NORTH ANDOVER — For the 11th straight season, the Merrimack men’s tennis team will take the court in the NCAA Tournament beginning Monday at Concordia University in New York. The streak is currently the second-longest active streak of NCAA appearances in the region.
The Warriors, ranked No. 5 in the regional tournament, will face No. 4 Southern New Hampshire in the opening round on Monday at 10 a.m. It will be the third time in 16 days the Penmen and Warriors face each other, with SNHU holding a 2-0 edge.
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“This will be a big rematch,” said captain and top player Mikhail Belov. “It’s a big match for us. We know we can be competitive with them and we know that we can win. It’s going to take a lot of effort from everyone on the team. Every player. We are all looking forward to it and everyone is working hard this week to beat their opponent.”
The Warriors already know the matchups for singles and doubles in Monday’s match. This week’s preparation has included a regular practice on Monday, along with a lift with the strength and conditioning coaches.
“Tuesday we had a shorter practice,” Belov said. “Wednesday we played inside, and it was late, until 11 p.m., and Friday we’ll have another 90-minute practice. Saturday our coaches have given us the day off.”
With the lineups set, the Warriors will have a lot of familiarity with this opponent, and vice versa. Belov said the practices at this time of year, especially with a known opponent waiting on Monday, have been more individualized.
“We’ll practice on specific things for each player,” he said. “There is a lot of individual attention from our coach. We’ll all work on specific things to prepare, and some of that might have to do with the matchup we will be facing.”
The sustained success for the Merrimack program has been unparalleled. Queens has a similar run of consecutive tournament berths, but the Knights also have their own indoor tennis center on campus. Merrimack’s matches in recent years have been moved off campus to North Andover High School with construction limiting use of the tennis courts.
Belov credited coaches Alex Loyer and Chris Chiang with their ability to recruit the right players to the program.
“The coaches here do an amazing job in recruiting people for the team,” he said. “That has made our program so successful. Merrimack has always been successful in most of their sports overall, but tennis has been one of the most successful. I think what makes our results so consistent is that we rely on competitiveness. Every time we are on the court, we want to be competitive. There have been years where maybe we didn’t have the most talented roster, but we would still make it to the championship and that is all about our mentality. It makes us successful.”
That competitive mindset was instilled in this senior group, Belov included, by past Warriors. Belov credits former Merrimack captain Vince Bellino, in particular, for setting the right tone with this group when Belov and his classmates were freshmen.
“Vince was a big deal back when I was a freshman,” Belov said. “He was always winning his matches and he was always so fired up. He was a great leader, and he’s probably the biggest reason we won the conference that year. We had a really good roster, but he was a great leader and also really competitive.”
The Warriors are looking to put an exclamation point on a season that has featured 14 wins; the most in the last two years. If the Warriors win on Monday, they will have won their most matches since 2013. With an 8-1 record in the NE10 this year — the only loss coming to SNHU — the Warriors are 100-9 in their last 109 NE10 matches.
“This has been a successful season for our team and for me personally, probably my most successful season,” Belov added. “We’ve been competitive in all positions this year. That made a big difference for us.”
The Warriors hope that season extends on Monday morning.