setting the stage
The Merrimack College women's tennis program entered the 2016 season with high expectations, led by senior captain and nationally ranked performer Grace Messina. The Warriors won 14 games last season and earned a berth in the Northeast-10 Championship for the third consecutive season, advancing to the conference semifinals.
Messina was named the NE10 Vern Cox Player of the Year for the third straight season and earned all-conference first-team nods at No. 1 singles and doubles. Sophomroe Mana Seifaei entered the year as the reining Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) East Region Rookie of the Year after an all-league campaign as a freshman. Merrimack was predicted to finish fourth in the conference in the NE10 Preseason Coaches' Poll.
early season success
The Warriors did not drop a game over their first two matches, and won seven of eight overall in the month of September to match the program's start in 2013-14, when the Navy and Gold went on to win the NE10 Championship.
The early slate included an upset of Adelphi - the defending NE10 Champions - on the road in Garden City, N.Y. The Warriors won two of three doubles matches before taking four of six at singles to clinch the match, including 2-0 efforts from Messina, sophomore Lauren Persson and freshman Mia Briggs. Six of Merrimack's seven wins came by five points or more, with three total shutouts.
Messina won NE10 Player of the Week twice in September, as she entered the season ranked among the top-50 singles players in the nation. Grace began the season on an eight-match singles winning streak while winning the first 12 matches of her doubles slate.
Messina and freshman teammate Mia Briggs were honored by the ECAC as the Corvias Women's Tennis Athlete and Rookie of the Month for September. Briggs won 14 of 18 matches in the first month of her collegiate career, posting a 7-2 mark at both singles and doubles. Briggs did not lose a game in three of her six singles matches, while winning 13 of the first 15 singles sets of her career.
ITA East Regionals
Grace Messina headlined a successful trip to ITA East Regionals for the women's program. She began the tournament as the second seed in the singles bracket, the highest seed ever for the member of the program. She won three matches without losing a set, including besting SNHU's Abla Chadli in the Round of 16 (6-1, 6-4) after Chadli defeated Messina in dual-match action.
Messina and Seifaei also made a historic doubles run, reaching the semifinals as well. The duo won three times on their way to the semis, including a 16-game thriller in the Round of 16 against a pairing from Queens College. As the fifth seed, the Warriors combination also upset the fourth seed en route to the final four.
ITA's also marked the season debut for junior Abbey Bryant and the collegiate debuts for sophomore Meredith Wedro and freshman Nelle Thornton. Wedro won a pair of qualifying singles matches at the beginning of the tournament to qualify for the main singles draw, as did junior Mackenzie Blair.
The month of October brought on the regular-season home finale, and the final home match for Messina, Merrimack's two-year captain and top player in program history.
Messina finished her career with a 72-13 overall singles record, and currently is the No. 4 singles player in the East Region, per the most recent ITA Regional Rankings. On the season, Messina lost just two matches and five sets overall on the year with 14 of her 15 singles wins coming in straight-sets
On the doubles side, Messina's record stood at 15-2 overall with only one league defeat while playing at the top flight during every match. Her overall doubles record stands at 67-20 entering this spring, bring the fourth-year star's career victory total to 139 wins.
The Warriors secured a berth in their fourth straight NE10 Championship with an 8-1 win at Saint Michael's in the regular-season finale. Merrimack qualified as the fifth seed in the conference, travelling to fourth-seeded Bentley in the NE10 Championship.
Merrimack took a 2-1 lead into singles play thanks to victories at first and second doubles from Messina/Seifaei and Blair/Dunn, respectively. It nearly was a 3-0 advantage, but Persson/Briggs dropped a 9-7 decision at the third flight.
Despite a two-set win at first singles from Messina, Bentley rallied to prevail in 5-3 fashion to advance to the conference semis. Qualifying as the sixth and final seed, Adelphi upset the top-three seeds in the NE10 to win the conference championship.
Messina, Seifaei, Persson and Briggs all earned all-conference nods for their performances this past fall. The tandem of Messina and Seifaei ranked on the first team at No. 1 doubles, marking the best combination in the NE10. The duo of Persson and Briggs landed on the second team at No. 3 doubles. Messina marked the lone Warrior on a singles all-league squad, earning second team honors at No. 1.
Merrimack's top-flight option from start to finish, Messina and Seifaei triumphed in all but one match in league play to finish with an 11-1 record. The duo won by a margin of at least four games in eight of their 12 contests. The combination of Persson and Briggs played together in all but one match in the regular season, winning nine times out of 11. At the third flight, the tandem pitched two shutouts and won by at least four games in eight of their nine victories.
Messina collected all-league doubles and singles honors for the fourth straight year, marking eight all-league nods for her career. Seifaei collected her second all-conference honor, and first in the doubles domain, while the recognition for Persson and Briggs marked their first all-league distinctions.