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    Sunday, June 23, 2024

    Defending state champ Stonington is (so far) unbeaten and on top

    Stonington's Tucker Callahan, in a photo from the 2022 season, has returned to the No. 1 singles slot this year after competing at No. 1 doubles a year ago when the Bears won the Class S state championship. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Lebanon — Tucker Callahan, in the midst of his ongoing fight against rheumatoid arthritis, played at No. 1 doubles last season for the Stonington High School boys’ tennis team instead of his usual No. 1 singles.

    That left then-freshman Brady O’Neil at No. 1 singles, where he played the part quite admirably, finishing as the runner-up in the Eastern Connecticut Conference tournament.

    And the Bears, with their new configuration — Callahan in a spot where he only had to serve every four games, to spare his shoulder from the agony of that motion — won the program’s first Class S state championship.

    “If I don’t play first singles, I don’t think the team is really suffering that much because of Brady,” Callahan said. “I think it worked out well. That was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. I was a little concerned in the beginning of the season. I’m telling coach, ‘Hey, I can’t really play, I can’t play 100%.’ But it ended up working really well.”

    As for the new season, the Bears defeated Lyman Memorial 7-0 Monday with 6-0, 6-0 wins from the singles lineup of Callahan and his powerful forehand at No. 1, the athletic O’Neil at No. 2, Matt Turrisi at No. 3 and Peter Schoenecker at No. 4.

    As the doubles tandems took the court, Callahan, with O’Neil, Turrisi and Stonington coach John Adriano were engaged in a detailed conversation about Tuesday’s upcoming match against Daniel Hand, which won against the Bears last season.

    Stonington is unbeaten at 6-0 overall, but Adriano isn’t one to look ahead. He told them on the first day of practice that he didn’t want to hear anything else about a possible second consecutive state championship. (Not that it isn’t in the back of the players’ minds.)

    “One hundred percent, it’s on the front of my mind all the time,” O’Neil said with a smile of another title. “It’s all I’m thinking about. Playing with Tucker, playing with Matt, they’re great tennis minds, so it’s good to talk to them, it’s good to play with them.

    “Coming to these games, talking to them, it’s fun. That’s all we talk about. That’s all we think about. Even when coach doesn’t want to, we still talk to him about it. ... I love this team.”

    Callahan’s return to No. 1 singles came through the enormous amount of work he did on his own behalf. Diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis when he was 13 or 14, he said, he was used to feeling stiffness throughout his body — “When I wake up in the morning, I would almost have to snap my body into position,” he said.

    Callahan takes medication for the arthritis, but there was also something he could do for himself. About six months ago he embarked on a diet free of sugar, dairy or gluten. He eats a lot of beef, chicken and fish, along with other anti-inflammatories such as blueberries and oranges. His 6-foot frame carries about 145 pounds.

    “Now I feel a lot better. I feel great,” Callahan said. “I didn’t play over the summer ... now I’m sitting here, ‘I don’t know what to do.’ But I figured it out. Just trying to get back to how I was (playing) a few years ago.

    “Right now, since I didn’t play, I still have these bad habits. I would say there’s still quite a few things I need to work on to be at my full potential.”

    Adriano impresses the fact that there’s not one player on the team in the same spot as last year, when five seniors dotted the lineup that won the state championship.

    Stonington’s winners in doubles Monday were the teams of Chase Donnarummo and Sam Lund, Thomas Lyon and Sean Lord and Alex Miles and Ben Mahoney, a senior, three juniors and two sophomores.

    “You never really pick up where you left off because you’ve got new people,” Adriano said. “Quite frankly, everybody is in a new position. Donnarummo played singles last year, Lund was playing two doubles, now they’re playing one doubles together.

    “Tucker played doubles last year, now he’s playing singles. I love to have him back. It’s a little bit like having two No. 1s. If you want to watch a match, come to practice (to see Callahan and O’Neil play each other).”

    Adriano said that taking one match at a time isn’t just coach’s hyperbole, it’s his philosophy.

    “My goal is not to go undefeated, my goal is to not win any particular championship,” Adriano said. “The goal is to focus in on one match at a time.”


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