The Mack Report

Merrimack Starts NE-10 Play Perfectly

zteeeanju4oi9aea

Merrimack tennis coach Peter Arsenault described the men’s program as a family. Arsenault, who also coaches Merrimack’s women’s program, says that team has built a similar foundation, and this year could be a turning point for the program.

“There is a lot of excitement for our women,” he said. “We had a great fall and we’re looking forward to getting things going in the spring. I’m excited about the girls we have on the roster, especially the seniors, and I think we could do big things this season. I definitely think the women’s side is starting to see that same family culture being created. We’re all one team, we all practice together. Last year I attended a wedding for a former teammate of mine who married someone from the women’s team. Both teams are close, and we’re starting to see a lot of the alumni becoming more and more involved.”

The Warriors started the season 5-1 in the fall and swept St. Anselm, 9-0, last month to start the spring season. The fall included a win over Holy Cross, as well as a perfect 5-0 conference record.

The Warriors are just two wins shy of their win total from all of last year.

Merrimack has been led by seniors Kara Hole and Alyx Barnes. Hole is a former member of the NE-10 All Conference Team and led the Warriors in singles wins last season while Barnes was the 2011 NE-10 Rookie of the Year.

“Your leaders are always most important,” Arsenault said. “Our seniors and our captains set the tone for us. Right now, the younger players definitely look to them. They have been a part of the team and they are responsible for making sure we keep our culture alive. That is so important. Your leaders and your seniors are your eyes and ears. For me, I rely on them quite heavily. I want to know if they have concerns, and they’re a big part of that communication. It’s a must.”

The Warriors have also been paced by a two sisters from Venezuela – Grace and Shakee Messina – who not only play together as the team’s top doubles pairing, but they are also the top-two singles players in the Merrimack lineup.

Shakee, a junior, was named the Merrimack Female Rookie of the Year in 2012 as well as the NE-10 All Rookie and Third-Team All Conference after going 13-6 as a rookie, including 12-5 as a freshman playing first singles. Grace is a freshman.

“They’re both solid players from what I’ve seen,” Arsenault said. “We’re still early, in that I’ve only really seen a few matches from the fall. I wanted to come in with a clean slate, and I have seen a lot of these players play before. But from what I have seen, they’re definitely very solid players who are good under pressure.”

The Warriors finished last season 8-12, but surged towards the end of the season, picking up four wins in their final five matches, just missing a spot in the NE-1o playoffs.

“I know in talking to the girls on the team last year, that run towards the end of the year did breed some confidence,” Arsenault said. “That’s important. The program has taken steps, all in the right direction, and I think this year might be the year we really see a big step forward. They’re focus is there, then want to win, and at the same time they’re creating that atmosphere that I think has made the men’s team so successful, it’s becoming a family with not only our current players, but with our alumni as well.”

Arsenault added, “On both sides, we’re still a young program. Not in the sense of our players, but our alumni. We’re a newer team, so much of our alumni base is younger people. That’s been a blessing, I think. We haven’t tapped into them for financial support yet, and that’s OK, but we have tapped into our alumni, on both teams, in an effort to really help our team with their experience. Nothing makes me happier than when I see former players showing up at a match.”

The women get back to work on March 15 at AIC in Springfield. The Warriors will return home on March 23 against New Haven at North Andover High School.