NORTH ANDOVER — The Merrimack men’s tennis team heads into today’s Northeast-10 semifinal against Adelphi winners of seven of their last eight matches after returning from a winless March, which included a trip to Florida that opened the spring portion of the Warriors’ schedule.
If they win, the Warriors will either travel to Southern New Hampshire or host Bentley on Sunday in the Northeast-10 Championship.
Along with the Florida trip, which featured some of the best teams in the nation at Division II, Merrimack’s March also included matches against some Division I programs, such as Connecticut.
(Ed. Note — You can also read this story in Friday’s Eagle Tribune)
On top of elite competition, the Warriors were also hit with a string of bad luck, including losing senior captain Miguel Belfort to an illness almost as soon as they stepped off the plane in the Sunshine State.
“It was just bad timing,” said junior captain Nick Majewski. “We were excited to head down there as a team, but then when you lose your senior captain because he was sick, that was tough I think for everyone but especially the younger guys. But I think that adversity shaped up and we’re playing well now, we’re healthy now, and it made us mentally stronger.”
The Warriors responded well to the adversity. Since the calendar turned to April, Merrimack’s only loss has come against SNHU, which is seeded No. 1 in the NE-10 and enters the postseason undefeated.
“We had a lot of things happen to us in Florida that we didn’t expect,” Majewski said. “We were down in a lot of spots where we didn’t expect to be and we had to learn to roll with it. At the beginning of the year, we were younger and I don’t think we knew how to do that. We’re not really younger anymore. Even our younger guys have a whole season under their belts. Since we’ve come back from Florida we’ve taken a lot of big steps and the biggest, I think, is that we’ve shown we can close out matches.”
Now the Warriors are back in familiar territory as one of the top programs in the NE-10.
Merrimack has an 85-6 record in the NE-10 dating back to 2007 and their loss to SNHU earlier this month was the program’s first conference regular-season loss since the 2010-11 season.
The Warriors are the defending NE-10 champions and have won the tournament title in two of the last three seasons as well as five of the last six regular-season titles, snapped only by SNHU this season and Merrimack has made the NCAA Tournament in each of the last eight seasons.
Along with the Warriors, Adelphi is another one of the conference’s elite programs, traditionally near the top along with Merrimack. SNHU had a down year last year, but of course has rebounded to become the No. 1 seed in the conference this season.
“We’re always very confident heading into the playoffs,” Majewski said. “We’ve done very well in the playoffs for the last 6-7 years. This season more than others, I think we feel like a lot of things have gone against us with injuries and other things, but we have everyone back now, we’re healthy and our practices have been great, so we’re really confident heading into the tournament.”
There will be plenty of familiarity as well, with so many individual rivalries formed from seeing many of the same teams every postseason. The Warriors played Adelphi in the NE-10 finals and NCAA Tournament last season.
“It’s always close,” Majewski said. “SNHU is undefeated now and they beat us my freshman year when we were undefeated, so I think the guys who were on that team definitely remember that. It’s in the back of our heads. That would be nice to get a win against them if we were presented with it. But for now we need to focus on Adelphi, get a win and move on.
“You remember the faces of the guys you’re playing. It gets a little extra playing the same teams in the playoffs. It’s more intense. There’s more grit and there are some rivalries, because you’ve been playing each other for so long.”