PAWTUCKET, R.I. - Entering the 2009 season, the UMass Dartmouth men’s tennis team was coming off of four straight losing seasons. By the end of the year, they had become a standout squad in the Little East Conference, finishing the year 13-2, and winning their first ever match in the NCAA national tournament.
The Corsairs’ men’s tennis program had been a proven winner in the past. Under former head coaches Warren Preti and Chick Renfrew, the team won seven straight Little East Conference championships from 1996-2002. Yet despite their winning ways, they were not participants in the NCAA championship matches following their conference championship victories.
The 2009 squad was not heavily loaded on stars from the previous season. Their sole award winner from the 2008 season was Little East number six singles honoree Alex Samoiloff, who returned along with four other seniors. The team was largely made up of young players, as half of the teams twenty members were entering their freshman or sophomore seasons in 2009.
The team started off with a 3-1 record, their only loss coming at the hands of eventual regular season conference champion Salem State. The Corsairs then rattled off ten straight match victories, until their season ending defeat against Williams in the second round of the NCAA tournament. This included a Little East Conference championship match victory at number one-seeded Salem State, avenging their regular season loss to the Vikings with a 5-2 match victory, clinching their first ever NCAA tournament appearance for the program.
In their first round matchup against Neumann in the national tournament, the Corsairs came out hot. They defeated the Knights 2-1 in doubles matches, with Sophomore Mason Viau and senior Christopher Forster coming from behind to take their doubles match 8-6. The freshmen pair of Troy Pandolfi and Karsten Rathlev took their number one doubles match by an 8-3 margin. Carrying their slim advantage into the singles matches, Viau and Rathlev carried the squad with a pair of victories in their matches, with Forster clinching the victory in his match to give the Corsairs a 5-2 advantage for their first NCAA tournament victory.
The members of the 2009 team were honored with many individual accolades as well. Viau and Pandolfi were honored with the top number one and two singles spots in the conference respectively, With the Viau and Forster pairing claiming the number one doubles spot as well. Viau also was awarded with the LEC Player of the Year award, and Pandolfi garnered LEC Rookie of the Year recognition. Head coach Tom Mendell was not without merit, as he was given the nod as the 2009 Little East Coach of the Year.
The 2009 team begin a turnaround for the UMass Dartmouth men’s tennis program. They have qualified for the LEC tournament every year since the 2009 season, with the team winning the championship in the 2011 and 2012 seasons. They returned to the NCAA tournament following each of those years, but fell in the first round on both occasions. The 2011 squad would finish 11-1 overall, which included an undefeated regular season mark. Mendell would continue to coach the program through the 2014 season before handing over the reins to former player and current head coach Karsten Rathlev.
The historic competitive success the LEC has achieved throughout the 30 years, beginning as a basketball only conference in 1986 and expanding into today's 19-Championship Sport Conference, will continue to make academic and athletic strides as the LEC continues to be the premier Division III conference of the New England region.
The Little East Conference was formed in 1986 when six public institutions gathered to create a single sport athletic conference and has expanded into what is now New England's premier athletic conference for public institutions in NCAA Division III. The LEC features 19 Championship Sports and sponsors quality competition in every season for our student athletes while following the Division III mission of passion, responsibility, sportsmanship and citizenship.