NORTH ANDOVER — For the last seven seasons, no men’s tennis program in the Northeast-10 has had more success than Merrimack College. Few in the East Region have. The Warriors capped off the regular season this past weekend, winning the NE-10 regular season for the fifth straight season, and will open the postseason on Thursday against Bentley, hosting the Falcons in the semifinals of the NE-1o Tournament (2 p.m., North Andover HS).
With a win, the Warriors would host the NE-10 Championship on Saturday (1 p.m.).
The Warriors haven’t lost an NE-10 regular-season match in four years, a streak that has now extended to 40-0. The Warriors are also hoping to keep an NCAA appearance streak alive, having made the tournament each season since 2008. Merrimack is currently ranked third in the East Region, and the top-seven teams qualify.
“We have a refuse to lose mentality,” said senior co-captain Vince Bellino, who shares the leadership duties with junior Miguel Belfort. “I think that’s been the common thread. We had a good season last season and made it to the finals. I’ve been fortunate over my time at Merrimack to be a part of many successful teams, and I think the biggest common thread is that refusal to lose. We approach every match like it’s the playoffs, like it’s a championship, and that has really been what keeps us on course.”
The Warriors’ consistency is what’s perhaps the most impressive.
Of Merrimack’s six losses this season — the Warriors overall record is 11-6 — four of those came against nationally-ranked Division II opponents, and one other was against Division I Boston University.
In the NE-10, the closest a competitor came to beating the Warriors was Adelphi and Assumption, which each lost by a score of 6-3.
Much of Merrimack’s early matches also came indoors. If the Warriors weren’t in Florida competing against Saint Leo, Rollins or Eckerd, they were down Route 114 in Middleton, hosting their first four home matches indoors thanks to large amounts of snow that kept the courts covered.
“Indoors there is obviously no wind or sun, so the elements are different once you get outdoors,” Bellino said. “We reacted to it very well. I was happy with the way we adapted and I think it just goes back to our mentality. There are no excuses, you leave it out on the court every single day and it doesn’t matter if we’re indoors or outdoors, the game is the same.”
The Warriors also added a new coach this past season, as Aaron Bergeron took the helm.
“Coach Bergeron has brought a great attitude to our program,” Bellino said. “He wants to continue our culture of winning, and that’s what I think he has brought most.”
The Warriors have an influx of young talent on the roster, with four freshmen and three sophomores making up seven of the nine roster spots.
But the attitude has remained the same. It filters from the top down, and the refusal to lose was quickly augmented with a confidence.
“Confidence is so important, and I think we gained that throughout the season,” Bellino said. “We had some younger players who were put into big spots right away, but they were expected to succeed, it goes back to that refusing to lose and not making excuses. They had some success early and I think that really helped their confidence. As a group, our team has built confidence throughout the year; it has been noticeable.”
The intensity now ramps up a notch. The Warriors aren’t necessarily playing for their lives — they’ve essentially locked up an NCAA berth — but will be playing against opponents who undoubtedly are. The preparation, Bellino says, stays the same. It’s the luxury of having a successful team that has consistently prepared as if every match was for a trophy.
“Our mindset all year has been that each match is a championship match,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any more pressure because we’ve prepared this way all season. Last year, losing in the finals, we obviously want to win a championship. That’s our goal. The motivation to win a championship is part of our culture, it’s within our program, so losing in the finals last year didn’t add to it, I think it’s just always presence, that motivation and drive to win championships.”