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.