The Mack Report

Arsenault Returns to Merrimack’s Family

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NORTH ANDOVER – To Peter Arsenault, the Merrimack College men’s tennis program has always been family.

Arsenault was welcomed back into that family with open arms this past offseason, when the 2006 Merrimack grad returned to the campus to become the team’s next head coach, taking over a team that has won back-to-back Northeast-10 Championships and has been to the NCAA tournament in each of he past six seasons.

Amazing, considering the program almost didn’t exist not even a decade ago.

Arsenault is no stranger to leading the program. Before his sophomore season as a Warrior, there was a mass exodus from within the program, including the team losing its head coach and many of its returning players.

While the program faced the real possibility of being dropped from the athletic department – the decision had already been made, it was being cut – Arsenault took it upon himself to recruit players, hold practices and negotiate with college administration until they agreed to reinstate the program a few months later.

On the court, he was a former captain for the Warriors and was a top-three singles player as well as a top-two doubles player.

“It’s always been family,” said Arsenault. “In fact, I just got together with a bunch of former players a few weeks ago. When the job was open, from talking to a lot of alums, I knew they wanted to keep the (head coaching) job in the family. A lot of people talked to me about it, which was an incredible honor.”

It also wasn’t the first time Arsenault was approached with the possibility of running the program he saved.

A few years ago Merrimack made overtures his way, but just starting a new job, the timing just wasn’t right. Even now, Arsenault is pursuing his Ph.D at Keene State University, but he admits this wasn’t something he wanted to pass up.

“It gets busy sometimes,” Arsenault said, “but this is a dream for me. It’s not something you can pass up twice. I know what type of family it is, and I know that it’s important for our alumni to keep it that way. If anything, since I’ve been back, I’ve noticed with our current players that it’s even stronger. That family component is what is most important to me. That was created organically, and it’s part of our job to make sure it always remains.”

On the court the Warriors are 4-3 on the season but have played against some Division 1 competition, including at tournaments hosted by Brown and UConn, as well as a match against Boston University.

The Warriors beat St. Anselm, 9-0, on Sunday morning to kickoff the spring portion of their NE-10 schedule; the team also plays some matches in the fall to lighten the load in the spring.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” Arsenault said, “the weather isn’t always cooperative.”

Chris Barnhart returns for the Warriors as the lone senior on the roster and Vince Bellino is the team’s only junior. Six of the eight roster spots are either freshman or sophomore players.

“We’re young, but I think the atmosphere we have is a strong one,” Arsenault said. “We have a great leadership group, which definitely helps. Also, and I don’t mean to keep going back to this, but having that strong, family-like environment with our alumni, we see a lot of them at matches and I think that helps too. It lets our players know that they aren’t just playing for themselves, they’re playing for their school and all of these players that helped pave the way.

“A lot of our alumni, we’re so young we can’t tap into them yet for a lot of financial support, but that time will come, I’m sure. The support they have all shown me and our players is just amazing. Three former players are coming back to help us coach, and they’re just volunteering their time. There are a lot of people out there that love this program, and that’s so rewarding to see. We as coaches, and our players, have an obligation to work as hard as we can everyday not only for ourselves, but for those guys.”

Liam Hoare is also on the Merrimack staff, and he was also a former Warrior on the court.

In fact, Hoare informed Arsenault of the job opening, and deserves a lot of credit for steering the offseason, Arsenault says.

“He kept everything together during the transition,” he said. “He has a full-time job, but he devotes so many hours to this program it’s unbelievable. He was out there recruiting and really, it’s like working two full-time jobs. That’s just another great example of what I mean when I say there is a lot of people in the Merrimack tennis family that want to see us succeed, and it’s only getting bigger.”

The Warriors will be at St. Michael’s on Saturday. Their next home match isn’t until April 5, when the Warriors will host NYIT at North Andover High School.