NHIAA Tennis: Bedford is championship-focused
BEDFORD -- The seniors on the Bedford High School boys’ tennis team have never known anything other than championship seasons. In fact, they’ve lost only once in 65 team matches.
After completing a rain-delayed match with Exeter this week, the Bulldogs are undefeated once again, owners of a 14-0 record entering the postseason, their first in Division I after winning the last three Division II (formerly Class I) titles.
But when you ask the coaches and players what the secret is to their sustained success, no one steps forward to take the credit.
The coaches cite the intense work ethic of their players. The players point to the coaches who keep them focused when so much success could make them complacent.
But there is no denying the combination of coaches and players make Bedford one of the current dynasties in New Hampshire high school sports.
The Bulldogs are led by Shawna Morley, Bedford’s head coach since 2008 and before that the head coach at Manchester West, with whom she won a state title in 2005.
That year’s West — made up mostly of Bedford kids, before the opening of Bedford High — upset powerhouse Concord, interrupting the Crimson Tide’s string of nine Class L boys’ tennis titles in 10 years.
“It’s the boys,” Morley said of her success. “They’re serious about their tennis.”
Morley says her players’ commitment includes extra work outside of practices, setting up their own matches against each other to work on their skills, and playing in the offseason.
Her assistant coach, Bob Luby, who also heads Bedford’s feeder program at the middle school level, concurs.
“I think it’s all the kids,” he said. “They work very, very hard.”
Bedford’s senior captains, James Delahunty and McKinley Grimes, credit their coaches for keeping them focused and in control of their game.
“They do a lot for us. I’m really thankful for them,” said Grimes, adding that the most important thing Morley does is keep the players focused.
A glance at the Bulldogs’ match-by-match results may give the impression the team has had it easy this season. Nine of its victories have been by shutout, four others by a score of 8-1. The only relatively close victory came against Londonderry, by a 6-3 score on May 10.
But most of those 9-0 and 8-1 team victories included hard-fought individual matches that could have gone either way, Grimes said.
And that’s a good thing, the Bulldogs believe. Complacency would be a danger if winning started feeling automatic.
“We treat every team we play the same,” said Delahunty. “That’s where the coaches help out. They keep the team from getting too high or low.”
All six Bedford seniors will soon be off to college, where most plan to continue their tennis careers.
Grimes will attend Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Delahunty will attend the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where he will pursue his other athletic passion: boxing.
But graduation doesn’t necessarily end involvement in Bedford tennis. Morley says former players, including Myles Utell, often come back to help tutor players.
Morley said Utell, who was a 2011 state doubles champ along with Mark HoSang, is taking time off from college to serve as a volunteer coach this year.
Several other schools are relishing the chance to put a wrench in Bedford’s pursuit of a fourth straight boys’ tennis title, and Morley, as always, is keeping the Bulldogs focused.
Mention that Bedford already has played, and beaten, most of the tournament’s other top seeds — including 13-1 Concord, 12-2 Exeter and 11-3 Londonderry — and she’ll tell you that each of those teams was missing key players at the time they lost to the Bulldogs.
“There are five teams that feel they can win,” she said, including Keene in that bunch.
Needless to say, Bedford is among the five, as well.