#7 Moment of 2013-14: Men's Tennis Earns Seventh Straight NCAA Tournament Berth
The Merrimack College Athletic Department is unveiling the top-10 moments of 2013-14 over the month of June. Join us as we count down some of the most memorable moments of the past academic year!
Setting The Scene
Not everyone enjoys throwing the term 'dynasty' around in the world of sports, but like it or not, the Merrimack College men's tennis team had been approaching that status over the last half-decade.
Entering the season, the Warriors had qualified for six straight NCAA Tournaments and ranked tied-for-third among all athletic programs in total NCAA appearances at Merrimack. They also had dominated the Northeast-10 Conference in recent years, claiming each of the last three regular season trophies and back-to-back tournament titles in 2012 and 2013.
The 2013-14 season was shaping up to be more of the same, as the Warriors tore through the conference regular schedule and went unblemished at 10-0, earning the right to host the NE-10 Men's Tennis Championship.
After cruising by Adelphi in the Semifinals, the Warriors squared off against nearby rival Southern New Hampshire for the shot at a three-peat, and what followed was arguably one of the best finals ever in conference tournament history.
Merrimack jumped out in front to a 2-1 lead after the duos of Matt Pronesti and Chris Barnhart, as well as James Barnhart and Nick Majewski earned wins in their respective bouts to put the Warriors ahead.
Southern New Hampshire, however, stormed right back with wins at each of the top-three singles flights to put the Penmen on the brink of the title. That set the stage for an absolutely incredible finish in the bottom-three flights.
First, James Barnhart cruised to a 6-0, 6-0 win at No. 5 singles before Majewski followed suit with a 6-1, 6-1 win to tie the match at No. 6 singles. That set the stage for junior Vince Bellino's wild match at No. 4 singles, which appropriately enough would require a third-set tiebreaker to determine the league crown after Bellino rallied to win the second set in a tiebreaker, as well.
In a match that teetered on nearly four hours of total playing time, it was SNHU's Alex Mukdaprakorn who eventually pulled out the win, 7-4, in the third-set tiebreaker to land the Penmen their first-ever league crown in dramatic fashion.
Still, the loss did not dampen the Warriors' spirits; one day later, Merrimack learned that it had received a seventh-straight invitation to the NCAA Tournament, and appropriately enough, the Warriors were matched up against Southern New Hampshire in the opening round.
There, approximately a week after that unforgettable NE-10 Final, Merrimack would exact its revenge, toppling the Penmen, 5-3, to end the season on a high note before bowing out to perennial national power Concordia the following morning.
Head Coach Peter Arsenault: "I think what I found most impressive about this team is how they came together and battled during the biggest moments of our season. Even when this team went down 4-2 in the conference finals, the first deficit they faced in conference play this season, their determination to come back and set the stage for one of the most exciting finishes in NE-10 Championship history speaks to the mental fortitude that this team has. And for this team to put aside their disappointment and avenge their loss against Southern New Hampshire just a week later further exemplifies the extraordinary resolve and character that has made this team successful for so many years. I am extremely proud of this impressive group of guys, and I look forward to watching them continue to grow and improve together in the years to come."
Senior Chris Barnhart: "The NE-10 Final couldn't be any closer if we wanted it to, and not being able to achieve the goal of winning another title was disappointing, but the only thing we could do next was wait and see if we made it to NCAA's, and thankfully our team got a chance to redeem ourselves. Then, down 2-1 after doubles against SNHU, we fought back and won the match! We could have walked out there with no care of winning that match but instead, we battled back and got some much-needed revenge. What made this even better was the fact that we were playing on the U.S. Open courts in New York. This will be an unforgettable experience for me because, as a kid, I would go to the U.S. Open to watch all the great pros play, and I actually got the opportunity to play there myself. It feels great to be a part of Merrimack Men's Tennis history. We had been given the opportunity to play SNHU again and we took full advantage of it. I couldn't be any more proud of my teammates after this match. Being the only senior this year, I was extremely happy to see my teammates fight to not only keep their season alive, but mine as well. I wish Coach Pete and the team the best of luck next year."
This is the fourth of 10 Merrimack Top Moments of 2013-14 installments.
10. Men's Ice Hockey Plays in Citi Frozen Fenway 2014
10. Men's Ice Hockey Plays in Citi Frozen Fenway 2014
9. Men's Lacrosse Reaches Fifth NE-10 Final in Six Years
8. Men's Soccer Returns to NE-10 Final
7. Men's Tennis Earns Seventh Straight NCAA Tournament Berth
6. Wednesday, June 18
5. Friday, June 20
4. Monday, June 23
3. Wednesday, June 25
2. Friday, June 27
1. Monday, June 30