NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – Highlighted by a second consecutive Northeast-10 Conference championship and a sixth consecutive appearance in the NCAA Tournament for the men's side, as well as the emergence of several young, promising players on the women's side, the Merrimack men's and women's tennis squads continued to excel on the court in 2012-13.
Wrapping up the year with a 15-5 overall record – establishing a new program-low in losses in a season in the process – the men's side went a perfect 9-0 in conference play in 2012-13, culminating in the team's second consecutive NE-10 title in April before earning the team's sixth straight berth in the Big Dance. After a first-round victory over Chestnut Hill, Merrimack's season ended one round shy of a trip to Arizona for the men's tennis equivalent of the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA Division II Tournament.
Meanwhile, on the women's side, the Warriors finished conference play an even 6-6 and ended the year on a hot streak, winning four out of their last five to finish the season 8-12, but just missed out on a spot in the six-team NE-10 Championship field.
Despite missing a postseason berth, the youthful women's side showed progress throughout the year and was constantly challenged by a difficult schedule against some of the top teams in the region. After starting the fall season 2-2, Merrimack challenged itself with a trip to Florida to face off against some of the best teams from the Sunshine State, and despite going winless in March the Warriors built a foundation to end the year strong.
That gauntlet of a schedule paid off in April, as the Warriors went 6-5 in the final month of the regular season, with conference victories against Saint Anselm, Assumption, Franklin Pierce and AIC before wrapping up the year with a resounding win over Division I Hartford.
Junior Kara Hole (Portsmouth, R.I.) was a driving force behind that success, leading the Warriors with a 9-7 overall record in singles, while sophomore Shakee Messina (Caracas, Venezuela) accounted for the second-most wins in singles (7) on the year.
In doubles, Hole and senior Mollie Fitzgerald (Melrose, Mass.) led the way with an 8-10 combined record – including 6-9 in dual match play. The duo of junior Alyx Barnes (Portsmouth, N.H.) and Barnes, meanwhile, accounted for the best doubles win percentage, as the two finished the year with four wins in five tries.
For the men, the Warriors spent the fall season prepping against some of the top competition in the Northeast Region, as Merrimack participated in Division I Invitational tournaments at Brown, the ITA East Regional, and UConn while posting a pair of 9-0 victories in the only dual matches of the fall to start the year unbeaten.
Merrimack then prepped for the remainder of its NE-10 slate with a road match at one of the region's top teams in NYIT; the Warriors fought valiantly but fell to the Golden Bears in a preview of what would be the Division II East Regional final later in in April.
The Warriors continued to challenge themselves with a difficult month of March, including tilts with Division I foe Boston University before the team's annual trip to Florida, where the squad went 2-2 against some of the top teams from down south.
That would pave the way to an eventual 11-game winning streak that took the Warriors through the month of April, as Merrimack ran through the remainder of its regular season conference slate unbeaten before drawing the top seed in the NE-10 Championships.
In the NE-10 Semifinals, Merrimack took a 2-1 lead after doubles before winning three of the next four bouts to down Adelphi, 5-2, before starting hot and never looking back in a 5-1 win over Southern New Hampshire to wrap up the program's second consecutive NE-10 crown.
Representing the No. 3 seed in the East Region, Merrimack drew Chestnut Hill to open up play in its sixth straight appearance in the NCAA Tournament. The Warriors faced little difficulty against the Griffins in an eventual 5-1 win in the tournament's first round.
Advancing to face NYIT in a rematch of an earlier loss in March, Merrimack fought valiantly through doubles but just missed out on taking an early lead. Down, 2-1, the Warriors would manage to win a match in singles but the Golden Bears proved to be too much, as Merrimack's campaign ended in the NCAA Second Round for the second year in a row.
Still, the Warriors had plenty to be proud of in 2012-13, and several individuals were responsible for making that happen. Seniors Petar Golijanin (Novi Sad, Serbia) and Chris Toegemann (Narragansett, R.I.) leave the program after helping mold it into an annual contender, and with the emergence of freshman phenom Miguel Belfort (Caracas, Venezuela) and sophomore Vince Bellino (Amesbury, Mass.), the Warriors should be primed for another run at conference and national prominence next year.
This is the third installment of Merrimack's 2013 Spring Sports Recap Series.
May 22: Women's Crew
May 24: Track & Field
May 27: Tennis
May 29: Women's Golf
May 31: Women's Lacrosse
June 3: Softball
June 5: Men's Lacrosse
June 7: Baseball