Saturday, February 6, 2010

Season Preview #26: UC Santa Cruz

General Team Discussion - The defending national champions and overall best program in D3 loses their top 5 starters to graduation and fields a very young team in 2010. Even in a down year, Cruz is still a contender for a national title. They have a more rigorous training program than anyone else in the country and they also have one of the best coaches in the country to go with it. To put it simply, the Slugs just know how to win. 2010 is the definition of a rebuilding year for Cruz and if the Slugs can manage to sneak into the Final 4 this year, I will be thoroughly impressed. They have two players on their current team who have played in any sort of significant match. They get lucky with the return of Brian Pybas after he took a year off. Vartabedian is their leader and the lone returning starter from the 2009 team. The truth is I'm not really sure what to expect from the Slugs. I underestimate them every year and they always seem to be around at the end of NCAAs. If Hansen can win a national title with this team, then he is a miracle worker. I think Cruz will spend most of the season between 6 and 10 in the country and they will battle it out with CMS for a spot in the Elite 8.

Where They'll Win - I hate to put pressure on individuals, but the success of this team depends upon 2 players. Brian Pybas and Marc Vartabedian will be their top 2 singles players and also combine to form one of the best doubles teams in the country. If Santa Cruz isn't winning 2 of the 3 points in which these two are involved, I think they have a very slim chance of winning. Pybas is a probable NCAA qualifier and one of the country's best players. Vartabedian has quite a jump moving from 6 to 2 in one year but he needs to produce wins. These two have to take Cruz on their shoulders or they simply don't have a chance against top 10 opponents.

Where They'll Lose - The majority of the Cruz team are really unknowns to the D3 community. Chiba has been around a little bit but he still doesn't have a lot of experience. They start at least one freshman, probably two and Hansen needs to do a lot of work with these guys. The success of the bottom half of the Slugs lineup is just too unpredictable right now. I'm sure they will come out as stronger players as the Spring progresses but at the same time this doesn't mean they can hang with top 5 opponents who are much more experienced.

Schedule Analysis - A pretty nice draw for Cruz at Indoors. They enter as the #1 seed and they will be tested by CMU and Kenyon if they get by their 1st round. They don't have another tough D3 match after Indoors until a month later when they play Middlebury, CMS and Redlands in a 5 day span. This is a true test of how good this team is. They will be outdoors in California and we will see if they improved since Indoors. The CMS and Redlands matches are important because they could determine who hosts the West Regional for NCAAs.