Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2011 Season Preview: Top 10 Stories of 2011

10. NCAA Selection Process - We got the official numbers for the NCAA Selection Process and 6 teams will be qualifying through Pool C. The real question is can any progress be made to get the system changed? We know that deserving teams will be left out this year, but if D3 tennis as a whole keeps pushing to change the system, there is hope for a change.

9. Can Chicago play to their talent? - Despite having great teams and finishing in the top 25 for 3 consecutive seasons, Chicago has yet to make it to an NCAA tournament. Despite the loss of some key seniors, they have an outstanding freshmen class and I think this is by far the best team they've ever had. If they can't make the tournament with this team, then I have no idea what the problem is with them. They could potentially be the 2nd best UAA team and see the single digits in the rankings. Other years when I was sure they would make the top 15, it didn't happen, so don't take anything for granted with this team.

8. CLU and CMU: One-hit wonders? - They both broke into the top 10 last season and the question is if they can stay there. Both lost a couple of key seniors and they don't seem to have fully replaced them. They still have a lot of talent but the question is if they played over their head last spring. One great season is certainly an accomplishment for a program and both of these teams have the potential to break into the next level of teams. This year could tell us a lot about the future of these programs as we see if they can continue their great play from last season.

7. Former powerhouses become non-factors - Gustavus fell out of the top 30 last season and they have shown no signs of rebuilding. Kalamazoo looks to be the next former powerhouse to fall off the map as they lost 3 of their top 4 from last season and only brought in 1 recruit. While they should still win their conference comfortably, the Hornets not being ranked is unheard of and unacceptable for a program with their tradition. Neither of these teams should be making much noise on the national scene this year and they will soon be unknowns in D3 if they don't start reloading their programs with players.

6. A rebuilding year for Kenyon? - I really thought Kenyon would be weak this season, but a strong fall result against Amherst certainly has to give confidence to this inexperienced team. It's tough to lose the best class of seniors in school history, but the Lords had an extensive bench last year that has to step in and contribute this year. They really only have 3 players who have been in a serious college match, and only 2 who have been consistent starters. They play a very tough schedule and will get experience throughout the season, but I certainly don't think a top 15 finish is a sure thing for this very young team.

5. Can Hopkins perform in the post-season? - Another strong team for Johns Hopkins and another chance to finally make the Elite 8. They have been closer every year and it remains to be seen whether the blow-up last year was a setback for this program or just something to make them work harder. Hopkins certainly has the talent to make the final 8 this year, but you aren't going to get much closer than you did last year. They now know that no lead is safe and I have a feeling they will be a great team this year after a tough learning experience.

4. How far will the best 2 players in the country take you? That's the question for Emory for this year. They aren't the deepest team in the country, but they have the best two players for sure. Neither of them are spectacular doubles players, but you could say Emory is all but guaranteed 2 wins each match. That being said, the Eagles know to take nothing for granted after the NCAA quarterfinal last year. Both of their superstars lost, so it is possible to crack the top of their lineup. Depth certainly will help this team and I know they have it, but the Eagles are going as far as Pottish and Goodwin will take them.

3. Midd minus Schwarz, Wash U minus Watts - Both programs lose integral parts of their teams. Dave Schwarz built Middlebury into what it is with fantastic recruiting and coaching. He has now moved on and the future of Middlebury tennis is in question at the moment. They have a strong team this year, but we will see how big of a difference maker he really was. Wash U lost one of the best players in D3 history and pretty much an automatic win against most teams. It's takes a lot of pressure off of a player to know that #1 singles belongs to your team. Wash U needs to recover without a replacement for Watts. They will need to become more of a team and have everyone step up to replace their superstar.

2. Indoors leaves Gustavus - Indoors has been at GAC for the past 8 years and it is now leaving and moving to Virginia. Kudos to Mary Washington for accepting this all important tournament. Indoors moves to its 3rd site and hopefully will stay here for a while. After getting beaten up last year, I am assuming GAC decided it didn't belong in the Indoors field. While Mary Wash is a heavy favorite to finish 8th this year as well, they surely will put up a better fight than GAC would. It's sad that the future of Indoors is in question, but we at least have it for this year.

1. Third time is the charm - It's very simple. The last two years, Amherst surprised everyone, and maybe even themselves, by reaching the national finals. They played great tennis during the most important time of the year. This year, anything but a national title for Herst is a disappointment. This team is loaded and by far the best team in the country. Not much more to say than that. The third time in the national final should the charm for the Jeffs and they are my pick, and most others' pick, to finish #1 this year.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

2011 Season Preview: Pre-Season Top 30

1. Amherst
2. CMS
3. Emory
4. Trinity (TX)
5. UC Santa Cruz
6. Middlebury
7. Wash U
8. Cal Lutheran
9. Williams
10. Johns Hopkins
11. NC Wesleyan
12. Carnegie Mellon
13. Chicago
14. Bowdoin
15. Kenyon
16. Redlands
17. DePauw
18. Whitman
19. Mary Washington
20. Pomona-Pitzer
21. Christopher Newport
22. Trinity (CT)
23. Bates
24. MIT
25. Brandeis
26. Denison
27. Washington & Lee
28. UT-Tyler
29. Vassar
30. Carleton

Monday, December 27, 2010

2011 Season Preview: Pre-Season All-America Team

These players have established themselves as superstars in D3 and have had consistent college careers. If I was making an all-star team, this is who I would pick to be in my starting lineup at the moment. Players ordered by strength in both singles and doubles.


Bobby Cocanougher/Cory Kowal, Trinity (TX) - These guys are the clear #1 team in the country after their win at Fall ITAs. Although they didn't have a great regular season last Spring, they have been a model of consistency in any individual competition. They have won 3 Fall ITAs in Texas and added the national ITA title to their hardware this year. They have made the semis and finals of NCAAs the past two seasons. If they want to be talked about as a great doubles team, these guys need to generate wins for their team this Spring.

Nick Ballou/Andrew Giuffrida, Cal Lutheran - These two teamed up last year and were immediately successful. They won their first 20 doubles matches of the Spring last year, which is an impressive streak. Although they fell off a bit due to a Ballou injury, they were able to come back and have a good NCAAs, making the semis. These two should be the best doubles team in California this year as they have a great mixture of power and finesse. These two baseliners have successfully transferred their singles skills to doubles.

Isaac Stein/Max Woods, Wash U - This will be their 4th season together and they both have great all-court games. These two are very tough to play because of their intense and in-your-face style. It is rare that these two both have a bad day, so that means you really have to earn a a victory against them. A great senior season could earn them the title of best team in Wash U history. Winning another team national title probably isn't realistic, but they certainly could add some NCAA doubles hardware to their trophy case.


Dillon Pottish, Emory - Since transferring from the University of Portland, Pottish has established himself as the best singles player in D3. He went undefeated in D3 dual matches during last regular season and made it to the quarterfinals of the NCAA Singles tournament. He was 2-1 against national champion John Watts last season and he began this year with a National ITA championship. Pottish enters this season as the hands-down best player in the country and he hopes to lead his team to a national title.

Chris Goodwin, Emory - It's not often that the best two players in the country are on the same team, but this just might be the case for the 2011 Emory Eagles. Chris Goodwin is the defending national runner-up, and by far the best #2 player in the country. In 2 years, playing #2 singles during both of them, he has lost only 1 dual match in D3. Goodwin has the potential to surpass his brother's college accomplishments. His main competitor in his quest for a national singles title is most likely his own teammate.

Andrew Peters, Middlebury - Peters was the #1 player for the national champions last year and played ahead of Andrew Lee, who ended up taking out Pottish in NCAAs. Peters started his career in the middle of the lineup but became one of the best in the country after only two years. He is probably the most intense player in D3 and has a lot of firepower mixed with consistency. Peters is well tested in the NESCAC all season long and his is surely one of the top contenders to win the NCAA Singles tournament in 2011.

Austin Chafetz, Amherst - This crafty lefty came to college as a highly ranked junior, but he has improved since he came to Amherst. He had a good run in NCAAs last year and looks to be Amherst's #1 player this year as well. Chafetz will be able out-hands almost any counter-puncher. Just to show his potential, Chafetz was the only player in D3 last season to beat Pottish in a dual match. Chafetz continues to improve under Garner and has been one of the most consistent players in the country during the last two years.

Brian Pybas, UC Santa Cruz - If you combine singles and doubles, he was probably the best player in the country last year. Despite his doubles national title, his singles game can't be overlooked. The way he ended the season last year was unbelievable, winning Ojai and then destroying Giuffrida and Erani on back to back days in NCAAs. If Pybas feels like playing and being patient, he is the best shot maker in the country. He can play offense from anywhere on the court and being a lefty certainly doesn't hurt.

Stephen Sullivan, Bowdoin - If you want to talk about someone who doesn't get enough respect, look no further than Sullivan. In three years, he has made the semis and the quarters of NCAAs. 5 NCAA singles wins in 3 years is not something many players can do. Sullivan plays in the tough NESCAC and goes about his business getting big wins for Bowdoin. NESCAC coaches know how big his forehand can be and he certainly should be included in the conversation when talking about the best players in the country.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

2011 Season Preview: 10 Matches to Mark on Your Calendar

The following matches have great significance for both teams. All of my top 15 teams are represented, and I believe these are all very even matches which can go either way. Winning matches like these can make or break a team's confidence, so it's worth keeping an eye on all of these results.

February 11: Chicago @ Kenyon - This will be the first match of the season between top 15 teams, and it should be a great one. Kenyon is 4-0 against Chicago since 2006, but this is the first year they are going in as the underdog. Kenyon will have home court advantage, but the Maroons surely have superior talent with a great batch of freshmen. This match is important for Kenyon because they want to start the season strong with an inexperienced team, but more important for Chicago, as they need every win they can get in their quest for a Pool C bid.

February 18: UC Santa Cruz vs. Trinity (TX) - This is the marquee match of the Indoors 1st round, and could potentially end up being the best match of the tournament. Cruz has owned Trinity since 2001, possessing a record of 7-0 against the Tigers. This is Trinity's best team in a while so they hope to end that streak. Cruz always starts their season strong at this tournament, as they will be the defending champions. Trinity traditionally isn't all that strong at Indoors, and their Indoors result typically isn't reflective of how they will end their season.

March 19: Amherst @ CMS - This is the first time these two will meet after their epic semifinal match in 2010 NCAAs. Both teams are arguably stronger than last year so this should be one of the best matches of the regular season. If Amherst is going to lose a match during the season, it may very well be this one. CMS always plays outstanding tennis on their courts, and they will be looking for revenge after Amherst beat them in Claremont comfortably last March. The #2 ranking in the country could be on the line during this match so it's definitely one to watch.

March 21: Johns Hopkins @ NC Wesleyan - Normally this wouldn't be that crucial, but I'm very curious to see how Hopkins plays against NCW after their meltdown in last year's Sweet 16. NCW is at home and will be fired up to beat JHU for the second consecutive time. I believe a lot of Hopkins' problems are mental, so winning a match like this could be a big step for the Blue Jays. This is one of the few times NCW will really be tested this year so it's important for them to play their best tennis. This match could go a long way in determining who will host an NCAA regional.

March 31: Williams @ UC Santa Cruz - After Williams weak season last year, they decided to schedule a California trip for 2011. Williams isn't always adjusted to the outdoors by late March, but they will surely be tested here. Cruz typically plays well at home, and these two traditional powers have quite a history. I'm looking forward to a Sun-Pybas match and you know Cruz will play great doubles, so this will be a good test for the young Williams team. This is one of the Ephs' few out of conference opportunities, so they need to make the most of it.

April 2: Trinity (CT) @ Bowdoin - If you want to talk about two teams that hate each other, look no further than this match. It's not widely known, but this is one of the best rivalries in D3. After splitting last year's two matches, they basically ruined each other's NCAA chances. Despite Trinity (CT) being seemingly weak this year, you know this will go down to the wire, because it always does with these two. Much like the last few years, the loser of this is in very bad shape when it comes to making NCAAs. All bets are off in this one and it should be one of the best of the year.

April 3: Carnegie Mellon @ Johns Hopkins - This has become a decent regional rivalry over the past couple years, with Hopkins holding a 3-2 edge since 2007. CMU was one of the two teams who put a dagger in Hopkins last year, as a Blue Jays weekend trip in early April quickly turned sour. Hopkins should be out for revenge, and they are tough to play against on their obscure home courts. Carnegie's inconsistent team will be tested in this one, and it should be a good indicator of whether or not they belong in the top 10 for this year.

April 8: Cal Lutheran @ Redlands - 3rd place in the conference is not familiar territory for the Bulldogs, but that is where they are projected to finish for the second year in a row. This should be a preview of the SCIAC semi, but its a good chance for these two to get a feel for the other. Redlands has the advantage of home court, but Cal Lu is a very confident team. The Kingsmen will learn from last year and not peak at the wrong time. This is CLU's chance to assert their dominance and show that they are the new #1 challenger to CMS in the SCIAC.

April 17: UAA Final - Although there are teams that can derail it, go ahead and pencil in a Wash U-Emory final. This would be the 6th consecutive time these two meet for the UAA title and this is becoming one of the best rivalries in D3. Emory has won 19 of the last 20 conference title, but they have to be sour about losses to Wash U each of the past 3 seasons. The Bears are without Watts, but they always get fired up to beat Emory. This match will have very important implications for NCAA seeding, and a conference title should be on the list of goals for both teams this year.

April 30: Middlebury @ Amherst - If there's one team that Amherst has struggled against the past few years, it's Middlebury. Since Garner took over the Jeffs, Amherst has a record of 1-6 against the Panthers. There's potential for both of these teams to enter this match undefeated, which would surely make it the biggest match of the season. Amherst has the experience, talent and coaching edge, but Middlebury knows they've had success against the Jeffs in the past. This could have the #1 ranking on the line and will likely be a preview of the NESCAC final.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

2011 Season Preview: Ranking the Conferences

1. NESCAC - Despite the UAA closing the gap last year, we saw who the top conference was during NCAAs. This year, these New England liberal arts schools will be #1 again, boasting the best team in the country as well as two other top 8 quality teams. Don't forget Bowdoin who's a lock for the top 18 and Trinity (CT) and Bates, both of whom should be top 25. Other respectable programs include Colby and Tufts. The NESCAC is both top heavy and deep, making it the top conference in the country by a long shot.

2. UAA - The UAA came on strong last year as the only conference to have 3 teams in the top 8. They have 5 teams this year that should be ranked, including 4 probable top 15 teams. Emory and Wash U both have top 5 potential, and we could see CMU and Chicago in the single digits. I don't think they are quite as strong as NESCAC, but the potential is there. Brandeis and Case Western are two teams on the rise who should be making noise on the national scene for the next several years.

3. SCIAC - Another powerhouse conference that was much improved with Cal Lutheran making its way into the top 5 in the country for a good portion of last season. This conference has 4 schools that should definitely be top 20 and other respectable programs in Occidental and Whittier. We could see both CMS and CLU in the top 5 this year and top 10 for Redlands isn't completely out of the question. This conference remains strong, but not quite as good as the top 2.

4. SCAC - A big drop after the top 3, as the SCAC should have 2 ranked teams this year in Trinity (TX) and DePauw. Trinity has top 5 potential, and I could see DePauw as high as 11 or 12 sometime during the season. After the top two, other decent teams include Rhodes, who flirted with the top 30 last year, as well as Sewanee who always fields a pretty good team. This conference will get significantly weaker after the end of this season with DePauw leaving to go elsewhere.

5. NCAC - The home to Kenyon and Denison, this conference has really been dominated by the Lords during this decade. Denison has good and bad years, but they look to be a top 30 team this year, which allows this conference to come in at #5. This conference is fairly deep, with teams like Allegheny and Wooster, as well as Oberlin College, the hosts for last year's NCAA championships. I can see the NCAC having 4-5 top 30 teams in a few years, especially after they get DePauw for 2012.

6. Centennial - Hopkins really dominates this conference and there's not much question that they are going to win it. They won't just dominate this year, but I see them pretty much locking up the conference for the next 5 years as well after a great recruiting class. That being said, this conference is also home to 3 other respectable programs who I would consider top 75 teams. Franklin & Marshall is a young team on the rise and Swarthmore and Haverford are always good, despite having seen better days.

7. USA South - This conference is home to top 10 team NC Wesleyan, as well as Christopher Newport, who should definitely be top 25 this year. These 2 have competed for the conference title the past couple years and should continue their rivalry for quite a while. The bottom of this conference is extremely weak, but a bright spot is a streaky Averett team who usually finishes 3rd. They have top 30 potential, but have a long way to go until they catch up with the top 2.

8. Northwest - The home to Whitman, who has dominated this conference in recent years. Although they didn't win the conference in 2007, Whitman seldom loses a conference match. They have some decent competition, as this conference has 3 teams who I'd consider top 60 in D3. Pacific Lutheran has a pretty good tradition and always has a good team, and Linfield is a similar story. A team to watch is Willamette, who's improved significantly over the past few years and looks to be well on their way to the top 30.

9. Liberty League - Lucky for these guys, they were in Pool B last year, so they had 3 teams qualify for NCAAs. Vassar was a fixture in the top 30 last year, and Skidmore did the same the year before that. Both Vassar and Skidmore have solid teams in 2011 and should fight it out for the conference title. A respectable 3rd place team is fairly unknown St. Lawrence, who quietly was able to beat Skidmore comfortably last year. This conference is improving exponentially each year, so I expect a bright future for them.

10. Capital - A fairly weak conference in 2011, the CAC is home to Mary Washington, who's a lock for the top 25 as well as Salisbury. The Sea Gulls were in the top 15 last year, making the conference title race respectable, but they should be weak in this rebuilding year. Mary Wash should run away with this conference very easily, as they look for their 12th consecutive title. There's not much to this conference after the top 2 teams.

Friday, December 24, 2010

2011 Season Preview: 10 Players To Watch in 2011

The following players may not be the best on their respective teams, but in my opinion, are the most important players to each team's success. These guys are game changers, and have the potential to turn a match by getting 2 of their team's necessary 5 points. A good season from these guys can raise a team's ranking 3 or 4 spots. They may not be the biggest names in D3, but they are integral parts of their own teams. Players are listed alphabetically by last name.

Colin Egan, Emory - Projected to play 3 singles and 3 doubles. It's tough to live in the shadow of the best two players in the country, but that's what Colin Egan is facing this year, and he may just be the most important player when it comes to Emory's success. He was the lone winner in last year's NCAA quarterfinal against Amherst and earned the title of best #4 in the country in 2010. This year, he has to take that one step further and make Emory's 1-2 punch into a 1-2-3 punch if they want to compete with Amherst and CMS. Entering his senior season, Egan has been nothing but solid for the Eagles in his first three years. He hasn't made much of an impact in doubles, but he is one of the most underrated singles players in the country. Egan will most likely be the lone senior starter this year and will hope to finish off his career with a national title. Rather than being seen as a sidekick to the Pottish-Goodwin duo, Egan needs to gain the respect of his opponents and produce key wins for the Eagles in the middle of the lineup.

Max Frey, Trinity (TX) - Projected to play 1 singles and 2 doubles. Despite losing to his teammate in the Fall ITA Singles, everyone in the country, including the Tigers, knows that Frey is still the heart of this team. Cocanougher's streaky style is better used at #2 and I believe Frey is their man if they want wins at #1 singles. Entering his junior season, Frey has played #1 singles during his first two years, so he knows what kind of level to expect and how he needs to play to push Trinity towards a national title. He's half of arguably the best #2 doubles team in the country and we know that Trinity needs to be up after doubles because they will struggle to find wins in singles against top 5 teams. With his powerful style, Frey has the potential to self-destruct against excellent counter punchers, so he needs to use his powerful shots to his advantage in the #1 spot this year. There's a lot of pressure on Frey and the Tigers to perform this year, and he knows that, but we will see how he and his teammates hold up now that there are actually big things expected of them.

Andy Hersh, Johns Hopkins - Projected to play 2 singles and 3 doubles. Given his outstanding junior ranking, you could call Hersh's freshman campaign a disappointment. He never cracked the doubles lineup and was an average 4, losing against NCW when it mattered most. He's started this year with a bang, running through his draw with ease at ITAs to reach the final, and then giving Rattenhuber all he could handle in the Amherst dual. It seems as though Hersh will find himself at 2 singles this year, and potentially 1 by the time the season is over. The answer of whether he's up to the challenge remains to be seen. Known as one of the biggest grinders in D3, this Floridian has to be one of the most fit players in the country and will stay out on the court as long as it takes to get a win. With Hopkins not meeting expectations over the past couple years due to some depth and doubles issues, this could be their year for a breakthrough. The real pressure is on Hopkins 1 and 2, and this is where Hersh has to come through. He can't just come close against tough opponents, he needs to win, and that's a lot to ask of a sophomore.

Erich Koenig, UC Santa Cruz - Projected to play 2 singles and 2 doubles. This reminds of the Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers interaction. Pybas has seemingly been around forever, and Koenig is learning from the veteran and will soon become one of D3's best. He possesses one of the best all-court games in D3 and this transitions very well to the doubles court. He will only improve under the tutelage of Bob Hansen and he has already shown that he is cool and collected in pressure situations during his first year. He won close 3-setters in the Indoors final as well as the NCAA Sweet 16. He has big shoes to fill with the loss of Vartabedian, and I have no question that he can do it in singles after an excellent run in ITAs. The bigger question is can he be a consistent winner in doubles, as this is something Cruz desperately needs if they want to have any chance against the Stags this year. He's certainly one the most dangerous players in the country, but he needs to show up when it matters most. He's only a sophomore and has a lot of time to grow as a player, but he needs to be ready to take over this team when Pybas leaves.

Bobby Mactaggart, Carnegie Mellon - Projected to play 2 singles and 1 doubles. One of the most up and down players in D3, looking at Mactaggart's historical results are almost meaningless when trying to predict the outcome of his next match. Last year he suffered losses to Newport, Kalamazoo and Brandeis, but managed wins against Cruz, Kenyon and Trinity (TX). With CMU getting hit hard by graduations, Mactaggart needs to step up and become a consistent winner in both singles and doubles to keep the Tartans in the top 10. He has been a significant contributor in singles and doubles during his first three years and he has the good reputation of stepping up when it matters most. CMU doesn't have a great bottom of the lineup this year, so the pressure is shifted to the top and this could be good for CMU's two seniors. He had an impressive fall, winning the doubles ITA, and he has established himself as a top doubles player in D3. Last year, we saw the difference a good #1 doubles team could make for CMU. If he can find consistency, you can bet CMU will find themselves in a second consecutive Elite 8.

Anish Nanda, Redlands - Projected to play 2 singles and 1 doubles. Given the results from the past two seasons, we know Cam Spearman is more comfortable in the #2 singles spot than #1. He finished 2-11 at #1 singles against ranked D3 opponents last year. I personally think you let Nanda take his chances at #1 and put your senior where he's more comfortable. That's a lot of pressure for a sophomore, especially one who's confidence is shaken after getting beaten up all last year in the top of the lineup. There's unrest in this program right now after the Bulldogs missed the tournament for the first time in 18 years and had their 2nd lowest year-end ranking since 1992. Nanda needs to step up this year, in both singles and doubles. He and Spearman combine to make a talented #1 team. If he doesn't, the Bulldogs have a very slim chance of making the tournament. They can hang in the bottom of the lineup with their Pool C competition, but they were getting crushed at the top. The typical Redlands strategy of play tough doubles and win with depth didn't work, so for them to turn it around this year, Nanda needs to take his game to the next level.

Jeremy Polster, Kenyon - Projected to play 1 singles and 1 doubles. Polster certainly played in big matches over the past 3 seasons, but these are unchartered waters for him. Despite the graduations, Thielke has high expectations for his guys this year, and a lot of that will rest on the shoulders of their lone senior starter. The lefty will have plenty of opportunities, as Kenyon plays a tough schedule, and he hopes to make the most of his senior season. He has good singles and doubles skills and I'm sure he's well aware that he needs to pick up his game to transition from #3 to #1 singles. Polster plays the most important role in determining whether Kenyon will consider this a rebuilding year or a success. It's good that there's not a ton of pressure on Kenyon to make the tournament, as they are a heavy favorite to win their conference, and therefore Polster will have time to make the transition to the top of the lineup. The hope is that he will be fully adjusted by the post-season, in time for Kenyon to get back to the Elite 8.

Felix Sun, Williams - Projected to play 1 singles and 2 doubles. Nicknamed "The Magician," Sun is one of the most talented players in D3. He was supposed to do big things for Williams last year, but fell short when he was at the #1 spot. With Williams losing two key players to graduation, Sun is definitely the Ephs' #1 player this year. #1 is especially tough in NESCAC, and we saw that last year with Sun going 0-3 at the #1 spot. He had a fantastic fall, winning the New England ITA before making the final of nationals. This is the level at which he needs to play if Williams wants to get back to the top 10 this year. I'm sure Coach Greenberg will work with Sun so he's ready for the likes of Chafetz, Sullivan and Peters. I have very high hopes for Sun's sophomore campaign after his fall season and I believe a lot of Williams success rests on his ability to create wins at the top of the lineup against top 15 teams. He's half of a good #2 doubles team, which will hopefully turn into a great #2 doubles team. Williams had a bad year last year by their standards, and Sun is the main guy who has to lead them back to the Elite 8.

Sam Wichlin, Mary Washington - Projected to play 1 singles and 2 doubles. Maybe more so than anyone on this list, I believe a lot of pressure is on Wichlin, due to his seemingly weak supporting cast. Mary Wash has really fallen the past couple years and Wichlin is supposed to be the next big thing for Eagles tennis. For not being a highly touted recruit, Wichlin really surpassed expectations as a freshman. He went a respectable 3-5 at the #1 spot against ranked teams last year and qualified for NCAA singles. Now he's a year older, and with that, the expectations are growing. If Mary Wash wants to get back into the top 15, they need to get wins at the top of the lineup and Wichlin is their guy. With some work on his doubles game, he has the potential to become the best player in the AS region outside of the Emory guys. Unfortunately for Wichlin, he has to start his D3 season against Dillon Pottish at Indoors, and its imperative that he doesn't get discouraged after this match. Mary Wash is hungry to gain backed some lost respect, and Wichlin is the key to them becoming a great program again.

Ray Worley, Cal Lutheran - Projected to play 4 singles and 2 doubles. Much like Egan, Worley is really an afterthought when you think about Cal Lu. So much attention goes to their top 2, that Worley flew under the radar as one of the best freshmen in the country last year. He made some noise at the Fall ITA this year, which is a big reason he made this list. Cal Lu still has high expectations for themselves, and only so much can be asked of Ballou and Giuffrida. Worley needs to get wins against some big time teams for the Kingsmen to remain in the top 8 this year. Maybe more important than Worley's singles results, is his doubles game, as he will be the anchor of what seems to be an inexperienced #2 doubles team. The good thing for this sophomore is that he will be tested over and over and he will certainly be ready for NCAAs when the time comes. He's well coached and passed the adjustment to college tennis with flying colors. He's now a year older and once again, with that comes bigger expectations.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The Current NCAA Selection Process For DIII Tennis: An Argument For and Against

This is something I've referenced in many articles, but not something I've addressed directly with a post. With this post, I hope to explain why it is the way it is, why people hate it, and what can be done. The NCAA Handbook has yet to be released for the 2011 Championships, but if you go by last year's process, there are 28 AQs (teams who win their conference), 9 Independents (teams who don't have conference affiliation or are from non-AQ conferences) and 5 spots for teams from AQ conferences that don't win their conference. I'll now discuss both sides of this and I'd be interested to hear your thoughts.

Pro: The NCAA tournament is about crowning a champion. How that champion gets the trophy is irrelevant. In the end, #1 is going to beat #2. If you look at my pre-season top 25, with the current process, #13 in the country would not make the tournament. Why, though, does this matter at all? During the past three years, how many Pool C teams that were not top seeds in their NCAA region made it to the Final 8? The answer is 0. There have been a total of 18 Pool C teams compete in the tournament over the past 3 years. 8 of them were top seeds in their regional and 10 were not. All 10 who weren't lost in the Sweet 16 or before. So why then, does everyone make such a big fuss about teams ranked #15 not making the tournament when they have no impact on the eventual outcome? D3 tennis is not like D1 basketball, where you have so much depth that a Butler can come out of nowhere and make the finals. The team who wins the tournament will always be one of the top 4 or 5 teams in the country. That's just the way it is.

The NCAA's theory for D3 is to give a fair chance to compete in the post-season to all teams, rather than selecting the "best" teams. In an average year in D3 tennis, 12 or 13 AQ conferences will be represented in the ITA's top 30 teams. With the old system and a 32-team bracket, that means 15 of the current AQ conferences wouldn't have access to the post-season. Why should those teams even bother having a season? What's the end result? They win their conference tournament and that's it? In doing a little research for this article, I was looking at last year's NCAA bracket and noticed something interesting. There was one undefeated team out of the 42. It wasn't Middlebury, or Emory, or Amherst. It was Western Connecticut State. Without the current system, how would WCSU get rewarded for their undefeated season? It must have been a treat for them to play in NCAAs. Before the 2010 season, what if the WCSU coach called Amherst or Williams and asked to play them during the regular season? He would get laughed at. Unknown teams from small conferences don't have access to ranked teams and this is their argument for the current system. Williams doesn't want to waste their time playing the weak teams in New England. A coach's job is to make his team the best they can be. The coaches of top 25 teams take their jobs very seriously and they want to play each other so their teams can be battle tested when it comes time for the post-season. This leaves little to no exposure for the other 250 teams in D3. The top 50-75 are in their own little bubble and they often forget that they make up 1/5 of the entire division. D3 is in a way an old boys club, where the traditional powers get together and beat up on each other every year at Indoors and during spring break in Claremont. Its very difficult to break into that elite club if you're not an academically elite school, but we have seen a perfect example over the past 2 seasons.

NC Wesleyan has come from not having a program to being a top 10 team and the #6 seed at this year's ITA Indoors. Why did we take notice of NC Wesleyan two years ago? Because they happened to be in the same conference as Christopher Newport, a team everyone is familiar with. What if a team in the middle of Iowa suddenly recruited a great team of foreign players? How would we know? The best team on their schedule would probably be Grinnell or Luther, teams we don't pay much attention to. With the current NCAA system, we can see the exponential rise of a team like NCW. They can gain access to the post-season and we will take notice when they crush Mary Washington and make Emory sweat. The point of D3 is to play for the love of the game, and the winner of the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference may care just as much about their tennis as the winner of the UAA. So how then, can we not give everyone a chance to compete in the post-season?

Con: What happened to Western Connecticut State last year? They lost to Ohio Northern 5-0. What happened to Ohio Northern? They lost to Carnegie Mellon 5-0. I can predict with great accuracy who the top teams are going to be in D3 this year. Maybe not in perfect order, but generally, everyone knows who's going to be good. Let's look at the other side of the argument about Pool C teams not making an impact. For argument's sake, let's say that the top 32 teams in the country would qualify for the tournament under the ideal scenario. How many teams, in the past 4 years, who would not have made the tournament under the 32 team system, made it to the Sweet 16 or farther? Restated, how many unranked teams have made it out of the second round of the tournament? The answer is 1 and that's Luther in 2009. Let's say 20 of your NCAA teams are ranked. That means 22 are unranked. Multiply that by 4 years and that's 88 unranked teams who have played in the tournament during the past 4 years. 1 made it to the Sweet 16, and no further. Haven't we proved the point that these teams don't belong? How can WCSU possibly feel good about stealing a spot from Bowdoin, a team that would absolutely wipe the floor with them anytime and anywhere.

This system is uniform across every D3 sport to the best of my knowledge. I want to examine why it doesn't work in tennis and compare that to basketball and soccer. It's become extreme in men's tennis, now having only 5 teams qualify through Pool C. In women's tennis, I believe 9 still qualify through Pool C. I could live with 9, at least we would go down to #17 or #18 before someone wouldn't make it. Tennis, for the most part, is a rich person's sport. The kids who are going D3 are mostly from wealthy families who can afford a private university. A wealthy family typically means emphasis on education. Look at the teams who made the NCAA finals last year: Middlebury, Amherst, Emory, Wash U, Trinity, CMS, Carnegie Mellon, and the 8th could have easily been Johns Hopkins. You may as well rename it the Academic Bowl. The best academic schools dominate tennis, and there are a high density of those schools in the same conferences. You rarely see a school that's not an academic powerhouse break into the top echelon of D3 tennis. Cruz is there because they've been doing it for years and NCW is there because they get foreign players. Gustavus and Kzoo are weak now because they don't have the academic draw to get top recruits. Soccer and basketball are not as expensive to play as a kid. Due to those sports having more D1 scholarships, you get a weaker crowd in D3, not necessarily kids who are just looking for academics. Soccer has 4 academically elite schools currently in their top 10. Basketball has only 2 in their top 10. I have 8 of 10 in my rankings. There are still second-rate academic schools dominating those sports in D3. This just doesn't happen in tennis.

The NCAA system for D3 just doesn't work for tennis. It's unfair that Cruz can basically tank their season and still make the tournament, whereas Redlands and Chicago have incredible pressure to win every time they step on the court, because if they don't, they don't make NCAAs. If the average person saw that the #13 team in the country wasn't qualifying for a 42-team tournament, they would laugh. Think about that and think about how ridiculous it is. The Pool system just doesn't work for tennis. Even the coaches of the terrible Pool A teams know that. You should not omit a team from the NCAA tournament when they would beat 2/3 of the field easily. The NCAA system for D3 tennis needs to be changed immediately, even the teams who it benefits know that. The problem is that the NCAA is too ignorant to see it.