setting the stage
With the Warriors returning to campus for the start of their championship season, Alex Loyer was introduced as Interim Head Coach for the 2017 season. Loyer arrived on campus after serving as an assistant on the staff at UMass Boston, his alma mater. In three seasons at UMass Boston, Loyer helped lead the Beacons to three Little East Championship appearances and twice saw the squad reach the league championship match.
The Warriors returned the majority of their lineup from the 2016 unit that reached the NCAA Tournament for the ninth straight season. Seniors Nick Majewski (Brewster, Mass.) and Tayyab Sheikh (Longmeadow, Mass.) represented the veterans in the lineup, joined by upperclassmen in juniors Mikhail Belov (Krasnoarmeyskoy, Russia) and Frank Vega (Lima, Peru). Rounding out the top-six, sophomore Alex Slobin (Fairfield, Conn.) returned to the lineup for his second season, while freshman Alex Fedorov (Guilderland, N.Y.) aimed for a strong debut when the spring began.
FACING THE REGION'S BEST
As one of the region's top programs, the Warriors matched up against some of the toughest competition the East had to offer to start the season. Three of Merrimack's first four regional matches of the campaign came against eventual NCAA Tournament programs in NYIT, University of District Columbia and Post University.
The Warriors dropped a pair of close matches against UDC (5-4) and Post (5-4), but Mikhail Belov won three of four matches against ranked opponents at first singles to shine for the Warriors.
The Navy and Gold did open Northeast-10 Conference play during this stretch, winning a close tilt over Bentley University, 5-4, that proved to be vital as the push for the postseason and a return to the NCAA Tournament came around in April.
Finding the NE10 Groove
Once the bulk of its schedule turned to Northeast-10 Conference play, the Warriors started to play their best tennis of the season. Beginning on March 26 against Le Moyne, Merrimack won five of six NE10 matches including a 4-0 start to league play to establish themselves as one of the conference's best.
During this time, Fedorov broke through to have a superb freshman season. He won four consecutive NE10 Rookie of the Week awards to become the favorite for the conference's Rookie of the Year award. He started his league career by going a perfect 12-0, winning his first six doubles and singles matches.
Thank You Seniors
Merrimack played its final regular-season home match on April 12 against Southern New Hampshire, and honored its three graduating seniors before the match. James Hook (Lynnfield, Mass.) joined Sheikh and Majewski before the match began as honorees during the Senior Day ceremony. The trio combined for nearly 150 career victories during their time at Merrimack, which featured four NCAA Tournament appearances, three NE10 Finals and a NE10 Championship when Majewski and Sheikh were both sophomores.
Despite losing on Senior Day, the Navy and Gold went on to prevail in 8-1 fashion in its final two matches of the regular season at Assumption and at Saint Anselm to secure a 7-2 league record and lock up the second seed in the NE10 Championship.
As has become the norm for the men's tennis program, the Warriors saw a multitude of all-conference honors in 2016-17:
- Nick Majewski (SR): First Team (#3 Singles) // Second Team (#1 Doubles)
- Alex Fedorov (FR): Second Team (#4 Singles, #2 Doubles) // All-Rookie Team
- Frank Vega (JR): Second Team (#2 Singles, #2 Doubles)
- Mikhail Belov (JR): Second Team (#1 Doubles)
- Tayyab Sheikh (SR): Second Team (#6 Singles)
In addition to his on-court success, for the second straight season, Mikhail Belov earned a spot on the CoSIDA Academic All-District Men's At-Large Team, which includes representatives for a multitude of Division II sports including golf, ice hockey lacrosse, and swimming. Belov boasted a 3.85 grade point average as an electrical engineering major.
The Warriors reached their seventh NE10 Final in the last nine seasons with a 5-1 win against Assumption in the NE10 Semifinals. The Navy and Gold used a come-from-behind effort from Vega and Fedorov at second doubles to take a 2-1 lead into singles. Slobin and Fedorov then won at singles before Majewski clinched the match at the third flight to send the Navy and Gold on to the NE10 Final.
The Warriors faced top-seeded SNHU in the NE10 Final, looking for their second conference championship in three years. The top-seeded and undefeated Penmen dispatched the Warriors, however, 5-1 to claim the conference championship. Vega and Fedorov triumphed at second doubles to pick up Merrimack's lone point, and earned all-tournament team distinction for their efforts.
As the seventh seed out of the East Region, the Navy and Gold earned the program's 10th consecutive NCAA Tournament berth with a 10-9 overall record. Merrimack played all but two of the participants entering the tournament, one of which was Chestnut Hill - the Warriors' opening round opponent. The 10-straight trips marks the longest appearance active NCAA streak at Merrimack.
The Warriors met the Griffins of Chestnut Hill in the opening round in Philadelphia. Despite close doubles matches at the first and second flights, the hosts were able to take a 3-0 lead into singles and won the match from there, ending the Warriors' season in the opening round of the national tournament.