Saturday, January 9, 2010

Season Preview #5: Middlebury

General Team Discussion - A fixture in the top 5 for the past several years, 2010 looks no different for Middlebury. I currently have them at #2 in my power rankings and they have as good a chance as anyone to win a national title. This is probably their best team since the 2007 team that finished 4th. They traditionally have a bit of trouble during their early season California swing transitioning from indoors to outdoors but by the time NESCAC play begins, Midd is always ready to go. This is a very complete team however they typically struggle in doubles. If they can find their range in doubles, I would be tempted to call them the favorite for nationals. The NESCAC tournament is being hosted by Amherst so Midd is at a disadvantage there, but they will almost definitely be hosting an NCAA Regional. I think Midd's quest for a national title simply comes down to how well they play during the 3 days of the Elite 8 because they have the tools to win it all. I consider them about even with Amherst, Emory and Wash U and who wins among those teams is very unpredictable.

Where They'll Win - The strongest top 4 in the country. They have 4 players who can arguably play #1. Peters went from #4 singles last year to winning regionals this fall and probably will start the spring at #1. Olson is back a probable #2 and he was successful playing 1 last year. I think Thomson will step in at 3 and he has had great success the past few years in the #2 spot. And Andrew Lee who was #1 as a soph will probably be in the #4 spot and he is definitely one of the best 4's in the country if not the best. Midd probably has the best 2-3-4 punch in the country. Also, Lee/Thomson enter the spring as the #1 doubles team in the country and they had some very impressive wins in the fall. They should be dominant against anyone they play.

Where They'll Lose - The bottom of the lineup in singles and doubles is a question mark. I don't think their 5 and 6 are set in stone yet and they often struggled at these spots last year. Amherst and Williams are both very deep so Midd will need to have solid play at 5 and 6 to keep up. I think an Olson/Peters combo is likely at #2, but these are both singles players who need to improve their doubles game. This team is still unpredictable. Farah played #1 doubles last year so he could potentially see some action at the 2 or 3 spot. Midd is a bit shaky at 3 or 4 spots so they have some holes to patch.

Schedule Analysis - Unlike other years, I expect them to take care of business this year in California. They are clearly better than the big 3 in the West, so I like them to finish the trip undefeated. Williams on the road during the regular season is a danger match. They have Amherst at home during the regular season as well, the day before they play Williams. Midd often has injury issues, so if they can stay healthy throughout the season that could be a 2-0 weekend for them. NESCAC tournament at Amherst is always big and if they can go undefeated in regular season play, they could avoid Williams in the semis. I think they'll enter NCAAs in the top 5 in the country.