SOUTHINGTON - Before this season began, Southington girls tennis coach Robin Thompson had only had one athlete continue their tennis career in college.
Now, that list is tripling with Thompson sending two more players onto the collegiate level in standouts Carolyn Callahan and Samantha Barmore.
“It’s an honor to be one of the few student athletes from the girls team to continue my tennis career in college,” said Callahan, who will be continuing her career at the University of St. Joseph in West Hartford. “I didn’t realize until recently that not many tennis players from our team continue playing tennis in college. It’s exciting to know that I’m one of the few who do continue. I couldn’t have been able to play in college without all the support from my coaches, who spent hours working with my teammates and me on and off the court.”
Callahan has been a three-year varsity starter for the Blue Knights. She initially got started in the sport when she was 11 years old when her mother had signed her up for tennis summer camp.
“The camp counselors knew how to play tennis and taught me a lot from the basics of the sport to how to keep score and how to serve,” Callahan said. “I continued to go to this camp for a week or two each summer. Tennis was fun, but it wasn’t something I did all the time. It wasn’t until I entered high school and didn’t make the basketball team that I decided I wanted to play tennis at the high school.”
Although initially upset about not making the basketball team, she didn’t let that stop her from trying out for tennis make it more than just something she did for fun.
“After the first information meeting for the girls tennis team I decided to become more serious about tennis,” Callahan said. “I began to take lessons indoors to prepare for tryouts. Once tryouts came, I was ready to do my best. Although my tennis strokes still had a long way to go, my coaches saw potential in me and I was able to make the team. I’ve been playing tennis all year round ever since.”
Potential is just one of the adjectives used to describe Callahan. Thompson said there aren’t enough to depict how special Callahan really is.
“Her gifts are that she just listens and applies everything that you tell her strategically to be a good doubles player,” Thompson said. “She just works so hard, she fell in love with the sport and she ended up being one of our top players overall.
But Thompson also pointed out it’s what Callahan does after a match or when not on the court that makes her more than just a exceptional player.
“She’s the first one to go on the court to congratulate somebody if they had a tough loss, the first one to shake the opposing coaches hand whether she’s won her match or loss, just super special,” the head coach said. “Every time I see her now or I talk to her, I get emotional. You don’t always come across someone like her.”
For Callahan, choosing St. Joseph’s was not just about tennis, she liked that it had small class sizes.
With such a small school, Callahan will be able to know her professors well and seek out help from them when she needs it. She won’t just be another face in the crowd.
“I plan to become a teacher,” Callahan said. “I’ve heard phenomenal things about the education program there. The university invited me into the honors program as well, which I think is another fantastic program. I felt honored to be invited to participate in it. In addition, when looking for a college, I wanted one close to home so I could still visit family and friends.”
Barmore, also a three-year varsity starter for the Blue Knights, will be following in the footsteps of her older sister Alex.
In the fall, she will be joining her sister at Endicott College in Beverly, Mass. Alex was Thompson's first athlete to continue their tennis career outside of Southington High School and now the younger Barmore is simply just carrying on the tradition.
“When I first started my college decision process I never thought college tennis was on the table for me and honestly,” Samantha said. “I was set on going to school in Florida. But when it became real that I was able to continue playing tennis and with my sister my options for college completely switched. I was between Florida Atlantic University and Endicott College. And in the end I realized Endicott feels like home. It's a great school for my major and allows me to be on a tennis team with my sister and I honestly couldn’t imagine anything better.”
At Endicott, Barmore will be majoring in Hospitality Management.
But tennis has always been a family affair for the Barmores. The reason Samantha initially got involved was because of them.
“Ever since I can remember my whole family has been playing tennis,” Barmore said. “When I first started playing it just seemed natural to do because everything I had ever known was tennis. My family is very close, we all live no more than twenty minutes away from one another and I feel as though tennis was something that was able to help keep us close too.”
Even though there are still some surprising moments, Barmore is excited about the opportunity to play in college.
“It honestly feels surreal,” Barmore said. “Out of a great number of girls who are all skilled in tennis, to be numbered down to [Thompson’s] second, third player to continue my career is truly an achievement. I feel honored to be given this opportunity and show what Southington tennis is about.”
It will also be tough for Thompson to lose the two players, especially for what they not only brought on the court, but to the program on a daily and seasonal basis as well.
“You don’t replace that real quick unless you get someone new who brings a lot of outside play into the high school, which in our case doesn’t normally happen,” Thompson said.
Shelby Iava can be reached at (860) 801-5096 or firstname.lastname@example.org