NORTH ANDOVER — The Merrimack men’s tennis program is on a mission; on a mission to get back to the NE10 Final for the seventh time in the last nine seasons and to capture their first conference title since 2015.
The Warriors enter the 2017 playoffs today as the second seed in the conference, hosting No. 6 Assumption in the semifinals at either North Andover High School or Bass River Tennis Club in Beverly, depending on the weather.
This championship might be the most satisfying, if the Warriors are able to find a way. The team graduated three of its top players from last year’s team.
“This year has been a little different,” said senior captain Nick Majewski. “We lost our three best players from last year’s team, so this season has been a lot more about our team coming together and being accountable for each other. Maybe we don’t have the talent that we’ve had in prior years, but we have a lot more heart and I think that’s why our success hasn’t fallen off.”
The Warriors are also on their fourth coach in four seasons. Alex Loyer is currently in his first year as head coach. Despite the changes, the Warriors have found a way to maintain themselves as one of the top teams in the NE10, and therefore, the region.
Majewski said that this year’s team has held themselves more accountable. They’ve realized that “no one is going to do it for you,” and despite thinking that everything would just work itself out last year, it didn’t happen that way — Merrimack lost in the NE10 semifinals to Adelphi and then was swept, 5-0, by NYIT in the NCAA Tournament.
“As a team, we know it’s up to us,” Majewski said. “This is what we’ve been working for all year, too. It’s playoffs.”
SNHU has always been with Merrimack at the top of the NE10. Last week, the Penmen beat the Warriors and wrapped up the No. 1 spot in the regular season.
Merrimack finished the season 9-8, but 7-2 in the conference.
“We knew going into the season that they would be right up there as probably the top team,” Majewski said. “Last week we knew it wasn’t going to be an easy task. We had (SNHU) on a target all year. We knew it would be us and them at some point. In our estimation, we should see them again. That’s where we want to be (in the NE10 championship). Every match against them was close.”
But before the Warriors can get to SNHU — the Penmen face Bentley in the semifinals — the Warriors need to get past Assumption. Also last week, Merrimack beat the Greyhounds, 8-1.
“We went up 2-1 after doubles and then swept the singles matches,” said Majewski, who also won his 100th career singles match that afternoon. “We’re confident we can play well (today).
“Playoffs are different. The intensity is different. If you lose, your season is over and we all know that. No one wants to be playing a match knowing it’s their last. Everyone is fighting 10 times harder. Emotions will be high. For Assumption, I believe this is their first time in the semifinals in many years, so they are going to be coming in with a lot of emotion, too. It won’t be easy.”
Having to deal with the match either being indoors or outdoors can be a challenge, but Majewski said that it’s something this team has dealt with all season. Adversity isn’t new to this group, and they’ve become accustomed to rolling with whatever challenges are put in front of them.
“We’ve had to deal with obstacles all year,” Majewski said. “We’re really good at coming together and getting through things like that. It’s tough with the weather, no one can control it. But we’ve played matches all over the place this year, both indoor and outdoor.”
There are several differences between an indoor match and an outdoor match. The speed of the ball being the biggest.
“We need to be ready for either surface,” Majewski said. “Different schools have different surfaces, so just in the season we see things like that.
“The biggest thing is that indoor tennis is a lot faster. It favors kids who are more aggressive and taking higher-risk shots. Outside, you have the sun, wind and the ball doesn’t travel the same. Points are longer outside and the court is slower. It’s more physical outside, and a lot of players hate playing in the wind. Mentally, it’s more challenging outside.”
A good turnout is also expected. For Merrimack students, the match is an “Ultimate Warrior” event, meaning students can check-in for points and also receive giveaways.