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Merrimack’s balance key as Warriors surge towards tournament play

With the Merrimack men’s soccer team, excellence has become expected …

Photo: Merrimack Athletics

Ed. Note — This story also appears in Wednesday’s edition of The Eagle Tribune

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The Warriors have been one of the top teams in the NE10 over the last five years, finishing either first or second in the conference in four out of those seasons. Last fall, Merrimack captured the NE10 Tournament championship and made their fourth-consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.

“We take a lot of pride in our history,” said senior midfielder Sergio Martinez. “Every season is a new season, but we know that we have a lot to live up to.

“Looking back, we always want to improve. We have had a lot of great teams here, but we always want to improve and get better. You can always get better. It’s one of the things we do every time we go out on the pitch, we are always looking to improve and make our team a better team. That is going to set us up for the most success this year (and in future years).”

The Warriors are 9-3 in this campaign and are currently fourth in the NE10 standings with 18 points. However, they’re just one point behind Southern New Hampshire for second place; Adelphi leads the conference with 24 points (8-1). The Warriors travel to Franklin Pierce (tonight) and then head to Southern Connecticut on Saturday. Wins there could set up a huge showdown against SNHU at Martone-Mejail Field next Tuesday (Oct. 23) at 7 p.m.

This year’s roster is a good mix of upper and underclassmen (14 each), but the Warriors’ freshman class (8 players) is actually its largest.

“The biggest key for us has been our ability to integrate the younger players,” Martinez said. “I remember when I was a freshman, the captains and the seniors made us realize how important it was to learn our style of play as quickly as possible. Our younger players have come in and put in a lot of work getting to learn our style. It’s something we take a lot of pride in.”

Merrimack has allowed the fewest goals of any team currently in the top-four of the NE10 standings. At the same time, the Warriors have also scored the least amongst teams in the top four (by four goals).

Perhaps the best quality of this year’s Merrimack team is its adaptability. Tactics might change from game to game, and the Warriors are unpredictable, which makes opponent preparation difficult.

“We are a very balanced team and we can change our approach our depending on the opponent,” Martinez said. “They could be more aggressive or more defensive, and I think because we are more balanced, we can play different styles. Our balance has been key for us because it makes us a tough team to play against. You can’t take away one thing from our game, because I think we are very strong in more than one area.”

The NCAA Regional Rankings won’t be released until early-November, but the Warriors figure to be somewhere in that mix for a potential NCAA tournament spot. In the Division II United Soccer Coaches Poll, Adelphi (13th) and Southern New Hamshire (18th) are ranked in the top-25.

Regardless, Merrimack is a virtual lock the NE Tournament, which begins on Oct. 30. The top-eight teams in the conference qualify and Merrimack is in a playoff position by six points with just three games left on the schedule.

“We are looking forward to playing in the tournament,” Martinez said. “Our older players have experience playing in big games, but the younger players have not gotten a taste of what playoffs or tournament games are yet, so that will learn that experience as we go forward, hopefully. I think we have a really strong team, and we want to go as far as we can.”

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