EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 28, 2013

Whatever it takes

Pentucket's Downey fiercely dedicated to her sport

By Dave Dyer
ddyer@eagletribune.com

---- — Sophomore Coli Downey appears to be one of the few.

Like so many youngsters, Pentucket’s No. 1 tennis player has dreamed of becoming a high school star and, if she’s lucky, a collegiate standout.

Unlike a large percentage of those young athletes, however, Downey is willing to put in the time and dedicate herself to that end.

“Whatever it takes” seems to be her philosophy.

Downey started playing tennis when she was 7-years-old, about a year or two after older sister Rachel, who graduated from Pentucket last year and is now the No. 4 singles player at Simmons College.

“I took a couple of lessons and I just loved it (tennis),” said Downey. “It didn’t take long.”

And, when Downey loves something, it can be all-encompassing. Although she enjoyed soccer when she was younger and was an avid gymnast, she gave up both by the time she reached middle school.

“I liked them, but I wanted to put all my focus on tennis,” she said.

And so she has, year-round. She’s been playing USTA tournaments for years and is currently ranked 33rd in New England in the 16-year-old division.

Downey has attended numerous camps and clinics, has a personal coach she works out with twice a week at the Northeast Tennis Center in Middleton and once a week at a tennis center in Manchester, N.H.

While gradually improving her strokes and overall skills, Downey has always been highly competitive, just her sister, which is why they rarely played against each other.

“We never played much because we argued a lot and would get mad at each other,” said Downey. “Neither one of us likes to lose, at all.”

But last year, they had to face each other in the preseason to determine who would be the Sachems’ No. 1 singles player. Coli won 6-2, 6-1.

“That was so hard,” she said. “It was so nerve-wracking, when I found out I had to play her. She didn’t talk to me for two weeks.”

Coli’s parents knew that it was a difficult situation and her mother suggested that maybe she should just let Rachel be No. 1 since she was a senior.

“But Coli said ‘no way,’ that she had worked too hard for the opportunity to be No. 1,” said her father, John, who is an avid recreational player. “It was an awful situation. After Coli won, it was very quiet in the house for the next seven to 10 days.”

Despite largely playing against juniors and seniors, Downey compiled a 13-3 record at No. 1 singles and was named an honorable mention Eagle-Tribune All-Star. That just fueled the flames of ambition even more, motivating her to improve her game.

“I’ve always been a consistent-type player who runs balls down and returns everything,” she said. “People would call me the human blackboard.

“Now I’m trying to become more aggressive by using a wider variety of shots. I go for angles, slices, overheads trying to win points.”

With all of her lessons and practice geared in that direction, the aggressiveness is coming. And, with never a hint of getting burned out, it should keep coming.

“Since Coli was seven or eight, she has been practicing at least three times a week and she has never once said she’s not in the mood,” said her father. “It’s so rewarding to see her develop and she’s never complaining.

“She’s had to give up a lot of stuff, like Friday sleepovers and things like that, because she has to leave early Saturday morning for a tournament, but she’s fine with that.

“About four or five years ago, I put a wall at the end of the driveway so the girls could hit against it for practice. Coli’s always using it ... before a lesson, after a lesson or a match, I’ll be in the house and I’ll hear the bang, bang, bang of her hitting against it.”

“My goal for this year is to be an (Eagle-Tribune) All-Star and maybe MVP,” said Downey.

It’s definitely a goal worth aspiring toward and, not that Downey needs the extra incentive, it’s worth continuing to put in the time to improve her game.

Fan of Sharapova Like many talented young athletes, Pentucket sophomore Coli Downey has a professional role model. She is a big fan of Maria Sharapova, admiring her intensity level and the way she plays the game. Downey got to see both first hand when she met Sharapova on a trip to the Bahamas in 2011 when she was part of a kids tennis clinic with her.