Monday, May 12, 2008

Thoughts on the quality of D3 tennis

To me, since the 2006 recruiting class came in (players who just finished sophomore year), the quality of D3 tennis has taken off. In the early part of the decade, you may see 5 or 6 top 300 juniors going to Division 3 each year. Now we have at least 25 if not more than that. If you don't have at least 2 players coming in who will impact your team it's like a bad recruiting class. D3 coaches are able to sell their schools, and for a lot of juniors, playing for a national championship is more attractive than being in the middle of your D1 conference.

Schools such as Gustavus, Kalamazoo, Trinity(TX) and UC Santa Cruz have the attitude that we will recruit juniors who weren't ranked as high and then develop them into national quality players. While this has worked, I don't think this method will continue to work with all of the talent coming into D3. You have schools like Amherst and Carnegie Mellon just barely cracking the top 15 and their teams are filled with 4 star recruits. Teams such as Emory and Bowdoin have incredible recruiting classes, and you can't compete with that if you are bringing in a couple of 2-stars and hoping to teach them good doubles. We saw a sneak preview of this with the fall of Kalamazoo this year and Gustavus seeming more vulnerable than ever. On the other hand, WashU has suddenly made themselves known on the national scene and we now have Chicago and Kenyon turning into national level programs. This was simply done by recruiting very good players. You cannot be in the top 20 anymore if your team isn't filled with D1 level players. Coaches really have work to do and they have to draw good players (transfers and recruits) to their schools if they want to compete.

However, there could be a bad side to this. D3 tennis used to be about competing hard and enjoying the sport. It's going to start becoming about winning as coaches get more competitive with better teams and compete for recruits. The motto used to be student first and athlete second, and while some schools still maintain that, I believe the emphasis on tennis is being pushed on the kids more and more and it may be bad for them. Very few current D3 players will have a career based on tennis. While the level may go up and that's great, the environment will become more like D1 with 2 a day practices and mandatory conditioning.

I'll discuss all of these issues and more when I publish an outlook for next season after the tournament is over. This will include a team by team analysis and pre-season rankings. Exciting day tomorrow and I hope everyone will have their eyes on Maine.