Thursday, June 3, 2010

2010 Recap and 2011 Preview

There wasn't a whole lot of mystery as to who would win the national title this year but I think Midd was extremely deserving starting 5 seniors at the nationals. Amherst obviously had a great run and Emory's streak of 8 consecutive Final 4's came to an end. 3 Western teams had surprisingly good seasons and don't forget Trinity (TX) who also had a great season. NCW and CMU also cracked the top 10 for the first time in school history and there's a good chance they will stay there for years to come.

I mentioned in a piece last year that I thought the high school graduating class of 2006, and now the college graduating class of 2010, changed D3 tennis for good. There were many high profile recruits entering D3 and now they are departing, but their teams have become stronger and all these teams have attracted more highly ranked juniors. Looking to 2011, most teams get hit with key graduations, but there's also a very impressive freshman class entering and I'm sure there will be transfers that I don't know about yet. Amherst has lost in the national title match 2 years in a row now, but from the looks of it they will just be sick next year. They return all 6 starters from their runner-up team and they also get one of the best recruits D3 has ever seen. Amherst looks to be a level above everyone else heading into next year but there's no such thing as a guaranteed win and that's why they play. I'm going to look at a season recap for each of my top 25 as well as a quick look at next year.

Washington & Lee - The Generals had a decent year, about what I would expect from them and their team seems to be maturing. They took back the conference title and made it to the Sweet 16 so I think they have to consider this season a success. They are still a very young team and I think they could have top 20 potential next year. Hayden White was probably playing a little over his head in the fall. I consider him a good 1, but not a great 1. Their doubles was streaky all season and they are traditionally strong here so it needs to be fixed for next season. They just don't have the talent to hang with the big boys in the Atlantic South right now and I expect that to continue for several years. The Generals should be somewhere between 20 and 25 next season.

Salisbury - The Gulls had a good season getting up as high as #14 in the country with wins against Kalamazoo and Washington & Lee, but they were unable to defeat their nemesis Mary Washington as they went 0-2 against the Eagles this season. This was probably about as strong as Salisbury gets and about as weak as Mary Wash gets yet the Eagles were able to win the conference for the 11th consecutive year. The Gulls get crushed with graduations and they bring in 1 player who's probably a potential starter. Salisbury has good player development but I see them struggling to be in the top 30 next year. They probably won't make the tournament unless the NCAA selection is changed as they get significantly weaker and Mary Wash gets stronger.

Mary Washington - One of the worst seasons in program history for these guys as they just haven't been themselves the past two years. A 2nd consecutive round of 32 loss in NCAAs to a team ranked below them and they will finish outside the top 20 for the first time in many years. For Mary Wash standards this was a bad year, but if you look at the inexperience on this team it's not a terrible year. The Eagles have great player development and they return 5 of 6 starters. They bring in their typical class of 2 3-star recruits and I would expect at least one of them to make an impact on the starting lineup next year. I'd be very surprised if UMW doesn't break into the top 20 next year but I think they have a couple years to go before they see the top 15 again. This team has a bright future and they are a team to watch next year.

UT-Tyler - The Patriots had a very young team this year and they lost their top 2 from a team that finished just outside the top 20 in 2009. I didn't expect a lot from Tyler this year and in the regular season they didn't really produce. I don't think they beat a ranked team yet they still managed to win their conference for the 3rd year in a row and qualify for the tournament. The ASC is no pushover and the Patriots are establishing a dynasty. This was a young team but you knew they had potential and it showed as they beat Mary Washington 5-3 in NCAAs even after trailing 2-1 heading into singles. This was the only ranked team they beat during the season but it was the biggest match of the season. If you told Tyler they would make the Sweet 16 before the season began I think they would have taken that result. They should be similar next year as they lose their top player but they are also fairly deep. A good end to the season for Tyler and expect similar results next year.

Pomona-Pitzer - The Hens started pretty well beating Mary Washington but they just can't get over that hump and into the elite teams in the country. With the current selection process the Hens have almost no chance of making the tournament given the top teams in their conference and their inability to recruit really top players due to the college's stringent admission standards for athletes. P-P is still a tough team who can knock off a top 15 opponent on the right day. They have established themselves as a consistent top 30 team in D3 and I expect them to crack the top 20 next year. The thing that they need to focus on most is competing with Redlands and CLU. This is a tall task but it's not impossible. Pomona-Pitzer has a great coach and some strong players at the top of the lineup. They add a solid 3-star recruit and they should have a very respectable team next year that should be in the 17-25 range.

Chicago - These perennial underachievers kept underachieving in 2010. This is clearly a top 15 roster and although they cracked the top 15 for a portion of the season, they are lucky to end the season inside the top 20. They actually had a good beginning to the season with a close 5-4 loss against Wash U and then a 7-2 win against a strong DePauw team. They didn't have Zhang for their opening round conference match and this cost them as they lost to Brandeis to all but end their season. They lose some good senior leadership but they bring in a very strong class consisting of 3 4-stars and 2 foreign players. Recruiting hasn't been the problem for Chicago but rather developing the players they get. It seems as though a lot of their guys get worse or quit the team. Chicago will have what amounts to a top 10 quality roster next year, it's just a matter of them putting it together for a whole season. I'd be surprised if they aren't top 15 next year and I think they can make a run at the top 10 as well if their recruits don't succumb to their outrageous academic workload.

Whitman - This is the definition of a solid D3 program. These guys are often overlooked but they are top 25 every year and almost always win their conference. This is a perennial D3 power that attracts second-level recruits and turns them into very strong players. They are very consistent but they are going to have a hard time breaking into that next level of teams will all the great teams in D3 now. They lose arguably their best player in school history in Matt Solomon along with a few other starters, but they get a top 200 recruit and one of the best to ever attend Whitman. They should be somewhat similar to this year because I know they are very deep. They are a shoe-in for the top 25 in 2011 and I wouldn't be surprised if this team gives some higher ranked teams trouble. Again, this is a very solid program one that should hover between 20 and 25 for most of the 2011 season.

Kalamazoo - I think Coach Riley did a great job with this team this year. They definitely surpassed my expectations moving up to #13 in the country and even giving Wash U a scare in the Sweet 16. What Kalamazoo wasn't able to do was put a complete season together. They had a bad stretch in the middle and as I said in the pre-season preview, the next few years may determine the future of this program. They lose 3 of their top 4 and it seems they only have 1 recruit coming in. If this is the case, I don't see them as a top 30 team next year. I find it hard to believe that a team like this would fall off the map in D3 tennis, but it did happen to Gustavus this year so it can happen to anyone. Without a great academic draw, recruiting is tough for Kzoo, but extremely important for the next few years. If they can fill those big shoes left by Boyd, Jadun and Brown we can see them in the top 25 next year but as of now it looks like they may have their worst year in quite some time.

Redlands - The Bulldogs haven't missed NCAAs since the early 90s and a finish of 16 in the country is actually respectable for all the things that went wrong this year. Usually Redlands has some of the best development in the country but their players didn't seem to improve much this year. One of their best players, Mike Reading, also took time off from school and didn't play. I think a lot will depend upon if he returns to the team for the 2011 season. The good thing for Redlands is even in a bad year they finished top 20. I think this is a real momentum-based team and they never got it going this season. They have to battle every year to make the tournament and came up short this year. With the emergence of CLU, they will have a very tough time making it next year as well. Redlands brings in one solid recruit and graduates a very solid player in Liebman. This team is still pretty young and if they can stay healthy and get confident early in the season next year, I think we could see a return to the top 15 for the Bulldogs in 2011.

DePauw - I think the Tigers season shows how little margin for error there is when competing for a Pool C bid. The Tigers started off well giving Emory and Hopkins a hard time at Indoors, but they slipped shortly thereafter with home losses to Kalamazoo and Chicago. A #15 finish is about what I predicted for the Tigers as they had a bad hour of tennis at SCACs and got swept by Trinity in doubles. They lose 2 starters from this year's team and these will be big shoes to fill. DePauw is a team with above average development and this is the first year in the past decade that they have missed the tournament. The Tigers don't have the academic draw of some other schools yet they manage to compete with the best every season. This team plays good doubles but I think they will be in trouble next year against a very tough Trinity (TX) team. I would expect a finish between 16-20 for the 2011 DePauw squad and with the current selection process they will probably miss the tournament. They bring in 2 2-star recruits but this won't be enough to crack the top 15.

Trinity (CT) - My prediction for these guys was pretty accurate this season as their lack of an out of conference schedule kept them out of the tournament. This is a very good team but I don't think they got quite enough out of their 3 and 4 guys, although the NESCAC was very tough this year. You could almost say they were done after they lost their early season match to Bowdoin. Hopefully they will schedule some more teams in California and this will allow them to make a better run at making NCAAs. They lose their best player in Spencer Feldman and I'm surprised to see they have no recruits listed as entering for 2011. 3 of their top 4 this year are transfers so they may be able to attract another top player to replace Feldman. It's tough for Trinity because with the current NCAA selection process it's nearly impossible for them to make the tournament unless they have an outstanding year. They should come back with another top 25 team and their freshman class could decide whether they break the top 20.

Bowdoin - Bowdoin got two very unlucky breaks this year. The first was an injury to Oscar Pena and the second was the NCAA rule change at the end of the season which kept Bowdoin out of the NCAA tournament. This team was just as solid as any other year, they just got unlucky. I was impressed with their early season wins against Trinity (CT) and Redlands, but the loss to Trinity (TX) is the one that probably kept them out of the tournament. This is becoming a very consistent top 15 program and I don't see that changing anytime in the next few years. The Polar Bears needed to focus on breaking into that next level of teams. I doubt they can do it next year, but a good goal for Bowdoin is the single digits in the national rankings. They continue to bring in solid recruits and this is a necessity if they want to compete with the top 3 in the NESCAC. I expect them to be stronger that Trinity (CT) next year, but I doubt they will finish higher than 4th in NESCAC. I expect a similar year in 2011 for Bowdoin and hopefully they can sneak into the NCAA tournament somehow.

Johns Hopkins - Everyone knows Hopkins had a bad year and didn't meet expectations but the most important thing is that they need to learn from it. I said in my season preview the expectations may get to JHU and this is what happened. They started well, but when they had to pick up their level to compete with the best in the country they couldn't do it. I think they have to forget about this season and the thing to look forward to is they will probably have little in the way of expectations next year. This is still a very good and dangerous team and I don't expect them to leave the top 15. I'm not sure if they are going to enter back into the top 10. They lose a great senior leader in Maldow but bring in a strong class of 5 players highlighted by a Finnish recruit who could see time near the top of the lineup. If their middle of the lineup and doubles can hang with the best in the country they can be dangerous next year. I actually expect a similar year to this one for Hopkins and I wouldn't be surprised to see them around 12 or 13 at the end of 2011 as well.

Kenyon - Kenyon had a very good previous two years, but they fell just short this year. I expected big things from the Lords this year and I'm not exactly sure why they weren't able to produce. The Lords started off well with close matches against Emory and Cruz as well as a near victory against Wash U. This was their season in a nutshell though as they were very close but couldn't get over the hump. I was questioning them, but they came out and beat Hopkins in a 9-0 route in a match that had them looking like a national title contender. The match that made their season go sour was the 5-4 loss to CMU where Kenyon led 2-1 and had 5 first sets. After this I think they may have stopped believing and I think Trinity just wanted it more in the Sweet 16. The Lords lose 4 great seniors who turned them into a national power for the past 3 years. All indications point to Kenyon falling back down to #20ish since they only return 2 starters, but they are supposed to get a transfer from VCU who will potentially play #1. I expect the Lords to hover between 15 and 19 for most of next season and they need another Greenberg to get them back into the top 10. They will miss his play but more important they will miss his leadership.

Williams - Looking back, their season was so short I'm not even sure what went wrong with the Ephs in 2010. This is a program used to being in the Final 8 every year and they weren't able to do it. The good news is this team is very young as they were starting 4 freshmen by the end of the season. Poor doubles play plagued them early in the season and I feel like the loss to NCW really got to them. They struggled against Trinity (CT), but they did have some flashes of brilliance when they killed Bowdoin and beat Amherst on the road in the NESCAC semis. The Amherst win is what makes me see promise in next year's Williams team. The bad thing is that I think they are slipping down to 3rd in the NESCAC and will struggle to get back to the top. Amherst and Midd are widening the gap and Williams is getting the recruits, but they aren't producing. They lose two great seniors and bring in a strong NorCal recruit who could see time at the bottom of the lineup. This is still going to be a young team but hopefully the year of college tennis under their belt will help them improve. I'm expecting Williams to be between 8 and 12 for most of next year but a deep run in NCAAs may be tough if they end up in tough regional.

Trinity (TX) - A very interesting season for the Tigers. I had high hopes for them coming into this season but they didn't start well with losses to CMU and Redlands and a blowout loss to CMS. This team has a lot of heart though and their tennis is so important to them. Despite playing some weak Texas teams, the developed throughout the season particularly in doubles and they were ready to go against DePauw. They used their strong doubles play to win 5-3 and take back their conference after 3 consecutive runner-ups. The highlight of their season was obviously the routine 5-2 against Kenyon in the Sweet 16 and they gave CMS all they could handle before falling in a match that featured some spectacular doubles. The Tigers return their whole team next year as well as gaining 2 good 3-star recruits. They actually don't get big time recruits like other schools but their development is some of the best in the country. The Tigers are going to be extremely dangerous next year and to me they are a shoe-in for the top 10 in the country. Depending on the performance of their freshmen, the top 5 isn't out of the question. They have to wait and see if they get a bid to Indoors next year, but if they do they will certainly be a threat to win it.

NC Wesleyan - Some of the mystique of this team is gone for me and they have now officially announced themselves on the D3 national scene. They still don't play an elite schedule although they did pick it up a notch this year with matches against Hopkins, Williams and Mary Washington. They also had a scheduled match against Wash U rained out. They started very well with a great win against Williams but they were blown out by Hopkins and this gave them motivation for revenge later in the season. They got through their conference comfortably and had the biggest win of the season in the Sweet 16 up to that point. With the exception of the NCAA quarterfinal, that match was the only match of the season where a team came down from 3-0 to win. A great effort in the Sweet 16 but the Bishops were just outplayed by the eventual champions in the quarters. A great season for NCW and they look the continue their time in the top 10 by bringing in another top notch recruiting class, although I have heard they may lose a few guys on their current team. NCW should just sneak into Indoors and they are dangerous once they get there. Keep an eye out for these guys and they will grow as a team as they get older and get more experience against top competition.

Carnegie Mellon - We saw something this year from them that we hadn't seen in the past and that was consistency. They had their best season in school history and had many good wins playing a very tough schedule. They showed resiliency after a shaky Indoors and had good wins against Trinity (TX), Hopkins and Kenyon. After Indoors and prior to NCAAs, their only losses were to CMS and Emory and they beat numerous ranked teams. They played good doubles and were only swept once the whole season and that was the NCAA quarters. Their depth really carried them in singles and they should be very pleased with this season. Looking forward, they lose 2 very good players and I am shocked to see them bringing in no recruits. If this is the case, they may slip a little next year, but even one guy who could play in the middle of the lineup would probably allow them to remain in the top 10. As of now, I expect them to slip down to #11 or 12. They will qualify for Indoors and this could be a good chance for them to get revenge on Cruz as it looks like that's a potential 1st round match. CMU had a good season, but the most important thing now is to keep the good seasons coming and carry this confidence into next year.

Cal Lutheran - In the beginning of the season, every time CLU was challenged they rose to the occasion and took away the match from their opponent. They were playing unbelievable tennis and beat Cruz and Amherst getting contributions from everywhere in the lineup. However, once they ran into CMS and finally lost a match, all the confidence seemed to disappear. It's as simple as Cal Lutheran peaked at the wrong time during the season as they came out of the gates hot and finished poorly. I'm tempted to say they were playing over their head early season but I guess we will wait until next year to find out if that's true. They should finish 7 or 8 in the country which is obviously an amazing year for them since most expected them around #20. They lose two starters and it is imperative that these guys be replaced if this team wants to remain in the top 10. They have a knack for getting good transfers so we will see if they can bring in another one to complement their big two. Despite a great season they were still the 3rd best in the West. Similar to CMU, they had one of their best years in school history but the key is to see whether they can keep it going. They too will be invited to Indoors and it could be a big confidence boost if they do well.

Emory - Despite a very good season, these guys are still scratching their heads as to what happened in the quarterfinals. For a big portion of the season, it seemed to me that the Eagles would be on a collision course with Midd in the national finals. They started a bit slow with a semifinal loss against Wash U at Indoors but the rest of their D3 season went well as they had wins against Kenyon and Williams before beating CMU and Wash U on back to back days to retake the UAA title that they had held between 1990-2008. Going into the tournament, Emory was the second favorite to win the whole thing. They had the best 1 and the best 2 in the country along with one of the best 4s and arguably the best 3 doubles team. They were all set to take on Midd in the final but I think they forgot that they had to work hard to get there. The match against Amherst just slipped away and its one that the team won't forget. They return their top 4 for next season and get a couple recruits who should see time near the bottom of the lineup. With Goodwin and Pottish on your team anything is possible. The end of this season didn't go as planned and their streak of 8 Final 4's came to an end, but you can be sure they will be back next season and ready to compete for another national title.

UC Santa Cruz - I had zero expectations for Cruz coming into this season after they graduated their top 5 from their 2009 National Title team, but they proved early on that I was mistaken. They blindsided the entire country and had 3 great wins in a row to take the Indoors title and remain as #1 in the nation even though I had them at 10 in my pre-season rankings. The rest of their season was nothing to write home about as inexperience caught up with them and they were beaten 3 times mid-season, twice by teams they would need to beat to qualify for the Final 8. I think Cruz peaked at the wrong time and they didn't have a chance to get the bottom of their lineup swinging against foes the quality of CLU and CMS. They entered their regional as the #3 seed and had an easy win against CLU before falling in 5-3 to CMS in a match where they had plenty of opportunities. I think there are definitely positives to take from this season because Cruz had only 2 experienced players and still managed to be #1 for a portion of the season, and they will probably finish top 5. Looking forward, Pybas will be back next year and Koenig will turn into a D3 superstar. The bottom of their lineup is still a bit suspect and I would predict a similar season to this one. I think they need to pick up their recruiting a bit to hang with CMS and another Indoors title next year would be a shocker. I also expect the Slugs to finish runner-up in the West again.

Wash U - My preseason pick to win nationals had a good season, but not a great season for their standards. Looking at the big picture, I expected a bit more from all of them. They were the overwhelming favorite to win Indoors heading into the final and they got swept in doubles winning only 11 total games. They snuck out a very close win against Kenyon and I actually expected them to win the conference but they were beaten fairly comfortably by Emory. They will finish 4th in the country for the 2nd year in a row but they were fairly inconsistent in my opinion. They played great matches in the quarters and semis of nationals blanking CMU and nearly upsetting the national champs after having several match points at 1 doubles which could have turned the match. It's hard to criticize a #4 national ranking but I will say again that I expected a bit more. Replacing Watts just can't be done as he's been an automatic singles win for 4 years. They bring in a decent class, but my guess is they won't quite be as good as they were this year. They will definitely be a fixture in the top 8 but I wouldn't call them a true threat to win a national title. They could get confidence with a good showing at Indoors and I think a potential trouble spot could be the middle of the lineup if Woods is moving up to the top. They have to get their doubles going and I expect a slight drop for Wash U and a finish between 6 and 8 next year.

CMS - I actually didn't have very high expectations for the Stags coming into this year since they had a lot of youth of their team, but they really performed well with their only losses coming to the eventual national champion and runner-up. The Stags played a very tough schedule as usual and had great early season wins against CMU and Trinity (TX) before dominating their conference and barely escaping their regional. Although they were somewhat inexperienced, the Stags used the experience they did have to take out Cruz on their home courts in the regional final. They didn't panic after trailing in doubles in the quarters but the one they will remember is 7 match points in the semifinals. They haven't won a national title in nearly 30 years and they fell just short again. Another 3rd place finish is nothing to be ashamed of, but that Amherst match in the semis will be talked about for years. One of these years, the Stags will get over that hump and win a national title. They have a very promising team next year despite losing two important seniors. The Stags are so deep but they get 3 potential starters in a 4-star from Oregon, a transfer from Bucknell, and an international recruit from the Philippines. I've heard all these players could see the top 6. If they can remain consistent in doubles, they should be the main contender to knock off Amherst next year with their outstanding depth. If Erani steps it up a level and generates wins against top teams, this is a potential national champion in 2011.

Amherst - What a roller coaster season for these guys. They were really inconsistent all year long and they looked like they wouldn't match their great run from 2009. They proved all the critics wrong and finished 2nd in the country for the 2nd year in a row but let's take a look at how they got there. They decided to play their fall matches again and they went 0-2 against the good teams after going 3-0 the year before. We will see if they continue these fall matches. They started the spring with a loss against CLU where they really got blown out before being only 1 of 2 teams to beat CMS this year. They were between 7 and 10 in the country for the majority of the season but everyone knew they were better than that. They were inconsistent in all parts of the lineup although they did have a very good NESCAC regular season. With the NESCAC tournament on their home court I thought they had the potential to knock off Amherst. They ended up not making it that far after losing to Williams but with the luck of the NCAA draw they got to host regionals and got another chance at Williams. In one of the best matches of the season, Amherst won 5-2 and al 6 singles matches went 3 sets. The Jeffs had two incredible wins at nationals which don't need to be discussed again and they were really just overmatched against Midd in the finals. As I mentioned, 3rd time should be the charm for Amherst as they look like clearly the best team. They get the top recruit coming into D3 who should be great at 2 or 3 and they also get another 4-star who should be an excellent 4 or 5. Their whole team is back and they get several great additions which will make them very hard to beat.

Middlebury - In the preseason, I wasn't exactly sure how tough they would be, but when they started their regular season by romping Cruz and CMS, the rest of the nation sensed that they were in trouble. Midd really dominated everyone this season and there's not much more to say. They had some injury issues which turned the Amherst match into a battle and they nearly slipped in the NCAA semis against Wash U. Midd deserved this national title and they had a lot of guys really step up when the going got tough. Their players aren't flashy and aren't all that well known on the national scene, but guys like Andrew Lee, Conrad Olson, Andrew Thomson and Eliot Jia were really outstanding for the whole year. I've been told Lee is the Ironman of D3 after winning the teams then making a run to the semis of singles beating 2 seeds as well as the semis of doubles. I thought a Matt Seeberger Triple Crown could be coming when we were heading into the weekend. Overall, just a great performance by Midd start to finish. The bad news is that they are losing their 2 through 6 players but the good news is they have some depth and an outstanding recruiting class. I doubt they will repeat as national champs or even as NESCAC champs, but they should be top 5 as usual next year. A lot will depend on Midd's incoming batch of 5 freshmen, and don't be surprised to see another national title when they are all seniors as well.