Monday, February 16, 2009 Pre-Season Rankings 2/16/09

1. Emory - On paper, definitely the best team in the country. The best 1-2 punch in the country along with an extremely deep lineup makes Emory a clear favorite to win Indoors and Nationals if they play to their potential. They have had issues with mental toughness in the past and this could hold them back. Their doubles were a bit inconsistent last year, but it looks like they now have an automatic win at 1 doubles which will surely help a lot. I really don't see anyone derailing this team except themselves. The question in my mind is how close can other teams get to them. If Emory gets down in doubles, they could be vulnerable, but if they win 2 of the doubles, there's really no use in even playing the singles because everyone knows the outcome of the match.

2. Wash U - The #1 team in the nation according to the ITA and the defending national champions have everyone gunning for them now. They are the #1 seeds going into Indoors and one of the favorites to win. The interesting thing is that they didn't lose any seniors from their national champion squad last year so this team will definitely be back in full force this year. Watts is one of the top players in the country and they are also very deep. If Wash U plays good doubles like they did at NCAAs last year, they are nearly impossible to beat. They have switched up their lineup a bit so far this season and I'm interested to see how they fair at Indoors against the nation's other top teams.

3. CMS - Probably the most talented team in the country besides Emory, CMS is very hot and cold. They seem to have everyone play very well or vice versa. If they can stay on track for the entire season and peak near the end, this is definitely a national championship contender. Their doubles was a little suspect last year and if they can manage to get 2 doubles wins against the other top 5 teams, they are tough all the way through singles. Erani should play in the top 3 and be one of the top freshmen in the country. This team should be very hungry to get to the Elite 8 this year because they are hosting it and they will be very tough to beat in front of a large crowd on their home courts.

4. UC Santa Cruz- Santa Cruz defines the term "powerhouse" in D3 tennis. No matter who is on their team, the Slugs are always competing for a national championship and this year certainly won't be an exception. The loss of Pybas hurts and Kamel has been out of the lineup for an unknown reason, but they have new players who are filling in well. This team plays very good doubles and fights hard for every point. They will have a great match against Kenyon in the first round of Indoors and whoever wins has a good shot at Wash U. They also play a tough schedule and one thing we know about Santa Cruz is they are mentally tough. They will need it if they have to play NCAA regionals at CMS again.

5. Middlebury - A team that was really overlooked last year in my opinion. They quietly won and made a Final 4 run with an inexperienced team. They are a very good team and solid everywhere. With Olson returning to take over #1, they are very tough in singles. This team is very vulnerable in doubles and they were swept last year on several occasions. They shouldn't count on winning 5 singles matches too many times this year. Midd also plays a very tough schedule so they will be ready to go come NCAAs. As of now, I would say that Midd is the favorite to win the NESCAC, but they had a tough loss in the finals last year at home. Another Final 4 contender and potential finalist.

6. Amherst - Very impressive fall results for this team going 3 for 3 against 3 good teams. The Kenyon upset let us know that this team is for real. Amherst is the deepest team in the country and with one of the best coaches in the country, Amherst also has top 3 potential this year. They will eventually lose in NESCAC play and they also have a very tough California swing, but I expect Amherst to be a fixture in the top 8 for the whole year. You can get this team in the bottom of doubles and the top of singles though so they are vulnerable. If they can fix those small flaws and Lerner can step up to win a lot at 1, Amherst will be very hard to beat and could be the favorite for NESCAC.

7. Kenyon - A team who has very high expectations for this upcoming year. Piskacek has not quite met expectations but he will still be dominant in the top of the lineup. This is a team that can challenge Emory and on a good day, they really can blowout anyone in the country. If they can get their doubles in order and manage to take 2 of 3 in most matches, they could be a top 3 team. They should probably be ranked higher than 7, but the Amherst loss sets them back a little bit. They play a brutal spring schedule and they can easily make up for it. How they respond against Santa Cruz this weekend will tell us a lot about this team. This is a Final 4 contender and national championship dark horse.

8. Williams - They lost some valuable players to graduation last year but they have replaced them with some new outstanding freshmen. They apparently have a new #1 from England who should be a top 20 player in the country. This coupled with their depth will make Williams a very tough out in singles competition. Their weakness last year was doubles and this got them in trouble against CMS at NCAAs. If they can manage to get even 1 doubles point against the rest of the top 10, they have put themselves in a position to win the match. They play a very tough schedule and being in NESCAC certainly doesn't hurt their players in terms of match toughness. Another likely Elite 8 team.

9. Mary Washington - One of the most experienced teams in the country, starting seniors at 1, 2 and 3. They boast one of the nation's top doubles teams and this team has a huge amount of heart to go with their ability. Mary Washington is very solid all the way through the lineup and anyone who wants to beat them will need to get up on them in doubles and then be on the singles court for hours before earning a victory. While they might not have the talent of a top 8 team, they certainly are a very tough out in any situation. They will definitely be tested at Indoors and I'll be interested to see how their freshmen respond. This team has final 4 potential but I'd expect another Elite 8 finish for them.

10. Gustavus Adolphus - The real story for this team is the fact that Coach Steve Wilkinson will be entering his last year as head coach. The Gusties will really need some magic this year if they want to make it a memorable one from Wilk. They will need a better effort from the bottom their singles lineup this year. Kauss has turned into a top player in the nation and if he continues to be dominant, this is a dangerous team. No one questions their doubles depth, and if they can consistenly win at 2 and 3 doubles against top teams, they are tough to beat. They need to win Indoors to get confidence and if they do the sky is the limit for this team with a different kind of motivation this year.

11. Bowdoin - This team seems to be a mystery every year. They are very up and down, as shown by last year and they seem to always have new freshmen who are stepping up into the starting lineup. I have them at 11 right now but they certainly have top 10 talent with two new freshman who should both be in the top 4. Their doubles is streaky as well and it is pretty inevitable playing in NESCAC that they will lose a few matches. Their out of conference results will really determine their eventual ranking. They should get an At-Large spot for NCAAs and they are dangerous once they're there.

12. Johns Hopkins - Despite the fact that they lost 2 seniors and finished last year at #19, I really like this team. They were beaten soundly by Amherst, but it's very clear that the talent is there. Maldow and Wang have turned into a great 1-2 punch as well as a good 1 doubles team. They are solid through the middle of the lineup, but what worries me is the bottom in singles and doubles. They only play two competitive matches this season against CMU and Mary Wash and they will definitely have to win both to prove themselves worthy of a top 15 ranking. They will win their conference though.

13. Redlands - A completely new look for this team with two graduating seniors and a transfer. They have Liebman moved back to 4 and I know this is a team that doesn't switch their lineup often. We know they are deep like every other year, but the question is if their top guys can step up and win against good teams. Their doubles will make or break them this year. Good doubles could put them as high as 8 or 9 and bad doubles could drop them from the top 15. They will finish 2nd in the conference and make NCAAs through the At-Large pool where they'll probably bow out to CMS or Santa Cruz.

14. Carnegie Mellon - A very talented team with a lot of upside who hasn't really broken out of their shell yet. They struggled with doubles last season and this is what kept them out of the top 12. They have a very deep lineup and if their top three or four can consistently win they can be dangerous. They will most likely finish 3rd in the UAA because they are overmatched against the top 2, but they could pull an upset against a team ranked 5-12. Another contender in the NCAA At-large pool and I would expect them to steal one of the last two spots.

15. Trinity (CT) - They most likely will be the better of the Trinity's this year for the first time in a while. This is another sleeper team that plays well in big matches. They lost two very important seniors, but got a good recruit who should play near the top of their lineup. I would say that they are overmatched against the top 4 teams in the NESCAC, but they certainly made a believer out of everyone last year. They will be competing in the At-large pool for NCAAs and I think that they will most likely be clawing for that 7th spot.

16. Trinity (TX) - If anyone is in a true rebuilding year, it's definitely the Tigers. They lost 4 excellent players last year and start several underclassmen. On the flip side, Coach Newman is outstanding at developing his players, especially in doubles. With the exception of Indoors, they play a very easy schedule, only playing Tyler. This could leave them as a question mark in the rankings. They should win the SCAC Championship against DePauw. More realistically, I would expect them to finish around 15 and they probably won't see the top 12 after the first rankings.

17. UT-Tyler - A very talented team who made themselves known on the national scene last year. They have some new players this year and really didn't lose anyone too important. They have an underrated 1-2 punch in Sajovich and Phillips that could give problems to some higher ranked teams. Tyler fights really hard and they are going to need this throughout their very difficult schedule. I would not be surprised if they can upset Trinity(TX) this year. They will win their conference again and they are definitely a team that you don't want to play in NCAAs.

18. DePauw - This is another team in a sort of rebuilding mode after their Elite 8 performance two years ago. They had a disappointing year last year and just snuck into NCAAs, and the one-time powerhouse seems to be slowly slipping. Another upset of Trinity (TX) could make their season, because I think they will have a very tough time cracking the top 15. They have a solid middle of the lineup, but they will almost always get beaten near the top by good teams. DePauw needs to get some good recruits to improve.

19. Bates - Bates returns one of the top doubles teams in the country along with one of the best singles players in the Northeast. They have a good freshman who should play near the top of the lineup and give fits to more experienced NESCAC players. They could make some noise in the At-Large pool for NCAAs, but they aren't quite there yet because I think they are still lacking depth. They will probably finish 6th in NESCAC and despite having less talent than teams ranked directly below them such as Chicago, Bates is very consistent and this could get them in the top 20.

20. Washington & Lee - One of the youngest teams in the country is really in rebuilding mode. They have some outstanding freshmen and a bright future, but they don't have the experience to match their results from the last few years. Another conference championship is almost guaranteed and they are a threat in NCAAs no matter who they play. They don't have strong players at the top, but this is a deep team who can definitely challenge the top 10 teams. They will have a good season and finish right around 20 and most likely bow out to a more talented team in NCAAs.

21. Denison - A team that was really under the radar last season opened some eyes already this season by beating a tough Chicago team. Denison is always a very good team but they can't seem to take that next step into the top 15. They should stay ranked most of the season because they play a pretty easy schedule with the exception of Kenyon. I don't expect Denison to cause any fireworks on the national scene but I'm sure they will quietly have another good season and finish somewhere between 20 and 25 in the country.

22. Chicago - This team has dug themselves into a hole already with a loss to Denison and a spanking by Kenyon. We thought Chicago had the potential to be a top 15 team, but these early season results don't suggest that. The season is only a few weeks old and already Chicago has a lot of work to do if they want an NCAA bid from the At-Large pool. A finish outside of the top 20 should be extremely disappointing for this team given the amount of talent they have. Chicago needs to regroup and go back to the drawing board.

23. Carleton - This could potentially be the year where Carleton beats Gustavus and there is a changing of the guard in the MIAC. Gustavus travels to Carleton for their regular season matchup and a win for Carleton could have them in the At-Large NCAA mix. They have some good recruits over the past few years and they have now turned into a Top 25 caliber team. I don't expect them to beat Gustavus at GAC, but they certainly have the potential to crack the top 20. This is a good team and they also have a tough Spring Break in Hilton Head which will test them.

24. Pomona-Pitzer - I wasn't sure how this team would be, but I think they made an early season statement giving Redlands a very hard time. Anyone who can win 3 singles matches against a top 15 team deserves to be ranked. They play one of the toughest schedules in the country and this can only help a fairly young team. While they may finish under .500 and most likely 3rd or 4th in their conference, this is a good, top-heavy team who can give some top 10 teams a run for their money on a good day.

25. Whitman - The loss of the Solomon brothers really hurts Whitman, and with Matt Solomon leading this team, they had a chance to be top 20. However, Whitman prides themselves on depth and despite the fact they don't have superstars, they still have enough good players to beat most teams in the country. They play very good doubles and should win their conference giving them an NCAA bid. I'd expect them to hover between 20 and 25 in the rankings for most of the year. A tough Hilton Head stretch for them with 3 ranked teams in under a week.

Others: Kalamazoo, Skidmore, Cal Lutheran, Salisbury, Vassar, Luther, Christopher Newport, NYU, Haverford, MIT