2014 Spring Recaps: Men's & Women's Tennis
At Merrimack College, the history of both the men's and women's tennis teams is certainly a unique one that featured many twists, turns and bumps along the way to get to where they were heading into the 2013-14 academic year.
The program was presented with a new challenge once again with a head coaching vacancy before the year even began. Peter Arsenault knew the trials and tribulations that the program endured when he was a student-athlete. He helped revive the program when it was on the brink of being cut nearly a decade ago, so it only seemed appropriate that, after raising support that was instrumental in keeping the team afloat when he was a student-athlete, he be given the chance to lead the Warriors as a coach.
Not even he perhaps could have anticipated the immediate success that followed.
With Arsenault at the helm, Merrimack Tennis continued its evolution as one of the most dominant men's and women's teams in Northeast-10 Conference and in the entire region, culminating with arguably the most successful season in the history of the women's team, while the men once again ranked among the top teams in the Northeast as part of an incredibly successful campaign in 2013-14.
"I know I speak on behalf of the entire coaching staff in saying that we are extremely proud of the effort and commitment our two teams displayed this year," Arsenault mentioned. "Inspired by the exceptional leadership of our seniors, these teams battled gallantly on route to achieving many of our individual and team goals."
Those goals may have been catered differently for each side; for the men, they were aiming to continue what could only be described as a dominant hold on the Northeast-10 over the last four years. Merrimack had claimed each of the last four NE-10 regular season crowns and was the defending two-time NE-10 champion at the tournament level. The Warrior men had also qualified for the NCAA Tournament in six straight years from 2008 through 2013 and had no intentions of seeing that streak end this spring.
The women, meanwhile, had been slowly and steadily laying a foundation for what they believed would culminate in a team that was on the same level as the men, both on the courts and in the classrooms. Prior to this season, the women had not enjoyed a double-digit win season since 2008-09, and were mired in a stretch of four straight years with a losing record.
Arsenault stuck to the strategies that made him a top-three singles player and top-two doubles performer when the 2006 alum dominated the courts as a student-athlete. But coaching could only go so far in the sport of tennis; once the matches began, it all falls on the student-athletes, butArsenault and his coaching staff had plenty of faith that their mental and physical toughness would carry them to unprecedented heights.
That became apparent for the Warrior women as early as the fall months, when they roared out to a 5-1 dual match record in October and had various strong showings in three different invitationals that they partook in.
Merrimack tore through the regular season's second half, going a perfect 12-0 against NE-10 competition highlighted by a gutsy 5-4 road win at Saint Michael's and an eye-popping 6-3 victory against one of the league's top teams in Adelphi. After another thriller, a 5-4 home win againstStonehill, the Warriors clinched the No. 1 seed for the NE-10 Championships, where they would roll to their third conference crown and first since 2002 with back-to-back 5-4 wins over Southern New Hampshire and Adelphi, respectively.
That would earn the ladies their second-ever NCAA Tournament berth and first since 2009, where they battled a tough Chestnut Hill team valiantly before finishing the season 15-5 overall, blowing away the previous single-season wins record by five.
On the men's side, Arsenault challenged his two-time defending league champions with a difficult schedule that featured a number of NCAA Tournament participants and a Division I opponent in Boston University. That helped them earn yet another regular season crown and No. 1 tournament seed, where they would face Southern New Hampshire in the NE-10 Finals.
Merrimack and SNHU went back and forth in arguably the best Championship in recent memory before the Penmen eventually emerged victorious in a 5-4 thriller. Still, Merrimack would garner its seventh straight NCAA Tournament berth and exacted some revenge a week later, topping SNHU in the NCAA Preliminary Round before finishing the year 14-9 overall.
Arsenault's student-athletes earned plenty of recognition for orchestrating the greatest year in both men's and women's program history; freshman Grace Messina (Caracas, Venezuela) was one of six Warrior women to earn NE-10 All-Conference recognition and was tabbed the league's Player and Rookie of the Year. On the men's side, seven more student-athletes earned all-league recognition, while Arsenuault, deservedly, was named the NE-10 Coach of the Year on both the men's and women's side.
"The unyielding dedication by our students to bring honor to Merrimack College and our tennis program was commendable," Arsenault continued. "While we will miss our seniors, I hope they feel proud of the foundation they helped to build for the future of our program."
This is the sixth of an eight-part Merrimack Athletics spring recap series.
May 20: Women's Golf
May 21: Women's Crew
May 22: Women's Lacrosse
May 23: Baseball
May 26: Softball
May 27: Men's Lacrosse
May 28: Tennis
May 29: Track & Field