Men’s tennis starts strong, falters early in NEWMAC

by David Leicht / Beacon Correspondent • April 13, 2016

Though Emerson’s men’s tennis team has dropped four consecutive matches, it’s already exceeded expectations after starting the season 5-0, according to first-year head coach Daniel Munsey.

The Lions were undefeated until April 6, when they lost to Springfield College to open up New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference play.

Despite that loss, Munsey said two newcomers, freshman visual and media arts major Dan Okin and sophomore journalism major Antonio Ramirez, have buoyed the team’s other victories.

“Both guys are very talented and have a lot of tennis experience,” Munsey said. “They’ve been stellar in both their singles matches and as a doubles team.”

Okin, who is currently behind Ramirez in the number two singles spot, said that the pair’s success is due to the tremendous confidence they have in each other. 

“We both play to win, instead of playing not to lose,” Okin said.

Ramirez, who transferred to Emerson from Division I New Mexico State University for the 2015-16 school year, said that he never has to worry about how his teammate is playing.  

“Our chemistry is amazing,” Ramirez said. “We bond both on and off the court. I feel blessed.” 

Okin said that Ramirez, who sits in the number one singles spot, has done an incredible job of leading the team. Ramirez has already won NEWMAC Player of the Week twice. The tandem of Okin and Ramirez won the doubles pair of the week consecutively, too.

Okin said the newfound depth of the Lions squad contributed to their early success.

“In college tennis, winning a match as the one slot means just as much as winning a match at the six slot,” Okin said. “Antonio and I can only do so much.”

Okin said senior captain Nik Rhodes, who plays at number three, could have also easily been named player of the week, as he started with the same 10-0 record as Ramirez and Okin did, in singles and doubles combined.

Munsey said the hard work his players have put in all year is the biggest reason they’ve been able to accomplish the start they’ve had. 

“All seven guys have a great work ethic and have really bought into the concept of college tennis being a team sport,” Munsey said. “They’ve committed a lot of time and effort and we’ve found a way to win because of it.”

Ramirez and Okin both agreed that they’ve never been on a team as close as the Lions.

The doubles pair said they thought the season would go differently. 

“I expected us to be good, but not quite this good,” Okin said. “We’ve been able to accomplish so much in such a relatively short period of time.”

Ramirez said his opinion differed from that of his doubles partner at the start of the season.

“I knew we were going to perform well at the beginning of the year, so I wasn’t as surprised as my buddy,” Ramirez said. “It’s been real fun so far.”

Munsey said that although the team has been expecting to make the NEWMAC playoffs since the beginning of the season, his main focus is on creating an environment that values player development above all.

“In my first year as coach, I’m interested in what steps we are taking as a group in order to improve the rest of the way,” Munsey said. “Not only do I want to win this year, but I want us to create a culture that will lead to continued success throughout the next ten years.” 

Okin compared the tandem’s confidence to that of Kris Jenkins, the Villanova basketball player who made the buzzer-beating 3-pointer a few weeks ago to give his school one of the most memorable national championships in NCAA history.

“He was being interviewed after the game, after he hit the biggest shot of his life... He said that he always expects his shots to go in… I think we feel the same way,” Okin said. 

The Lions play at Babson College (4-6, 1-0) on April 13 at 4 p.m. in a conference matchup. The team is still looking for their first NEWMAC victory in program history.