To date, I think this is the most important three day stretch of matches this season. Indoors has blockbuster matches, but this weekend has blockbuster matches as well as seasons on the line. There are 4 automatic bids to the tournament from major conferences on the line as well as two huge NESCAC clashes. We are also going to have two matches take place between top 7 teams. This is going to be a great weekend so let's take a look at the action.
I've had this match circled on my calendar since the beginning of the season and it's finally here. The CAC final between Salisbury and Mary Washington. Mary Wash holds a streak of 10 consecutive conference titles but this is probably the closest these two teams have ever been in both ability and ranking. The Eagles have had a terrible year but the one bright spot for them was a 7-2 win 3 weeks ago against Salisbury which knocked the Sea Gulls out of the top 20. Mary Washington is hosting this match but I'm sure both teams will be ready to play. After looking at the results from the last match, Salisbury knows where they need to improve. If Mary Wash can get ahead in doubles, I think they can cruise to victory. If Salisbury is up, I see this match coming down to the wire because another singles sweep by the Eagles is very unlikely. It's simple for both teams. Win and you go to the tournament or lose and your season is over. Live stats for the match will be at http://www.umweagles.com/sports/2010/4/23/MTEN_0423103939.aspx
Next on our list is a match taking place only a few hours away in Lexington, VA and it's a very similar situation. The season of both teams is on the line. Washington & Lee had a streak of 13 consecutive ODAC finals broken last year by their opponent, Hampden-Sydney. HSC is a pretty average team, but when they play W&L they become a much better team simply because of the rivalry. Whenever HSC plays a top 25 team they get trounced, but they always come to play against W&L and that's why this match will be great. Both teams have a natural dislike for the other and all of their matches come down to the wire. HSC should have 3 wins but they need to find those other 2 from the bottom of their singles lineup. I think W&L will manage to pull it out but this will be close as always.
Two NESCAC matches that I've had my eye on will be taking place this weekend. Home court traditionally helps a lot in NESCAC and both underdogs have the home court this weekend. On Saturday, #12 Williams looks to get their first quality win of the season against #13 Bowdoin. Bowdoin got crushed by Midd last weekend so they will be looking to rebound. This is close to do-or-die time for the Ephs as they need to start producing if they want to make the NCAA Tournament this year. Not making the tournament is unheard of for Williams tennis and unacceptable for a program filled with prized recruits. Bowdoin stands at 13 in the country and they've been doing good work all season without their star player and defending NCAA doubles finalist Oscar Pena. I think a win on Saturday would lock up the #5 spot in Pool C for Bowdoin. They would also avoid a 4-5 match in the first round of the NESCAC tournament. The second match takes place on Sunday with #8 Amherst traveling to take on Trinity (CT). Much like Williams, Trinity is in desperate need of a win and they will need to play their best tennis if they want to beat the Jeffs. Amherst is fresh off a 7-2 rout of Williams and Trinity hasn't done anything special this year. I think Trinity will come close but the Jeffs will be a little too deep. I'm going with the traditional powerhouses in both of these and taking Williams and Amherst to win.
In Arkansas, we have the SCAC tournament taking place and everyone has their eye on the potential final between #14 Trinity (TX) and #16 DePauw. Before we get to the final, DePauw will have to get past a tough Rhodes team, who's a real sleeper this year. I think Rhodes will challenge them, but DePauw should come out victorious. They have to be fresh for the biggest match of their season on Sunday so an extended match against Rhodes is not what they want. Despite some losses, I've been big on Trinity all season and I still am. This is a good and complete team. The thing that worries me about Trinity is that they haven't really been tested in over a month. Rhodes is a good team and a good win, but they aren't the quality of DePauw. On the other hand, DePauw is pretty fresh off the GLCA tournament where they battled Kenyon and Kalamazoo. I would expect DePauw to be more in form but I don't know if this is enough to trump Trinity's advantage in talent. Trinity is desperate to take back the conference title after DePauw has won it 3 consecutive years and I predict that Trinity will do just that this weekend.
The biggest event of the weekend will be the UAA tournament taking place in Pittsburgh. One can make an argument that the UAA is the strongest conference in the country this year with 3 teams in the top 7 in the country this year and a 4th at #15. The first semifinal on Saturday should have #2 Wash U playing against #15 Chicago. The Maroons gave Wash U all they could handle in an early season match but came up just short of what would have been the biggest win in the history of their program. Chicago has another chance to pull the upset but they won't have the element of surprise this time. The Bears have been playing well lately and Chicago hasn't seen any tough opponents in a while. I think Wash U should win in a convincing 8-1 or 7-2 victory. The other semifinal has #3 Emory taking on host and #7 Carnegie Mellon. CMU has been a pleasant surprise this year and many don't believe Emory is deserving of their #3 ranking. CMU matches up fairly well against the Eagles since depth is their strength and the Eagles weakness. I think CMU has the potential to take 3 of the singles, but that would mean they need to come up with 2 big wins in doubles. My guess is that Emory will win a close 6-3, but if CMU can jump on top in doubles this could get interesting. I'll have finals and 3-4 predictions on Saturday after the matches are set.