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.