This is the first match of the year between two nationally ranked NCAA III teams. Defending NCAA III Champions UC Santa Cruz enter the weekend ranked #1 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and #10 on the d3tennis rankings. Host Whitman currently sits at #26 in the ITA rankings and #25 on the d3tennis rankings.
Any discussion of UC Santa Cruz starts with doubles. Last year at the NCAA National tournament the Slugs dominated the tournament by sweeping the doubles in every match. With the 9 point format a sweep in doubles almost always guarantees victory. Even though the Slugs graduated the majority of their 2009 NCAA Championship team they return doubles stand out Marc Vartabedian and talented lefty Brian Pybas rejoins the team. If they play together they could be one of the top doubles combinations in the nation. However in Santa Cruz’s opening matches against UC Davis and Santa Clara, Vartabedian didn't play and Pybas played #1 doubles with Capaul. The Slugs showed they are playing good doubles early in the season almost taking the doubles point from UC Davis. With Vartabedian in the line-up the Slugs doubles improves considerably. In singles Santa Cruz has experience and proven competitors in Pybas, Vartabedian and Chiba. Pybas is talented enough to hang with anyone in DIII. Vartabedian has been a proven winner on each of the past three Santa Cruz teams. And Chiba is a tough grinder who has experience playing key matches. Santa Cruz picked up two three-star freshmen in Koenig and Halabi both of whom lost in three sets against UC Davis. Also playing during their opening weekend were Aaron Morrill and Sam Rogers. Obviously Coach Hansen is a master at player development and it will be interesting to see how his young players progress.
Whitman enters the year hoping to climb back into the top 20 after a rough 2009 campaign. Last year the Fighting Squirrels were 24-5 with a pair of 7-2 losses to Chicago and Depauw, a 9-0 loss to Santa Cruz at the National Tournament and two DI losses (Idaho and Montana). Outside of conference play their best win was a 6-3 victory over Carleton. However 2010 looks to be a better year for Whitman. They return the nucleus of their team and immediately get help at the #1 spot with the return of senior Matt Solomon. Solomon played his junior year at Boise State University and helped the Broncos reach the round of 16 at the NCAA’s. Another nice addition for Whitman is three-star freshman Jeffrey Tolman. In the ITA Northwest Regional tournament Tolman proved a force reaching the finals before falling to Solomon in three sets. Having Solomon and Tolman playing at the top two pushes last year's #1 player Moshevich down a few spots in the line-up. Last year Moshevich proved a dangerous player having a match point on Will Zhang of Chicago before losing in three sets. A lot of Whitman's success depends on the health of Moshevich. If he is healthy Whitman has a good 1, 2, 3 punch. Rounding out the top 4 for Whitman should be junior Chris Bailey. Bailey has been a consistent player for Whitman and should have a better year playing #3 or #4.
Whitman has a pretty deep roster and any number of players could play in the five and six slots. Last year Adriel Borshanksy had good success at #6 winning against Depauw, Chicago and Carleton. They also return their #4 Nadeem Kassam, #5 Jake Cappel and #6 Quin Miller from last year's NCAA team.
The Whitman vs Santa Cruz match has some interesting subplots. As freshman, Pybas and Solomon played indoors at University of Puget Sound with Pybas winning 6-1, 6-4. How will Pybas respond to being out of competition for a year and how will Solomon play after a semester of DI tennis? Two years ago at Whitman, Chiba defeated Bailey 4-6, 6-4, 10-3. They could be headed for a rematch over the weekend. Also the Santa Cruz matches in Walla Walla (this will be their fifth time at Whitman in the past 10 years) are typically loud, rowdy affairs in front of large crowds. With seven seniors on their roster Whitman should have another large crowd pulling for them. Additionally Santa Cruz faces a pretty demanding schedule while in Walla Walla: Friday evening they play Lewis Clark State College (#20 NAIA), Saturday morning they take on DI University Idaho and later that night they play Whitman. How will the outdoor team fare indoors? And how will playing indoors prepare Santa Cruz for the upcoming National Indoors?
Live scoring for the match can be found at whitmantennis.blogspot.com. The match is set for Saturday at 9PM ET/6PM PT