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.