Antonio Ramirez knew he would be busy this semester when he overloaded on courses and joined a campus organization for his senior year. Add a fall tennis season, and his life has become almost hectic.
“It’s kind of complicated because right now I’m taking five classes, 20 credits, and I’m also in WEBN,” Ramirez said.
Emerson’s men’s tennis team is beginning its season in the fall for the first time. Like most college programs, the Lions are playing a handful of matches now and in the coming weeks. They will then break for the winter months before continuing with the crux of the season, including NEWMAC competition, in the spring.
The change was orchestrated by new head coach Aaron Bergeron, who, upon his hiring in July, set out to take full advantage of college tennis rules.
The program before Bergeron took over played a strictly spring schedule comprised of about a dozen matches. The NCAA, however, allows up to 20 which can be played in the fall and spring.
“As soon as I came in, I wanted to make sure we maximized our matches this year,” Bergeron said. “When I played in college, we always had a fall season. Everywhere I’ve coached we’ve always tried to continue that as well. [It] keeps a player sharper throughout the whole year.”
Bergeron set up four road matches for this September and October, which occur on Saturdays and one Sunday. Emerson does not yet have home courts. It is nonconference competition, but it will count toward the overall record for the regular season that ends in late April.
In addition to the contests, the Lions are also practicing three times a week at a facility in Winchester, 10 miles north of campus.
Not long before the semester began, Ramirez and his teammates received news of the commitment they were facing.
“He’s sent us an email that we were going to play some matches in the fall, and also practice,” said Ramirez, the number two singles and number one doubles player. “But I didn’t fully realize it until I got here.”
The idea behind the fall season, Bergeron said, is to grow Emerson tennis into a traditional college program, something it could not have been further from a short time ago.
“I feel like it helps the team culture,” Bergeron said. “Coach Munsey did a great job when he came in and turned the program around, but in the past it was almost like a club sport, and I want to change that. I want kids to realize they’re on a varsity team and there’s expectations and responsibilities as a teammate, and we’re all in this together.”
That expectation and responsibility wavered in Bergeron’s first match as head coach, the season opener, on Sept. 16 against Regis College. In the 6-3 loss, the Lions forfeited their third singles and sixth doubles matches due to lack of players.
A minimum of six players are needed for a full match. Of the seven on the Emerson roster, two did not play. Sophomore Brock Higley was at callbacks for plays, and senior Andrew Cooper is gone for the entire fall because of a busy academic schedule.
“We do have kids that are extremely involved in other things at school. The understanding is that academics come first, followed by tennis,” Bergeron said. “We just don’t have enough guys on the roster right now. [That’s] the bottom line.”
In their second match on Oct. 1 versus Salem State, the Lions filled all nine spots with Higley in action. They lost 5-4.
Junior Dan Okin, the number one singles player and Ramirez’s partner at first doubles, said he has wanted to play in the fall since he started at Emerson. He said it is a great starting place for the rusty and inexperienced.
“For people that haven’t played during the summer, it’s difficult, but I think it’s better than waiting for the spring to play because these matches, in a sense, don’t matter as much, and it gives them time, especially the freshman, to get accustomed to the level and learn what college tennis is all about,” Okin said.
Despite the poor participation, Ramirez still sees the value of playing in autumn.
“If we start playing and competing in January, we’ll be awkward and there’ll be no chemistry at all,” Ramirez said. “The teams we can beat, they usually play in the fall. If we play in the fall, we will be absolutely be more ready for the most important matches that will be in the spring.”
The Lions play at Curry College on Saturday, then at Franklin Pierce the following weekend.