’s always that one girl on the other team that can match the aggressiveness and physical abilities, and we usually go at it a lot, but I like that, I like the challenge.” She also said her aggression started when she was playing youth soccer on boys’ teams with Liam.

“They pushed me a lot to get more aggressive as a player and be more physical because the girls’ soccer game and the boys’ soccer game are completely different,” Grace said. “So it helped me enhance that physical part of my game.”

That enhancement also took place in the Devanny’s yard. That’s where Grace and Liam would play with their two older brothers, Evan and Trevor. Those yard sessions were a big influence on Liam, as well.

“I started out in the field, but when I played with my brothers they would just stick me in the net and shoot on me, so that’s how I kind of migrated to the goal,” Liam said.

The move has been a good one. Liam was a Second Team D-I pick in 2016 after Concord went 14-4-1 and reached the semifinals, and he’s allowed just 13 goals this fall for the 9-3-1 Tide. He has all the attributes you’d want in a goalie – great feel for the game, vocal leadership, quickness, a big leg and fearless determination.

“When he goes in to collect crosses or services, he goes in full bore and he fully commits,” Concord Coach Scott Dunlop said.

Dunlop has had three All-New England goalies during his 22 years as the Tide’s head coach – Connor Hildum in 2008, Joe Graffy in 2010 and Dylan Thomson in 2015 – and Dunlop said that Liam, “is as good as or better than any of them.” Liam was also the starting keeper for the Global Premier Soccer NH Classics U15 team that won a club national title in the summer of 2016.

“Liam Devanny is probably one of the best goalkeepers in the country that I’ve seen,” Classic Coach John Price told the Monitor in 2016. “There’s no question about that right now.”

Trevor Devanny, now a 19-year-old freshman midfielder at Wesleyan, earned Academic All-American honors in 2015 after captaining the Tide to the 2015 D-I title. And Evan Devanny, 23, was an All-New England player for Dunlop in 2011 before going on to play at Stonehill College and, eventually, coming back to be an assistant coach for the Tide.

“I actually really like having Evan as a coach,” Liam said. “I can come back to my house and talk to him about what happened, or the game plan for the next game, or just anything related to the team that we can fix or work on.”

The twins are also very close, “we’re like best friends, it’s pretty awesome,” Liam said. They both turned 17 on Thursday after celebrating their birthday together in Boston on Monday, a trip that included the Red Sox playoff game against Houston. They’re both also on Concord’s Alpine ski team and at the top of their class academically.

Their paths will likely diverge in a couple of years. Liam wants to play Division I college soccer, something Dunlop said he is, “absolutely” capable of doing. Grace isn’t sure if she’ll pursue track or soccer, or both, at the collegiate level. But Tuttle, who played at D-I Notre Dame himself, said Grace definitely has what it takes to play at the top collegiate level.

“Playing in college is about figuring out where you fit, so that’s the decision that Grace, and Liam, and their family is going to have to make,” Tuttle said. “They’re going to have to sort through all the different aspects of it, but that’s part of the excitement of it, and I think they both have all the tools, on and off the field, to be successful at the next level.”

(Tim O’Sullivan can be reached at 369-3341, tosullivan@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @timosullivan20)