For three years running, the Emerson men’s tennis team has reached the Great Northeast Athletic Conference Championship. And for three years running, the Lions have fallen at the hands of Suffolk University.
When the two teams met Saturday at the Winchester Country Club, it was more than a typical rivalry matchup — it was a potential preview of the 2012 championship.
Emerson sported an almost completely different lineup from the 2011 contest, but still could not take the extra step needed to top the Rams, as the team fell 7-2. The last time the Lions beat Suffolk was during a regular season match in March 2009.
Mitchell Lance, who defeated Suffolk’s Drew Reilly at third singles, said the Rams are a top team quite simply because they have talent all around.
“They have good players and a good coach and they stick together,” Lance said. “They’re just a good team.”
Last year, Suffolk took home 10 total GNAC awards, with current senior Sean Cullen being named the Player of the Year.
With the loss, the Lions, who were ranked second overall in the conference preseason poll, have begun the season 0-3. First-year head coach Gavin Barton said that despite the result, he was pleased with the effort of his players.
“With each match, we’ve gotten a little better. We’ve taken a little bit to get going, but I’m happy with how they competed,” he said in a phone interview.
Barton added that his team is still experimenting with doubles pairings and dealing with injuries. Should Emerson find themselves facing the Rams again, he said he hopes that a healthy lineup and better momentum will give the Lions a better opportunity.
“We’re sort of playing a little bit of catchup, other teams are four, five, six games into the season,” Barton said. “Even though the scores don’t show it, there were a lot of tight games, so I think maybe if we play the big points a little tougher and get our full lineup, then we’ll have a good shot at it.”
Emerson will play three matches in three days, starting with fellow GNAC member Anna Maria today. Lance said that even though the team always has the championship in the back of its mind, it must still focus on the games at hand.
“We definitely want to take it one match at a time because you never know when opponents might creep up on you,” said Lance, who studies contemporary writing and production at Berklee College of Music.
Lance said he feels that if the team steps up its intensity, it may be able to finally take down the powerhouse Rams.
“I think that as a team we’ve got to practice harder, work harder, focus more, and get a little more serious when we do the off-court stuff,” he said. “Not that we don’t [already], but I think we need to get more in their faces and take it to them.”