Emerson’s teams are seemingly improving in the New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference with more playoff berths and the school’s first postseason win this winter. A few programs, however, are still looking for their first regular season conference victory—one is men’s tennis.
As the men’s tennis squad opened up their season this past Sunday with a 9-0 victory over Wheelock College, Emerson’s 0-12 record in two years in the NEWMAC, and 2-19 record overall, loomed over their heads. The preseason poll, which surveys every school’s head coach, placed the Lions in last.
Contending with competition like defending champion Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who reached the second round of the NCAA tournament last year and didn’t drop a set against Emerson, the Lions still have hope that they can pull out victories this season, and possibly earn a spot in the conference playoffs.
For starters, the athletic department hired tennis’ first full-time head coach, 31-year-old Daniel Munsey, after the team was led by three different skippers between 2013 and 2015.
Munsey said he has every intention of outlasting his recent predecessors. The coach said that the recent struggles of the men’s tennis team made him tentative about what he signed up for.
“When you don’t know what you’re getting into, and with the team not having a lot of success the past few years, you wonder what type of commitment there may be, you wonder what type of personalities are going to be on the team,” Munsey said. “As a coach that’s your biggest concern, and your biggest hope is that you’re going to have guys who want to work.”
According to Munsey, that’s exactly what he has. He said he took the reins already having the commitment he was looking for from his players.
“We didn’t have to go around campus and beg people to play so that we had enough guys,” Munsey said. “The guys that we have on the team all have experience, all want to be here, and want this program to do well.”
While opponents like MIT and Babson College don rosters of at least 14, the Lions have just under half that amount—eight. Eight athletes to fulfill six singles and three doubles spots per match. Munsey said the smaller numbers give him an advantage.
“We, as coaches, can give a lot more attention to the players that we have,” Munsey said. “The smaller number could benefit us and give us more reps and court time.”
Before joining the NEWMAC, the Lions boasted winning records and top-of-the-conference finishes. In 2013, their last year in the Great Northeast Athletic Conference, they went 10-2 overall with a 5-0 conference record, and reached the GNAC North championship before falling to Suffolk University.
One member, a freshman at the time, has made his way from sixth singles to number one over his collegiate career. He has had to transition from the GNAC to the NEWMAC, and is the only senior on the 2016 roster—senior captain Nik Rhodes.
After this season, Rhodes, who spent last season at number one singles and number one doubles with then-senior Matt Jenkins, will have played under a different coach in all four years at Emerson. Although he will have Munsey in command for just the final 12 games of his career, Rhodes said the full-time gig has inspired his teammates to be full-time players.
“With Coach Munsey coming in, there’s a higher expectation and it’s awesome to see that everyone on the team is on board with that,” Rhodes, a visual and media arts major, said. “More is asked of us, but I think people are willing to give that.”
Rhodes is one of five returning members for 2016. Others include juniors Samir Beria and Joshua Freud. New to the Lions this season are two freshmen, Mark Crawford and Dan Okin, and a sophomore, Antonio Ramirez.
Ramirez spent his first season with the Division I New Mexico State University, who won its conference tournament before falling to top-seeded University of Oklahoma.
“We’re definitely going to add a new level to the team which will help some players move down in the lineup,” Okin, a visual and media major, said of he and Ramirez. “If you can have players winning at any spot in the lineup, it’s just as important.”
Rhodes said he believes they have a chance to make the postseason, not only because of their own talent, but the lack of talent of some of their competition.
“A lot of teams are refueling—like Clark [University], [United States] Coast Guard [Academy], and Springfield [College] all lost a lot of guys, so the middle of the conference is looking like a good matchup for us,” Rhodes said. “MIT and Babson are the cream of the crop, but in tennis, if you have a couple good days, you can keep it rolling, so we do have the ability to assert ourselves into the playoffs.”
With that said, nothing will come easy, according to Munsey.
“There are seven teams in the NEWMAC, and all six of them are pretty elite level,” Munsey said. “It’s going to be a battle for us, every match.”
The philosophy for the Lions is to stay committed, according to Munsey, who isn’t making any predictions for the season, but is working to ultimately further advance Emerson men’s tennis.
“We want to build the foundation of our program, we want to improve, and we want to compete and fight for every single match, every single game, every single point,” Munsey said. “Whether that translates into wins, time will tell.”
Emerson (1-0, 0-0) will take on Norwich University (1-3, 0-0) Friday at the Lions’ home court at the Winchester Indoor Tennis Center, beginning at 3:30 p.m.