ITEM PHOTO BY ANNE MARIE TOBIN
Lynnfield girls tennis coach Craig Stone measures success in a variety of ways.
By STEVE KRAUSE
When the Lynnfield girls tennis team takes the court today against Martha’s Vineyard in the Division 3 state semifinal, the objective will certainly be to win.
That never gets old to coach Craig Stone. Not when he’s won more than 1,100 matches when you combine his totals between tennis and wrestling.
But there are other ways to measure success, Stone says. And that is why, after five state titles in tennis— the last being in 2014 — he still has the energy, and the desire, to keep doing this, even at the age of 67, and even after 44 years.
“It never gets old,” said Stone Friday after the Pioneers won their 14th Division 3 North title (24 appearances overall). “I love the competition and the excitement it creates. And I love watching athletes mature. And I love to watch them achieve things.”
“Things” don’t always translate into victories and titles, he says.
“To me, the beauty of it is watching kids become aware enough to make adjustments on their own, to understand the game well enough to be able to do that. That’s success.”
Stone played tennis and wrestled at Springfield College, and then got his master’s in Oregon. Once back in Lynnfield, he taught physical education at the Center School for 44 years before retiring two years ago.
Stone said he has patterned his coaching style after the late John Wooden, who led UCLA to eight straight NCAA men’s basketball titles in the late 1960s and early ‘70s.
“It’s all in the preparation,” he said.
And he has prepared this team well. As freshmen, this group has gone 79-4. Two of those loses have come in the state semifinal against Martha’s Vineyard (in 2015 and 2016) and the two others have come at the hands of Manchester-Essex, the one team around here that, year in and year out, gives the Pioneers a run for their money. This year, Lynnfield got the Hornets, 3-2, thanks to a marathon match involving senior Sarah Mezini and M-E’s Chanel Bullock that Mezini pulled out after losing the first set and coming close to falling in the second (she won it in a tiebreaker).
“That is remarkable,” said Stone of his team’s success. “Over that period of time, it’s truly remarkable.”
Stone preaches continuity. There are 20 players on the 2017 Lynnfield team and only seven of them can play in a match (three singles, and two sets of doubles). The rest watch and wait their turn.
“That’s something else I find remarkable,” he said, “that we have all these players and they’re all OK with watching and waiting their turn.
“But they know,” he said, “that come next year, some of them are going to have to step up and they’re going to have to be ready.”
You might think that wrestling and girls tennis are two of the more incongruous sports for a coach. One involves brute strength and the other a touch of finesse.
Stone was ready for the question.
“I get asked that all the time,” he said. “But think about it. They’re both team sports with an individual side to them.”
Where wrestling is all centered around individuals competing for the team, tennis, Stone said, is different.
“In tennis, you may find yourself paired in doubles with someone you’ve never had to play with before,” he said. “That takes a certain amount of adjusting.”
There are differences, though.
“In wrestling, it’s whistle to whistle, and once the whistle blows to start, there’s not a lot of time to think. In tennis, there’s a lot of time to think.”
The other difference is in the mindset of the athletes.
“Boys tend to be a bit more in the moment,” he said. “They come in, they work hard, and there’s really no room for discussion. Girls might be a little more tuned into what’s happening around them.”