July 5, 2013

#4 Top-10 Moments of 2012-13: Men’s Tennis Repeats as NE-10 Champions

The 2012-13 academic year at Merrimack was memorable for a variety of reasons.

There were countless individual accolades handed over dozens of student-athletes across all of the school's 22 varsity sports.

Meanwhile, on campus, the construction of several new facilities and buildings continued the campus-wide Momentum initiative that hopes to bring not only the Athletic Department to new heights, but also the entire College.

At the team level, a total of five different programs claimed some form of a conference championship during the course of the year. Three squads earned either outright or a share of regular season crowns, while the women's golf program went outside of the Northeast-10 Conference to take their own conference title in the ECAC Championships.

But of that five, only one managed to not only win a regular season title, but also follow it up with a conference tournament crown.

The only team to hold that honor on campus this year was the men's tennis team, and their efforts earned them a second consecutive NE-10 Championship title, an achievement that certainly ranked as one of the best at Merrimack in 2012-13.

Success has not been a stranger to the men's tennis squad; after posting just two winning seasons in the program's first six years of existence, Merrimack has asserted itself as one of the top teams in the conference and region dating back over the last decade.

Starting in 2008-09, the Warriors ramped up that success to culminate in what has now been a five-year run of dominance. Since that season, Merrimack has garnered no fewer than 12 team wins in a season, while earning five consecutive trips to the NCAA Tournament during that run.

Last year, however, was the first that Merrimack lay claim to the NE-10 Championship title, and with most of that team intact this fall and spring, the Warriors' odds at repeating were certainly plausible.

But after a slow start to the spring dual match season, that repeat was no guarantee. After eight matches heading into the month of April, Merrimack stood at just 4-4 on the season following the team's annual trip to Florida to face some of the nation's top teams.

Those doubts, however, were extinguished during the month of April, as Merrimack strung together an 11-game winning streak that took the Warriors through the remainder of their regular season conference slate unbeaten before drawing the top seed in the NE-10 Championships.

With targets on their back, the Warriors entered the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed, drawing Adelphi in the Semifinals.

Knowing that their efforts would need to be nearly flawless in order to repeat, Merrimack hopped out to a 2-1 lead following the doubles matches, as the pairing of Chris Barnhart (Longmeadow, Mass.) and Vince Bellino (Amesbury, Mass.) dominated their respective bout, 8-0. Not longer after, the duo of Petar Golijanin (Novi Sad, Serbia) and Miguel Belfort (Caracas, Venezuela) gutted out an 8-5 victory to seal another crucial doubles point, sending the semifinal showdown into singles.

Needing three more wins to advance to the finals, Merrimack did just that, taking three of the first four bouts played to earn a return trip to the NE-10 Championship.

Powered by a win from Belfort in the No. 1 slot, as well as Barnhart's second victory of the afternoon at No. 3, freshman Matt Lipinski (Arlington, Mass.) posted the deciding victory, coming from behind to post a 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory to propel the Warriors back to the Finals.

There, Merrimack met Southern New Hampshire, the No. 3 seed in the six-team field. Just like in the Semifinals, Merrimack took 2-of-3 in doubles to edge ahead, 2-1.

Once again, Bellino and Barnhart secured one of those points with an 8-3 victory, while Belfort and Golijanin dug a bit deeper to pull out an exciting, 9-7 decision to put the hosts in the drivers seat.

And again, similar to the Semi's, three wins in six tries would hand the Warriors the conference crown. But Merrimack would not sweat as much as it did in the previous round, as all three deciding bouts – in the No. 4, 5 and 6 slots – were all posted with relative ease, as Barnhart (6-0, 6-0), Bellino (6-2, 6-1) and Golijanin (6-2, 6-0) all swept their respective matches to seal the repeat.

Joining Bentley and Assumption as the only schools with two conference championships or more, Merrimack's repeat brought with it a sixth consecutive berth in the NCAA Championship. But more than that, with the fashion that it came in, the Warriors continued to assert themselves as the new, premiere power in a conference that saw Assumption dominate for the better portion of a decade, as the Greyhounds won eight consecutive conference titles from 2000-07.

Returning most of the core that helped them repeat as NE-10 Championships next fall, Merrimack shows no signs of slowing up in the near future, as the Navy and Gold look to add more hardware to their continuously growing mantle in 2014 and beyond.

This is the seventh of 10 Merrimack Top Moments of 2012-13 Installments.

10. Women's Crew Wins NE-10 Cup V4 Title
9. Football's Historic Victory Vaults Voegeli to NFL
8. Men's Hockey Team's Dramatic OT Win over BC
7. Men's Lacrosse Stuns Top-Ranked Le Moyne
6. Women's Golf Claims First-Ever ECAC Title
5. Women's Basketball's Postseason Run to NE-10 Semis
4. Men's Tennis Repeats as NE-10 Champions
3. Monday, July 8
2. Wednesday, July 10
1. Friday, July 12

--

For continuing coverage of Merrimack College Athletics, visit MerrimackAthletics.com and follow the Warriors on Twitter and on Facebook.