Sunday, January 31, 2010

Weekend Thoughts

I'm going to share a few thoughts mostly about Cruz-Whitman but I'll also touch on the Kenyon and Chicago matches to begin.

We've seen Chicago a good bit this season and this result was fairly in line with their first few matches. I found one thing a bit odd about this match. Granted, I don't know UIC's team at all since it is comprised of mostly foreigners, but Chicago won the spots in singles where they are supposed to be weak, and lost where they are supposed to be strong. The question was how much Alexander and Pawa would add to the team and they certainly made great strides with a win this weekend. However those two did drop the deciding doubles point. I'm assuming UIC is the quality of a team ranked about 10-12 in D3 judging by the scores of the match. Chicago's 5 and 6 need to win, or at least pick up their play if they want to have any shot at Wash U.

Kenyon played a tough Toledo team who's actually in a rebuilding year shown by their 7-0 loss to Xavier. I may be mistaken, but I believe Toledo typically flirts with the top 75 in D1. Kenyon hung around in doubles, but the Greenberg/Vandenberg combo lost another tiebreak (the first was to Amherst), and Kenyon surrendered the all important doubles point. My favorite Kenyon doubles team won their match comfortably. Kenyon's singles after their top 2 just aren't strong enough for them to be down 2-1 in doubles. If they aren't up in doubles in the semis of Indoors against Cruz or CMU, they are going to have a tough time winning. They switched up their singles lineup a bit from the fall. Greenberg lost a close one to what I assume was a very strong player and Piskacek came down from 5-0 in the 3rd to win. Vandenberg surprised me with a win at 3, and Polster should be one of the best in the country at 5. Overall, a pretty good performance from Kenyon, but they need to improve if they want a taste of the Final 4.

Saturday afternoon I said to myself that the Cruz-Whitman match had upset written all over it. Everything was perfect. An outdoor team coming indoors, having to deal with a hungry team who's under-appreciated playing in front of a big crowd. I even thought Whitman matched up well against the Slugs with Solomon being able to compete at the top. I also told myself I just didn't think Whitman could do it. I expected a 5-4 or 6-3. I stubbornly ignored the two team's box scores from the Lewis-Clark matches and said that Whitman would just play better. I think Whitman should be slightly disappointed with the result, but more importantly I think Cruz sent a message to the rest of the country. I read Coach Northam's blog praising his team, but I'm not praising my team when my star doubles combo blows a 7-5 lead to give Cruz the lead and more importantly turn the momentum of the match. If you are playing a better team than you, you have to take every chance you get and Whitman didn't do that. They got very unlucky with a Moshevich injury, I think they needed him to have a chance. As is they they pretty much got steamrolled in singles, winning only 2 sets. In those first 4 matches, I think they need 2 first sets to give themselves belief and they got 0. The Slugs were simply too good and frankly I'm impressed with their singles performance. If I'm the rest of the country, this is not the match I want to see from Cruz because they announced they are for real this year. Granted, Carnegie Mellon 1st rd of Indoors will just be a completely different level of talent than Whitman, but I am buying stock in Santa Cruz after this weekend.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Season Preview #22: Trinity (CT)

General Team Discussion - Despite a great tradition and always producing a solid team, the Bantams really haven't been able to keep pace with the other top NESCAC programs. They had an impressive year in 2008 entering the NESCAC tourney as the top seed, but they came back down to earth in 2009, playing more at the level which I would expect. This is a solid 15-20 team, but with the new selection process, they are going to have a very hard time qualifying for the tournament. According to my power rankings, they sit at #9 in Pool C with only 6 spots available. The Bantams are a good team, but they do themselves a disservice by not scheduling more out-of-conference teams to improve their tournament resume. They don't play any teams outside NESCAC who are projected to be in the top 20 in the country. They certainly have the players, particularly at the top of the lineup, to compete with anyone in the country. They got a D1 transfer in Dan Couzens who could potentially be an NCAA qualifier, and we know Spencer Feldman will probably be top 8 in the Northeast. As of now, Trinity (CT) sits at #5 in NESCAC and they will probably have another top 20 year but miss the tournament due to poor scheduling.

Where They'll Win - The Bantams are projected to have two transfers in their top 4. Couzens from Old Dominion and Rich Bonfiglio from Middlebury, should step into the #2 and #4 spots respectively. This gives Trinity the ability to compete with anyone in the country at the top 4 spots. Feldman has been a good #1 for the past two years and sophomore Anson McCook should be an excellent #3, after having fair success at #2 last year. I'm not sure what they are going to do with doubles yet, but whoever they have at #1 doubles could be a potential NCAA qualifier in the Northeast, and will probably be better than any team Williams would put together.

Where They'll Lose - Depth has been an issue the past couple seasons and it continues to be an issue. The Bantams have serviceable players at the bottom 2 spots, but nothing that can compete with the top 3 in the NESCAC, and for that matter most other top 20 programs. If they happen to get an injury or illness the day of a big match, they are in even bigger trouble. If they don't separate their big 4 in doubles then 3 doubles could be a big trouble spot as well. The issue is that when playing the top 3 in the NESCAC, the Bantams almost start the match down 3-0, and would have to win their 5 strong spots for a victory.

Schedule Analysis - Trinity (CT) has the team to potentially beat some of the teams in the 10-15 range, but they just don't schedule them. They start the season in California with a pretty soft schedule. They have their big conference match against Bowdoin which is a heated rivalry, but besides that they play Pomona-Pitzer and Cal Lu, both of whom they should take care of pretty comfortably. They then return back to Connecticut for the heart of their conference play and the only thing they have going in their favor is the fact that they play the top 3 NESCACs all at home.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Guest Article: Santa Cruz @ Whitman Match Preview

This is the first match of the year between two nationally ranked NCAA III teams. Defending NCAA III Champions UC Santa Cruz enter the weekend ranked #1 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association and #10 on the d3tennis rankings. Host Whitman currently sits at #26 in the ITA rankings and #25 on the d3tennis rankings.

Any discussion of UC Santa Cruz starts with doubles. Last year at the NCAA National tournament the Slugs dominated the tournament by sweeping the doubles in every match. With the 9 point format a sweep in doubles almost always guarantees victory. Even though the Slugs graduated the majority of their 2009 NCAA Championship team they return doubles stand out Marc Vartabedian and talented lefty Brian Pybas rejoins the team. If they play together they could be one of the top doubles combinations in the nation. However in Santa Cruz’s opening matches against UC Davis and Santa Clara, Vartabedian didn't play and Pybas played #1 doubles with Capaul. The Slugs showed they are playing good doubles early in the season almost taking the doubles point from UC Davis. With Vartabedian in the line-up the Slugs doubles improves considerably. In singles Santa Cruz has experience and proven competitors in Pybas, Vartabedian and Chiba. Pybas is talented enough to hang with anyone in DIII. Vartabedian has been a proven winner on each of the past three Santa Cruz teams. And Chiba is a tough grinder who has experience playing key matches. Santa Cruz picked up two three-star freshmen in Koenig and Halabi both of whom lost in three sets against UC Davis. Also playing during their opening weekend were Aaron Morrill and Sam Rogers. Obviously Coach Hansen is a master at player development and it will be interesting to see how his young players progress.

Whitman enters the year hoping to climb back into the top 20 after a rough 2009 campaign. Last year the Fighting Squirrels were 24-5 with a pair of 7-2 losses to Chicago and Depauw, a 9-0 loss to Santa Cruz at the National Tournament and two DI losses (Idaho and Montana). Outside of conference play their best win was a 6-3 victory over Carleton. However 2010 looks to be a better year for Whitman. They return the nucleus of their team and immediately get help at the #1 spot with the return of senior Matt Solomon. Solomon played his junior year at Boise State University and helped the Broncos reach the round of 16 at the NCAA’s. Another nice addition for Whitman is three-star freshman Jeffrey Tolman. In the ITA Northwest Regional tournament Tolman proved a force reaching the finals before falling to Solomon in three sets. Having Solomon and Tolman playing at the top two pushes last year's #1 player Moshevich down a few spots in the line-up. Last year Moshevich proved a dangerous player having a match point on Will Zhang of Chicago before losing in three sets. A lot of Whitman's success depends on the health of Moshevich. If he is healthy Whitman has a good 1, 2, 3 punch. Rounding out the top 4 for Whitman should be junior Chris Bailey. Bailey has been a consistent player for Whitman and should have a better year playing #3 or #4.

Whitman has a pretty deep roster and any number of players could play in the five and six slots. Last year Adriel Borshanksy had good success at #6 winning against Depauw, Chicago and Carleton. They also return their #4 Nadeem Kassam, #5 Jake Cappel and #6 Quin Miller from last year's NCAA team.

The Whitman vs Santa Cruz match has some interesting subplots. As freshman, Pybas and Solomon played indoors at University of Puget Sound with Pybas winning 6-1, 6-4. How will Pybas respond to being out of competition for a year and how will Solomon play after a semester of DI tennis? Two years ago at Whitman, Chiba defeated Bailey 4-6, 6-4, 10-3. They could be headed for a rematch over the weekend. Also the Santa Cruz matches in Walla Walla (this will be their fifth time at Whitman in the past 10 years) are typically loud, rowdy affairs in front of large crowds. With seven seniors on their roster Whitman should have another large crowd pulling for them. Additionally Santa Cruz faces a pretty demanding schedule while in Walla Walla: Friday evening they play Lewis Clark State College (#20 NAIA), Saturday morning they take on DI University Idaho and later that night they play Whitman. How will the outdoor team fare indoors? And how will playing indoors prepare Santa Cruz for the upcoming National Indoors?

Live scoring for the match can be found at The match is set for Saturday at 9PM ET/6PM PT

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Season Preview #21: Bates

General Team Discussion - As a team, I don't think Bates has quite reached their full expectations in the past few years. However, last year's NCAA tournament could be a turning point for this program. They had the NCAA Singles Finalist as well as the NCAA Doubles Champions. We knew these two were good players but going that deep into NCAAs was a long shot. Bates has a couple things going against them. The first is that they play in the toughest conference in the country and with the new NCAA structure, it's nearly impossible for them to make the tournament. This is a team that qualifies with the old process but won't see the tournament for a very long time with the new selection process. This leads me to my second point which is that they simply can't draw the recruits of their NESCAC rivals. They are a similar school to Middlebury and Bowdoin, both location wise and academically so I'm surprised that they can't attract more big name recruits. As of now, they are a solid #6 in the NESCAC and I would expect them to hover somewhere between 22-28 in the rankings for this season. They just lack the depth to compete with the top teams in the country.

Where They'll Win - Rupasinghe is their strongest player and he's very experienced in big matches. He should be strong at the #1 line against most of Bates schedule, but he will struggle when they play top 15 teams. They have what seems to be a good freshman in Bettles and he's most likely going to fill in the #2 spot as well as complete the other half of #1 doubles. I would expect him to have similar results to Rupasinghe. Their third strong player is senior Michael Reiss who should fair well at the #3 spot and maybe anchor a #2 doubles team.

Where They'll Lose - As I stated above, Bates just doesn't have enough players to hang in this power conference. Even against a team like Trinity (CT), they are overmatched at almost every spot. I think Bates will most likely get crushed in the 4-6 spots in singles when they play the top 5 NESCAC schools and 3 doubles should be a huge problem as well. This has been Bates' weakness the past few years, they just need more depth to compete with these strong programs.

Schedule Analysis - Although MIT is decent, Bates won't be tested until a month into their season when they play Denison on the road. They should be evenly matched with the Big Red and this is a match to keep an eye on for the 20-30 range in the rankings. They should get trounced by a better Kenyon team the following day. They then move to NESCAC play the following week. They should get beaten up by Midd and Amherst, but they may be able to hang with Bowdoin and Trinity (CT) on a good day. They should enter the NESCAC tournament as the #6 seed.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Season Preview #20: Kalamazoo

General Team Discussion - Mark Riley left his job as the head coach at UPenn after the 2007 season to return to his alma mater. He left for two jobs. The first was to coach the men's tennis team, and the second was to be tournament director of the nationals. No offense to Coach Riley, but I think he's slacking on the first one of his jobs. This is a program that is used to being a national championship contender and they haven't had a whiff of the top 10 in the country in quite some time. Corwin left Riley with a program about 15 in the country in 2007 and they've gone backwards since. This is a team that has been hurt with an improving D3 and they haven't stepped up their recruiting. They may not have the academic draw as some other top schools, but who wouldn't want to play and practice at Stowe Stadium? It's the best facility in the country and just amazingly historic. I would hope K-College steps up their recruiting in the next couple years to get back to where they once were. This year's team should be similar to the previous two years finishing between 20-25. This is a huge year for Kzoo because their top 3 are seniors and need to be replaced. If Riley doesn't bring in a top notch class, we could see the legendary Kalamazoo College fall off the map in tennis. They should win the conference but I don't expect anything from them in the tournament.

Where They'll Win - I have to give Kalamazoo credit because they still play pretty good doubles. They just don't have the singles personnel to compete with the top 20 so they have to bring it in doubles. Brown/Jadun are a good 1 doubles team and although I wouldn't expect them to be an NCAA qualifier, they can definitely knock off some good teams. Whoever plays #2 singles should also be pretty strong. Brown and Jadun seem pretty even so whoever is #2 out of those could generate some wins. Eddy had some good fall results so he should be tough in the #4 spot as well.

Where They'll Lose - They seem to be pretty weak after their top doubles team and I don't think you'll be seeing many wins against top 15 teams at the bottom two doubles spots. They are fairly inexperienced near the bottom of the lineup so I think 5 and 6 are potential weak spots in big matches. Boyd has been up and down as a #3 player and a lot of their success could depend on him generating wins. #1 is also a weak spot, they just don't have the superstar to compete with top teams.

Schedule Analysis - A tough schedule as always for the Hornets. We get a look at them early on as they host Kenyon in 10 days. They then have another test against Chicago and I think this match could be a big indicator of how good they are this season. They have their annual match against DePauw in early March before spending spring break in Maryland with tough matches against Salisbury and Hopkins. If they don't beat Salisbury, this team isn't top 20 material. They need a win against Denison at GLCA and they will also have a crack at a vulnerable Gustavus team at a neutral site. They need to bring it in the conference tournament because Calvin is tough.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Season Preview #19: Emory

General Team Discussion - Probably the most impressive streak in D3 today is 8 straight Final Fours by Emory, not to mention a year end ranking in the top 5 for 10 years in a row. I think you can pencil the Eagles in for a 9th consecutive Final 4 in 2010. Coach Browning does a great job constantly recruiting top players and NCAA Champion Michael Goodwin is now replaced with Dillon Pottish. Emory has arguably the 2nd and 3rd best players in the country. No disrespect to Cruz last year, but I still think Emory had the best team. Both D3 matches they lost last season were because of a doubles sweep, and they still ended up losing 5-4 in both. I don't expect this year's team to be quite as good, but they have a great shot at a national title. Like I've said in two previous previews, their national championship hopes come down to how well they play during the three days of the Final 8. One goal I would set my sights on is taking back the UAA Championship. I think they had won something like 19 straight before being beaten in the finals last year. Emory is pretty much a lock for the Final 8 with the amount of talent they have and I would be shocked not to see them in the Final 4 as well.

Where They'll Win - In my opinion, the best 1-2 punch in the country rivaled only by Kenyon. Pottish and Goodwin are both national title contenders in singles and they make a great team. However, if I coached Emory, I would separate these two in doubles and look for two wins. I think 5 and 6 singles can possibly be very strong spots for Emory as well. It seems as though they have several fairly even players after their top two. Caplan, Egan and Lopp are all experienced players and whoever is in the 5 spot out of those 3 should almost never lose.

Where They'll Lose - I mentioned separating the superstars in doubles because I think 2 and 3 doubles is where Emory will be beaten, just like last year. If the 1 team has a bad day then Emory could find themselves in a big hole because they don't have the strength at the other doubles positions. I think 3 singles and potentially 4 could be weak spots when they play the best teams in the country. I mentioned the experienced trio above and I think whoever has to step into the 3 spot could struggle. Caplan has been a good 3 in the past but he was nowhere to be found last year in singles so he could be a key to Emory's success if he can be a winner at 3 again.

Schedule Analysis - I have the Indoor semifinal circled on my calendar. Most likely an Emory-Wash U battle and the winner of that will almost certainly end up winning Indoors. They don't have any D3 competition for the next month when they take on Kenyon, DePauw and Williams in a 2 week stretch all at home. I think Kenyon is a potential danger match because the Lords match up fairly well against Emory. They then have another 3 weeks before UAAs and they will certainly have two very tough matches there before NCAAs.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Season Preview #18: Carnegie Mellon

General Team Discussion - I don't know if there is any team entering 2010 that is more unpredictable. CMU can do anything from finishing in the top 5 in the country to missing the NCAA tournament and I wouldn't be surprised. The past two years they have snuck into the tournament as the last team from Pool C but this really shouldn't be an issue this year. The Tartans should be more concerned about getting a top seed in their region than making the tournament, mostly so they can avoid Kenyon again. They had a great fall win against Amherst to get them into the top 10 in the country and they couldn't ask for a better draw at Indoors. They play a very tough out-of-conference schedule so they are tested start to finish during their season. This is one of the most talented teams in the country it's just a matter of them all getting on the same page on the same day. They have a lot of experience on this team and I would expect them to spend the majority of their season inside the top 10. As far as their NCAA outlook, it's too early to say. One thing I have been thinking about is that with the fall Amherst win, CMU could have an edge over Williams if the Ephs don't come up with any big wins. This could be important for NCAA seeding and hosting. CMU is definitely a team to watch this year, but they can blow up just as easily as they can make the Final 4.

Where They'll Win - Depth wise, they can compete with anyone in the country. They won at 4, 5 and 6 against Amherst and their 3 is a former ITA Singles Champion. I think they will be one of the best in the country at the 3 through 5 positions in particular and they really need these spots against good teams. Doubles is always a question mark but it seems like they have a good #3 combo in King/Miller who took out Hopkins #1 team in ITAs. Their #1 team Ljuboja/Muliawan also won the regional taking out the NCAA qualifier from Salisbury last year.

Where They'll Lose - They really lack a superstar and this is uncharacteristic of a top 10 program. They need those bottom spots to come up big for them because when they are playing teams ranked in the top 12 in the country, I don't see them getting many wins at 1 or 2 singles. If Chafetz is around, that Amherst result could be very different, but as it was they were able to manage a win at #1 singles. If they can somehow manage to generate wins at the top of the lineup this is automatically a national championship contender. We don't know yet if doubles will be a strength or weakness.

Schedule Analysis - A huge match against a vulnerable Cruz team in the 1st round of Indoors. To me, a must win for CMU to start their season on the right note. Three tough matches in California which will be very important for Pool C standings. They then return home for matches against their regional competition. I expect them to defeat Mary Wash but Hopkins at home will be a great test. A probable match against DePauw in GLCA semis is another big one for NCAA selection. They get a crack at both SCAC teams. The season concludes with UAAs on their home courts and I'm sure they will get a chance to knock off Wash U or Emory in the semis. A 3rd-4th with Chicago is also a potentially huge match.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Season Preview #17: Hampden-Sydney

General Team Discussion - To be honest, I didn't take HSC seriously until their win in the ODAC finals last year. I had been told they were a potential team to watch, but they didn't have a very good regular season. Their win to end the Generals' streak of 13 consecutive conference titles certainly got my attention along with many others and they are now a dangerous team entering the 2010 season returning almost their entire team. They play the top Atlantic South teams this year so we will get some idea of how good they are, but the unfortunate thing for HSC is that their season really comes down to about 4 hours on April 25. They beat W&L and they are in the tournament and ranked again, they lose and they miss the tournament and could end the season unranked. This is definitely a downside of the new NCAA selection process. HSC just doesn't have the team to gain a Pool C bid, so a conference win is a must. HSC has one of the best 1-2 punches in the country that no one knows about because they always seem to be injured. If he's healthy, I expect Moss to make NCAAs. If I were to make a prediction, I would say HSC comes up short against a deeper W&L team, but I was certainly wrong about this match last year.

Where They'll Win - This is about as simple as it gets. The Tigers have two of the most unknown players in D3 and both of these guys can hang with anyone in the country. Moss probably even has top 10 potential judging by some of his results, especially a dominant win over Hayden White in the fall. He should be a top AS player and an NCAA qualifier. Rich Pugh is a very strong #2 and should be able to win against Salisbury and W&L at the top of the lineup. This tandem is also a very strong doubles combo that should beat any team that W&L could field.

Where They'll Lose - HSC needs to find two more wins. Where those will be, I have no idea. They have a decent middle and bottom of the lineup but it certainly isn't the caliber of their ODAC rival. HSC could definitely be helped by jumping ahead in doubles again and then they need only 1 win in the 3-6 spots to beat the Generals. HSC needs one of their lower guys to step up and play some very inspired tennis on April 25th if they want to qualify for the tournament again.

Schedule Analysis - They start their season fairly late and their first tough match will be their regular season contest against W&L on March 19th. As I said in the W&L preview, this should be used as a feeler match and wins and losses should not be that important. Another tough test a week later vs Salisbury, I would expect them to lose 6-3 or 5-4. The Gulls will have too much depth. Two end of the season matches against UMW and JHU should prepare them for conferences. And April 25th is the big day.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Season Preview #16: Trinity (TX)

General Team Discussion - The Tigers have not been the Trinity that we know over the past 18 months. The legendary Coach Newman has changed roles and the men's team now has a new coach. Last year was definitely a rebuilding year for Trinity and it showed in their results, losing the SCAC finals to DePauw and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in I don't know how many years. D3 is getting deeper, and Trinity will need to work harder to find the consistent top 10 form that they had in the early part of this decade. While I don't see them breaking into the top 10 in the country in 2010, it could happen in 2011. Trinity should set their sights on winning the conference this year and returning the the NCAA tournament. They have a very dangerous team and could make some noise if they find themselves in a nice region. I personally think they are a superior team to DePauw. If they don't happen to win their conference, they have improved their out of conference schedule so an at-large bid wouldn't be out of the question. I'm expecting a finish between 11-15 for the Tigers this year and I would think a Sweet 16 showing would be a good season for them.

Where They'll Win - This team should be pretty tough in the top 4 spots. I would expect Frey to return to #1 singles and he is improving. He has a good chance to make NCAAs again. Freshman Delafuente should be a tough out at #2 in their big matches this season like DePauw, Redlands and CMU. Cocanougher was a good 2 last year and he should be very good at #3 as well. Their top two doubles teams should also be excellent. Cocanouger/Kowal was an NCAA semifinalist team last year and a Delafuente/Frey combo at #2 should also be very good throughout the season. Their top of the lineup needs to propel them to a win against top 15 teams.

Where They'll Lose - Depth is a question mark in my mind. They struggled in the bottom of the lineup last year and I don't know if those problems have really been addressed. I consider 5 and 6 weak spots for now when they take on other top 15 programs. Another possible weak spot would be #3 doubles. DePauw plays excellent doubles and if they want to win the conference, Trinity needs a complete doubles lineup in case they happen to slip at one of the top 2 spots.

Schedule Analysis - The lack of a non-conference schedule came back to haunt the Tigers last year. They have added 5 non-conference matches to their schedule for this year in case they happen to lose to DePauw in the conference finals. A very difficult California trip with matches against three top 11 teams in 2 days, followed by Bowdoin a couple days later. If they do well in these 4 matches, they could guarantee themselves an NCAA spot early in the season. If they don't do well, then the biggest match of their season will be against DePauw in the conference final and this will determine their NCAA fate.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Season Preview #15: UT-Tyler

General Team Discussion - Tyler had about 1 year of glory on the national scene. They really weren't noticed as a national power until midway through to 2008 season and they fell off drastically at the midway point of the 2009 season. Entering 2009, Tyler was one of the most promising teams and a sleeper for the Elite 8. They had a great win against Redlands early in the season and peaked at #12 in the ITA rankings, but things would go downhill from there. A first round NCAA loss to Luther would be the low point of the past two seasons for Tyler. They lost their top two players in Phillips and Sajovich and they are now clearly the 2nd best team in Texas. I thought this would be a true down year for Tyler, but they showed a bit of promise with an ITA doubles championship and a win over the NCAA semifinalists from Trinity (TX). I think Tyler will repeat as ASC champions for the 3rd year in a row and I would expect them to hover in the 20-30 range for the whole season. I think this is a good team but I won't expect much from them in NCAAs.

Where They'll Win - No true strengths in singles for Tyler but I have to look at the bottom of the lineup as a potential winning area. From what I know, they don't have the players to win in the top of the lineup, the Texas ITA had 4 Trinity players in the semis. Tyler's depth is still good and they have some experience in the 4-6 position. Another strong point is 1 doubles, and actually 2 doubles should be tough as well. They had the ITA champions in Fenter/Kreines and Ashlock is a former NCAA doubles qualifier who should be in the #2 spot.

Where They'll Lose - Really no one on this team who can compete at the top of the lineup. With Phillips and Sajovich gone, they are really lacking a superstar and I expect to see very few wins in the 1-3 spots when they are playing against ranked teams. They have a good training program at Tyler, so it is possible to see some improvement from their players in the next few months. I'm also not sure what to make of their #3 doubles team right now. I would expect them to field a good team but whether it will be a winner is another question all together.

Schedule Analysis - 3 good matches out in California against Pomona-Pitzer, Cal Lu and Redlands. P-P is a team I consider comparable to Tyler and this will be a good indication of how strong the Pats are. Cal Lu is a similar situation. Tyler takes on Redlands in a rematch of one of the best matches of last Spring and Redlands should come out with an easy win. 2 more tough matches against Luther and Trinity (TX) at home. The Patriots will be looking for revenge against Luther and this is a potential win but I expect them to get beaten up badly by Trinity again. The ASC final is always a big match and I'm assuming they will see LeTourneau or HSU in the finals.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Season Preview #14: Chicago

General Team Discussion - Known as perennial underachievers, I think this is a very strong team this year. They've added two important transfers and they also have good senior leadership to go with their outstanding team. The thing that's on my mind is can they actually make NCAAs? I'll get to their NCAA outlook in a bit but this is one of the few teams that we've already had a look at this year. They split two D1 matches and played two different singles lineups. Chicago is a very deep team but the question is how will the middle of their lineup hold up against top competition? They are at a disadvantage playing in the UAA because they need that auto berth. I will say they have significantly improved their schedule for this year and have many out-of conference opportunities. I think this is a potential top 15 team and they should definitely be a fixture in the top 20. As far as NCAAs is concerned, they have opportunities. As I said earlier, I think they may be competing with Bowdoin and the SCAC #2 for the last spot. They play DePauw and they have plenty of other opportunities as well. I'm not going to make a prediction on whether they make the tournament because it's just too early to say.

Where They'll Win - Everything starts with Zhang at #1. He's an NCAA Singles Championship contender and the Maroons need that win at the top. I also think the bottom of the lineup is a big strength. They typically switch things up a decent amount, but whoever they have this year at 5 and 6 singles should be very tough to beat. Looking at their doubles, it should be very good on paper but they have struggled in the past. I have to say the strongest doubles spot is probably #1. Brinker/Saltarelli have been playing together for a while and I think this could be a potential NCAA qualifying year for them.

Where They'll Lose - One of Chicago's problems has always been they have a lot of very even players after Zhang. This would cause the middle of the lineup to be a big weakness. Do they have players in Alexander, Pawa and Stefanski who can win at 2-3-4? Probably not, but I won't count them out yet. If Chicago is playing a top 15 opponent, chances are they will be lucky to get 1 win out of these 3 spots. The bottom of doubles is still a question mark for me as well. They have what seem to be strong teams but I won't be a believer until they produce some wins against quality teams.

Schedule Analysis - The first big match is Wash U at home. I think people will pay attention to them if they can steal 3 or 4 matches from the Bears or at least 2 and keep it competitive. Another huge match with NCAA implications is on the road at DePauw. In my eyes, a must win for both teams looking to grab a Pool C spot. Also, they need to not have a let down against a dangerous Luther team the following day. Their spring break is spent in Virginia and they play four good teams. I think they must go at least 3-1 on this trip, Hopkins will be the real test. Lastly, a potential 3rd-4th on the road against CMU at UAAs could make or break their season if they are on the NCAA bubble.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Season Preview #13: Johns Hopkins

General Team Discussion - It's been quite a turnaround for Hopkins tennis the past few years, but in a way I think all of the expectation may get to this team. They gave the national runner-up a very tough time in NCAAs last year, but they still have yet to break through. I would be shocked if this year's team didn't end up in the Final 8. This is another complete team with very good players top to bottom including 2 NCAA Singles qualifiers, a D1 transfer and one of the top freshmen in the country. And their most dangerous player may not even be listed there. After the top 4 schools, Hopkins is my #1 contender to win a national title. While I doubt they can have 3 huge wins 3 days in a row at nationals, they definitely are capable of doing so. This is a team on the rise and they continue to bring in good recruiting classes every year. They are to the point of dominating their conference and 2010 should be a breakout year for them. While I think a Final 4 run is possible, I'm expecting a trip to the Elite 8 this year and they will fall to one of the top 4 in a battle.

Where They'll Win - One of the deepest teams in the country and maybe better than anyone at 4 and 5 singles. I'm not sure what their order will be in the middle of their lineup but whoever plays at 4 and 5 singles will be a huge weapon for Hopkins. I'm not sure what their doubles teams will look like either, but a Barnaby/Blythe combo at 2 would be an automatic win for Hopkins against most teams. 3 doubles has traditionally been a problem for Hopkins but they now have many good singles players and I would expect them to produce a very strong #3 team.

Where They'll Lose - I don't see any true weaknesses on this team. I have to compare them to the other top 5 teams in the country. Maldow has been a force for 4 years but I don't know if he can keep up with the best #1's in the country. Wang has been very tough at 2 singles but the same applies for him. He needs to step up against the likes of Chris Goodwin and Andrew Thomson if Hopkins wants to have a chance at a national title. I'm not sure if they can put together a winning combination at 1 doubles either. 6 singles is still up in the air and I'm expecting Barnaby to fill in. Whether or not he's a consistent winner is yet to be seen.

Schedule Analysis - A very unlucky Indoors draw playing Wash U in the first round. If they win this, I think the country will take them very seriously as a national title contender. How they finish at Indoors is also important. Their first real test is NCW and they play Chicago at home a week later. They need to pass both of these tests with flying colors. A tough two day road stretch in early April against Kenyon and CMU, which will really test the Blue Jays. Their last test of the year will be on the road against Mary Washington. They need to practice hard before NCAAs because there's a gap in the schedule.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Season Preview #12: Mary Washington

General Team Discussion – The Eagles were by far the biggest underachievers in the country last year. They were supposed to be making a national championship run but this turned into a team that slipped out of the top 15 and lost in the 1st round of the NCAA tournament. The bad news for Mary Wash is that this is a true rebuilding year for them. They have a very young team and they lack a superstar. The Eagles need to go back to basics and use their good development and rigorous training program to propel them back into the top 15. I really think they need to be concerned about winning the conference this year because Salisbury is not far behind. They have a promising freshman class and a good senior leader in Evan Goff that could allow them to pull a few upsets. They had no players perform well in their fall ITA tournament and the outlook does not look promising for 2010. I would expect them to barely hang on the win the CAC but don’t expect anything from them in the NCAA tournament. A finish somewhere between 15 and 20 is almost a sure thing.

Where They’ll Win – The Eagles are pretty even top to bottom so I think the bottom two to three spots in the singles lineup could be a strength. This team has done almost a complete turnaround with their strength. For the past three years they were very top heavy and now their depth may save them and help them to a win against Salisbury. Another spot where I see a potential strength is 1st doubles. I’m thinking that a possible Goff/Murata combination could be very strong and a potential NCAA qualifier. They have both been very good at their given spots but never played together.

Where They’ll Lose – A huge hole for the Eagles at the top of the lineup. They could have arguably the weakest top 2 or 3 in the top 20 in the country. Baver was losing a lot at 4 last year and he’s in line to move to the #1 spot. Against any ranked team I don’t see them getting a win at the top 2 singles spots. What they are going to do in doubles is unpredictable right now but I’d be surprised if they could put together good combos at 2 and 3 doubles.

Schedule Analysis – A pretty demanding schedule for the Eagles as usual. An early California trip consists of three matches against Pomona-Pitzer, Cal Lu and and Redlands. I would expect them to win the first two. They return home for a very winnable match against W&L on the road and the following weekend they host NCW. They have a brutal weekend in late March against Chicago and CMU at home before starting conference play. They need a regular season win against Salisbury so they can host the conference final.

Season Preview #11: Amherst

General Team Discussion – Amherst played their two biggest matches of the fall without 2 of their top 6 players and it showed in the results as the Jeffs lost to both Kenyon and CMU and dropped to #10 in the national rankings. I have no doubt that Amherst will quickly find its way back into the top 5 in the country and this 2010 team is certainly one of the top national title contenders. I consider Amherst to be the most complete team in the country, I don’t really see any weaknesses. They return almost all of their 2009 team and it seems as though Mark Kahan will be a very capable replacement for Zach Lerner, playing in either the 1 or 2 spot and possibly 1 doubles as well. Amherst has one of the deepest teams in the country and they have to be hungry to get their season started after the disappointing fall. Their national championship hopes, similar to the other contenders, come down to how well they play in nationals. They certainly have the tools to win, it’s just a matter of being on the same page on the right day. A NESCAC title could be another goal that Amherst should look at.

Where They’ll Win – Amherst is definitely one of the deepest teams in the country. I think their true strength is the bottom of the lineup with a potential Waterman-Koenig-Gross combination at 4-5-6 singles. The top of the lineup is very strong as well and I consider Chafetz a top contender for nationals, but I have to go with the bottom as their strength. If fall results are any indication, Waterman could be the best 4 in the country and Gross could also be the best 6. Kahan hasn’t truly been tested yet but if he’s at 3 singles this could be considered a strength as well.

Where They’ll Lose – Although I don’t consider it a true weakness, if you are going to beat Amherst it will be in doubles. What their teams will look like this Spring is unpredictable, but I think they will have trouble putting together 3 teams that can consistently win against top 10 competition. They certainly don’t have any weak spots throughout the singles lineup. Last year’s Amherst team had the dominant 1 doubles combo and I think they will have trouble replicating those wins with the loss of Lerner.

Schedule Analysis – They start in California with a nice warmup match against Salisbury before two big tests against Redlands and CMS. After these three, they have a few weeks of downtime before road matches against Bowdoin and Williams on consecutive weekends in early April. They also play both Trinity (CT) and Middlebury on the road but the big advantage for the Jeffs is that they will be hosting the NESCAC tournament and I would call them the favorite in that because of the home court advantage.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Season Preview #10: Skidmore

General Team Discussion - Skidmore emerged on the national scene only last year. They were a borderline ranked team in 2008, and in 2009 they were consistently in the 20-25 range. I definitely think this is a program on the rise since they have stepped up their recruiting significantly in the past few years. A Sweet 16 finish last year established Skidmore on the national scene and I'm thinking they may be here for a while. I'm not all that familiar with this team since they are fairly new to the national scene, but I definitely see potential here. I think they have to step up their competition a bit and maybe play some more East coast mid-atlantic teams, just so their players get a taste of top competition on a regular basis. They have a potential NCAA Singles Qualifier in Girardin at the top who had a good junior career. They will almost certainly win their conference giving them an NCAA berth but I think they are a few years away from being a threat to a top seed in their region. I would expect a similar year to last year for Skidmore.

Where They'll Win - #1 singles is probably their strongest spot and they seem to also be strong in the 4-5 singles range. I doubt they have anyone who can win at 2 and 3 singles against top 20 teams. Their #1 doubles team was also fairly strong last year and I would expect a repeat performance. Their schedule is fairly lopsided so I would expect them to dominate the majority of their matches in the spots I listed but they will probably struggle against the really tough teams on their schedule.

Where They'll Lose - I don't think they have much in the way of a strong middle of the lineup. 2 and 3 singles are spots I would expect them to lose if they played teams comparable to them. Also, depth in doubles is a question mark for me. Once they get into NCAA competition, I would expect their doubles to falter most likely.

Schedule Analysis - Only four big matches on their schedule. During their California trip, they play Pomona-Pitzer, Redlands and CMS. I think they will struggle to even win matches against the second two, but the match against P-P is probably the best gauge of how good Skidmore is. I would consider these two fairly evenly matched teams. They play Williams at home and this match will tell us if they have developed throughout the season. CMS and Williams are similar in strength so we will see if Skidmore is up to the challenge on their home courts. They should win the Liberty League title easily.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Season Preview #9: Kenyon

General Team Discussion - The Lords have been to the Elite 8 for the past two years and it is unlikely that they will be derailed this year. They have a very strong core of four senior leaders who should help this team make a national title run. This is probably their strongest team in the history of the program, but on the flip side it is also their last chance at a top 5 finish for several years to come since they will be killed by graduations. Kenyon had an up and down year last year with a win over the national champions, but at the same time they barely made it out of their regional. They are playing the Indoors for the second straight year and are the favorites to make the finals from their half. I think Kenyon has the ability to beat anyone on the right day as shown by their fall Amherst win, it is just rare to see them all on the same page at the same time. I think this team is a darkhorse for a national championship, but I'd say another Elite 8 finish is a more realistic goal for the Lords in 2010.

Where They'll Win
- If healthy, they have two of the top 10 players in the country and it's probably the best 1-2 punch with the exception of Emory. Their doubles was shaky at times in 2009, but I really like the Piskacek-Polster team as a very strong 2 team. In the 3 through 6 positions, it seems to me like they have 4 pretty equal players so I would expect whoever steps in at 5 and 6 singles to be consistent winners. Despite an NCAA quarterfinal appearance, the Greenberg-Vandenberg combo is still a question mark for me.

Where They'll Lose
- As I mention above, I think #1 doubles is a potential weakness, but it could also be a potential strength. I think the biggest trouble spots for Kenyon are definitely the middle of the singles lineup. Polster seems as though he's a fairly weak 3 for a top 5 program so he needs to step up against top competition. I'm not calling it a weakness, but I need to see some good results from their #3 doubles team before I'm a believer that they are a consistent winner.

Schedule Analysis - Indoors is huge for Kenyon. The pressure is on them to make the finals and they need to come through to gain confidence. They really lucked out with their draw so they need to make the most of it. They have two tough matches in Mid-March against Emory and Wash U. These are definitely teams they will see again at nationals so they need to prove to themselves that they can be competitive. The last big one on their schedule is a home match against Hopkins which will be a tough test between two borderline top 5 teams.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Season Preview #8: Washington & Lee

General Team Discussion - After a series of 13 straight ODAC championships, the Generals slipped in 2009 and fell to Hampden-Sydney, marking the end of what was a very disappointing season for W&L. Last year, their problem was that they lacked a superstar and this hurt them in both doubles and singles. They rarely won the top spots against any ranked opponent and they were dominated by rivals Mary Wash and CMU, both of whom they usually have close matches with. The good news for the Generals is that they are very young and they may have found the superstar that they were looking for in Hayden White. He had a very impressive run winning the ITA Fall Regional, beating some very respectable opponents. Whether White can save the Generals is a different question. I would expect them to return to 1st place in the ODAC this year and they will be a borderline top 20 team. They have good depth and traditionally they have excellent doubles, but they seem to be lacking doubles players on this current team. W&L should qualify for NCAAs but I wouldn't expect them to pose a threat to any top team once they are there.

Where They'll Win - White will be an NCAA Singles Qualifier and a potential quarter or semifinalist. He should have an excellent season near the top of the lineup. After him, it seems to me that W&L has a lot of players who are fairly equal. Given this fact, they should be somewhat successful in the bottom of the lineup at 5 and 6. I would expect whoever takes the reigns at 2-3-4 to struggle against tough competition. They lack a good doubles combo, but once again they are deep so I think #3 doubles could be a potential winning spot for them if they can get the right combo there.

Where They'll Lose - As I said above, I think the middle of the lineup is going to be the achilles heel for the Generals this year. Last year they traditionally lost the top 3 spots, and even with White shifting those players down a spot, I still think they won't win all that many matches. The top of doubles is also going to be a problem, given that White and his partner didn't get out of the first round at ITAs. I doubt they can put together two top doubles teams to take on their Atlantic South rivals. W&L needs to be tough near the bottom if they want to have a chance against other top 20 teams.

Schedule Analysis - The first match on their schedule that catches my eye is their annual clash with UMW, which they will be hosting this year. This will be a great test as to how tough W&L is this year. Not even a week later, they have to travel to Hampden-Sydney for a preview of the conference final. This should be more of a feeler match for them rather than being concerned about wins and losses. They should get rolled by JHU this year but they may be able to hang with Chicago on their home courts in late March. Their most important match of the season will be the NCAA qualifier against HSC in the ODAC finals and they finish with a tough match at CMU in early May which should be good NCAA prep.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Season Preview #7: Luther

General Team Discussion - Luther has been dominant in their conference during the past 3-4 years however they took a big step forward as a program last year in the NCAA tournament when they beat UT-Tyler in a thriller. Tyler was a top 20 program and with this win Luther found themselves in their first Sweet 16 in school history. They return 5 of 6 starters from last year's team which finished inside the top 30. They got off to a good start this year with an ITA Regional Championship in doubles which included a win over Kenyon. Luther is starting to make themselves known on the national scene and cracking the top 20 is a realistic goal on which they should set their sights. Although their location does prohibit them from playing all the top Central Region schools, they still have a respectable schedule which has plenty of opportunities. I would expect this team to repeat as conference champions and a lot depends on their NCAA draw. Things are going to be quite different since it's unlikely that Gustavus will be a top seed in their region and host. Luther is a program on the rise and they have a lot of experience on this year's team.

Where They'll Win - Luther is surprisingly solid everywhere. They get contributions from all of their team members. If I had to pick strong spots, I look at 1 doubles with Sundstrom/Rijal as regional champions. Sundstrom took out Dustin Phillips in NCAAs last year so he certainly should be solid player at the top spot. Whiteley is a former top Northern junior who also should be tough near the top of the lineup. They are fairly deep as well and definitely solid with experienced players at the 3 and 4 spots. Mateski, their NCAA hero last year should be a tough out at #5 as well.

Where They'll Lose - Seems to me like Luther has 5 players who are very solid. They may be missing that 6th guy unless a freshman comes up big for them. Therefore, 3 doubles could also be a potential problem. In a match against a team like Carleton, it could come down to who is deeper and I think Luther could potentially be at a deficit this year. Despite the fact that Luther seems solid everywhere, I think they would probably be overmatched at almost every spot against a top 15 team.

Schedule Analysis -Their first real test is March 5 against Chicago. If they are able to compete with the Maroons, they can be taken seriously as a contender on the national scene. They play DePauw the following day, so this weekend could set the tone for their season. A fairly soft spring break trip followed by a tough road trip to Texas where they have a rematch with Tyler and then Trinity (TX), who is probably the best team on their schedule. An April 17th match against Carleton could have some effect on NCAA seeding and national rankings as well. They face some stiff competition in their conference tournament but they should pull through.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Discussion: What makes a good D3 coach?

I received an e-mail a few days ago asking how a good coach makes a difference in D3. I have never coached so this is just my view on how a program should be run. I'm going to break this down into four categories: recruiting, player development, motivation and match preparation. I see each of these four as the most important things for a coach.

Recruiting: Compared to 5 years ago, D3 has become much more recruit happy and we now see as many as 30 kids in a given year enter D3 who were top 250 in the country as juniors. Over the past five years I think this number has nearly tripled. You take a look at your current top 10 teams, and 9 of them are filled with highly ranked juniors. How Santa Cruz competes I'll get to later. 5 years ago, D3 coaches didn't go out and recruit aggressively, rather they waited for players to come to them. This doesn't work anymore. I'm going to use two opposite examples here. The first being Swarthmore. This was a perennial top 15 team for many years up until 2007. What happened was other teams got better and Coach Mullan didn't go out and recruit. They are now unranked 3 years later. You look at the opposite situation at Amherst. Amherst was always a respectable team hovering in the 10-20 range. Chris Garner comes in and recruits a whole team in one year. They were national runner-up a year after missing NCAAs. All you need is a few good players and the kids just start coming. If you want a a top D3 program, I think these coaches need to be at Clays and Kalamazoo and maybe some Sectional Championships. The majority of the top D3 schools are very attractive places to get an education, so it's really on the coach to go after these top players. With the exception of the Ivies, it shouldn't be hard for D3 coaches to pull kids away from academically strong lower D1 schools. In conclusion, I think we've seen that you need to recruit well to be competitive. A couple of 2-stars each year just doesn't cut it anymore.

Player Development: So you have your team full of top 200 recruits. Now what? I want to touch on a couple big issues. In men's tennis, just recruiting a team only gets you so far. You have to develop your players once you have them because your competition is improving every day. Now this is tough with your players being students before athletes, but it certainly can be done. I ask the question, why are players in D3 and not in big time D1 tennis at an academically strong school? Maybe they didn't play a lot of junior tournaments or they were undersized or lacked a weapon on the court. Whatever it may be, they must be very talented to be in the starting lineup at a top D3 school and I'm sure they knocked off numerous D1 players during their junior careers. A good coach needs to know how to coach at this level. It's as simple as that. Clearly, Roger Follmer and John Browning are doing something right. Yes, they have good players but they also work with their players once they get them. I want to look at the 3 biggest underachievers the past couple years. Carnegie Mellon, Chicago and Johns Hopkins. They all have had top 10 quality rosters for at least the past two years but haven't seen the results. What do these schools have in common? Two things come to mind. The first is that they are academically challenging research universities. So are Emory and Wash U, so this can't be the issue. The second is that they also have elite women's teams under the same coach as the men's team. This is just unacceptable in my opinion. A top D3 men's team should have a head coach and an assistant coach just for the men. It's impossible to compete otherwise because your players don't get the attention they need. You can't meet the needs of 20 players, both guys and girls (two completely different games I might add). Part of the job description of being a college coach is meeting the needs of your players and helping them to improve their tennis. Bob Hansen does this better than anyone else in the country. Yes, the Slugs put in a lot of time on court, but he knows exactly how to make his players better and that's why they win national championships. I won't get into coaching specifics, but the best teams have coaches with good track records who can coach at the level of top D3 players.

Motivation: This is where the job of a D3 coach is arguably harder than the job of a D1 coach. If you look at the rosters of the top 30 D1 schools, I would say 75% of those kids want to try their hand in the pros. Their future and keeping their scholarship are enough motivation to work hard on the court every day. We don't have scholarships in D3, so where does the motivation come from? Yes the players have to be self-motivated but I think the true motivation has to come from the coach. A coach needs to get his players to buy into his system. You can't have your kids not caring in practice and matches or the results won't come. A coach needs to be an intense, up-tempo, motivating figure. I don't think a laid back personality succeeds in big time college tennis. I think teams often reflect their coaches, so the best teams often have the best coaches personality-wise. These are still young, fragile minds you are dealing with and a coach needs to convince his kids that they are playing for something. Why spend all those hours on the court and those weekends traveling? What's the end result? A good coach has an answer to that question and he convinces his players that it's the right answer.

Match Preparation: This involves conducting productive practices, properly translating what you have learned in practice to a match and making sure your players are ready in the hours leading up to a match. Your players are constantly studying and you have a limited amount of time for practice so it must be worthwhile. Coaching both singles and doubles is difficult, but it's a must. Players at this level need to have good feet and be able to sit at the baseline and never miss. You rarely see huge forehands in D3, it's mostly grinders. Your players need to be in good shape and very solid all around. Once they have things down in practice, they need to be able to execute under pressure. Coaches have the luxury of coaching during matches and I think college tennis would be so much different without that aspect. You also need to make sure your team is well prepared and this is where the managerial aspect of the job is important.

I don't know if there is any coach out there who does all four of these things perfectly. I think they are all equally important and the best coaches will excel in all areas.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Season Preview #6: Pomona-Pitzer

General Team Discussion - A team similar to Denison who has found themselves consistently in the 20-30 range for the past couple years. I think recruiting is the major issue for P-P, they just aren't getting the players of other top D3 schools. I find this a bit odd because of its amazing location and academic reputation. Unless you are Santa Cruz you really can't compete in the top tier without pulling in top recruits. That doesn't mean this isn't a very good team. They have the luxury of playing a very tough schedule so their players are battle tested by the end of the season. Last year they finished 4th in the SCIAC, but had a few flashes of brilliance giving both Tyler and Redlands a hard time. I expect them to edge out Cal Lu this year but they are still a very distant 3rd behind CMS and Redlands. This is overall a very good program and Coach Belletto does an outstanding job with his players. I think they are a long shot for NCAAs and beating Redlands and CMS back to back days to win the conference is nearly impossible. I would expect a finish between 20-25 this season for P-P and I think this will continue until they step up their recruiting.

Where They'll Win - Meyer should be an NCAA Singles Qualifier and can be competitive with the best in the country at the top singles spot. He wasn't in every match last year maybe due to some injury issues so hopefully he can stay healthy. They have other returning starters who could see action in the 2-3-4 spots so they should be fairly strong in the top half of the lineup. Their 2 and 3 doubles also seemed to be strong for most of the year last year so I expect some wins for P-P in the bottom of doubles.

Where They'll Lose - Not sure who is going to fill in at the bottom of the singles lineup so this is a probably weak spot. They have a few freshmen on the roster so seeing one of them in the 5 or 6 spot wouldn't be a surprise. They have yet to come up with a doubles team that can consistently win against tough competition so I would expect 1 doubles to be a position that they rarely win against a brutal schedule. If they can fix this hole at the top of the doubles lineup I think this could potentially turn into a top 20 team.

Schedule Analysis - A big conference match early against Cal Lutheran the weekend of Indoors. They lost this match last year so we will see if they can turn the tables. Another good test in early March against Mary Washington. Another match I'd keep an eye on is a March 20th battle against Whitman. The Squirrels are supposed to be slightly worse than P-P, so this is an out-of-conference match that will really test the Hens. A tough late season match against Redlands should let P-P know how in form they are heading into the SCIAC Tournament.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Season Preview #5: Middlebury

General Team Discussion - A fixture in the top 5 for the past several years, 2010 looks no different for Middlebury. I currently have them at #2 in my power rankings and they have as good a chance as anyone to win a national title. This is probably their best team since the 2007 team that finished 4th. They traditionally have a bit of trouble during their early season California swing transitioning from indoors to outdoors but by the time NESCAC play begins, Midd is always ready to go. This is a very complete team however they typically struggle in doubles. If they can find their range in doubles, I would be tempted to call them the favorite for nationals. The NESCAC tournament is being hosted by Amherst so Midd is at a disadvantage there, but they will almost definitely be hosting an NCAA Regional. I think Midd's quest for a national title simply comes down to how well they play during the 3 days of the Elite 8 because they have the tools to win it all. I consider them about even with Amherst, Emory and Wash U and who wins among those teams is very unpredictable.

Where They'll Win - The strongest top 4 in the country. They have 4 players who can arguably play #1. Peters went from #4 singles last year to winning regionals this fall and probably will start the spring at #1. Olson is back a probable #2 and he was successful playing 1 last year. I think Thomson will step in at 3 and he has had great success the past few years in the #2 spot. And Andrew Lee who was #1 as a soph will probably be in the #4 spot and he is definitely one of the best 4's in the country if not the best. Midd probably has the best 2-3-4 punch in the country. Also, Lee/Thomson enter the spring as the #1 doubles team in the country and they had some very impressive wins in the fall. They should be dominant against anyone they play.

Where They'll Lose - The bottom of the lineup in singles and doubles is a question mark. I don't think their 5 and 6 are set in stone yet and they often struggled at these spots last year. Amherst and Williams are both very deep so Midd will need to have solid play at 5 and 6 to keep up. I think an Olson/Peters combo is likely at #2, but these are both singles players who need to improve their doubles game. This team is still unpredictable. Farah played #1 doubles last year so he could potentially see some action at the 2 or 3 spot. Midd is a bit shaky at 3 or 4 spots so they have some holes to patch.

Schedule Analysis - Unlike other years, I expect them to take care of business this year in California. They are clearly better than the big 3 in the West, so I like them to finish the trip undefeated. Williams on the road during the regular season is a danger match. They have Amherst at home during the regular season as well, the day before they play Williams. Midd often has injury issues, so if they can stay healthy throughout the season that could be a 2-0 weekend for them. NESCAC tournament at Amherst is always big and if they can go undefeated in regular season play, they could avoid Williams in the semis. I think they'll enter NCAAs in the top 5 in the country.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Season Preview #4: Salisbury

General Team Discussion - Salisbury has been a fixture behind Mary Washington in the CAC. They almost broke through two years ago and won the regular season match between the two, but they were unable to win the conference and get the NCAA bid. This could be their year. Mary Wash has their weakest team since pre-Bristow days and Salisbury has two senior leaders at the top of their lineup. It's not often that Salisbury is the more experienced team. I think the Sea Gulls have the potential to be a top 20 team, but top 15 is a stretch. Their schedule is littered with out-of-conference opportunities but I doubt they can win enough of those matches to qualify for NCAAs through the very competitive Pool C. I think this could be the height of the Salisbury program looking into the future. This is their year if they are going to make NCAAs any time in the near future. If they manage to qualify I don't think they would pose a real threat to a Hopkins or CMU or anyone else who might be the 1 seed in their region.

Where They'll Win - Burtzlaff/Thomas qualified for NCAAs last year and are probably a top 15 doubles team in the country if not top 10. They should be able to beat whoever UMW brings at 1. Burtzlaff is a potential NCAA Singles qualifier and has some experience playing 1 singles after the past couple years. Thomas and Lupinetti at 2 and 3 are the key in my opinion. They need to get wins against Mary Wash in singles because the Gulls are overmatched in the bottom of the lineup. If Salisbury can win the top 3 spots, I think they can win the conference. #1 doubles and 1 through 3 singles are their strongest spots.

Where They'll Lose - The bottom of the lineup is still a question mark, particularly in singles. These guys now have a couple years under their belt so they will improve under pressure. Their doubles were up and down last year but didn't come through when they were needed. The good thing for the players lower in the lineup is that Salisbury has a very tough schedule, so they will be more than ready for Mary Washington when the match arrives. I think they need to find a win 4 through 6 against UMW to win the match and potentially 2 or 3 doubles as well.

Schedule Analysis - A loaded schedule starting with a tough season opener against NC Wesleyan. I think the match against Bowdoin in California will tell Salisbury if they can hang with teams in the 10-15 range so keep an eye out for this one. A home match against Kzoo in late March is a match that they should win. The regular season match against Mary Wash is important because it will determine who hosts the conference final. If they can get that home court edge for the conference final, this could be their ticket to NCAAs. And obviously the biggest match of the year will be the CAC final on April 23.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Season Preview #3: CMS

General Team Discussion - The last three years CMS and Santa Cruz have alternated winning the West regional and qualifying for the Elite 8. However, Cruz won nationals both of their years and a national title has still eluded the Stags. They have an excellent team as always but when you have a singles and doubles superstar like Larry Wang graduate, it's tough to fill those shoes. Robbie Erani has certainly stepped up in an attempt to fill those shoes, but I don't seriously consider CMS as a national title contender this year. They are awfully tough to beat on their home courts, but unfortunately for them they won't be hosting nationals again. The good thing for the Stags is they have their regular season match against Cruz at home and hopefully this will lead to NCAA regionals at home as well. They should have a tougher time than last year against Redlands, but I would expect them to repeat as SCIAC Champions.

Where They'll Win - Certainly one of the deepest teams in the country in singles. They have an extremely capable bottom of the lineup that can compete with anyone in the country. I expect to see Ronald Wu and Russell Brockett be dominant potentially playing 5 and 6 singles. Erani has established himself as a top 10 player in the country if fall results hold true and he should be able to compete with the best #1's in the country. Their 1 doubles team is definitely their strongest of the 3 and they need consistent wins to give the Stags a chance to win in singles.

Where They'll Lose - I think a lot of CMS' success rests on Captain Mikey Lim's shoulders. He has been up and down during his college career, but he needs to step into the role of both 2 singles and 2 doubles this year. I don't see him being able to compete with the best in the country this high in the lineup. I'm also concerned about their #3 singles. Maybe MacColl or Chien here, but again I think both of them will struggle. I think another weakness here is the bottom of doubles, which is often a strong suit of the Stags. They need to find a competent 3 doubles team to allow them to hang in doubles and let the bottom of their singles lineup to win the match for them.

Schedule Analysis - An interesting choice by Coach Settles to skip Indoors. I'm sure he has his reasons. As usual, CMS plays one of the toughest schedules in the country. A tough two days early in the season against CMU and Trinity (TX). Another huge one 10 days later against Amherst. If they can beat Amherst, I think you could call them a legitimate national championship contender. The same goes for the Middlebury match. If they can compete with these NESCACs, I'd say they have the potential to make a Final 4 run. The biggest match of the season is March 25th at home against Cruz, a must win for the Stags. They also need to make sure they take care of business at the SCIAC Championship where they most likely will face Redlands in the finals.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Season Preview #2: Denison

General Team Discussion- Denison has established themselves as a Central region power, but they haven't been able to crack the national scene lately. Since winning the NCAC tournament in 2006, they really haven't been competitive with Kenyon, particularly since the arrival of Mike Greenberg. Denison has a very young team though and with Kenyon graduating several starters, we could see some closing of the gap in the NCAC again in 2011. For now, Denison really isn't a threat to make the national tournament because they won't have the non-conference resume. I don't consider them a threat to Kenyon this year, they probably lose 6-3 on their best day and that's being generous. Denison brings in solid recruits and they are well coached in doubles, but I think their top guys would struggle to even make Kenyon's lineup. I expect them to hover between 20-30 in the country like the last few years but don't expect too much more.

Where They'll Win- Against most of their schedule the top of their lineup with Hobrath and Cempre will be dominant. However when they take on the Lords, they need the bottom of their lineup to step up which is their weak spot. Again, the top of their doubles lineup can be a winner most of the time. They have some experience in doubles so against Central region foes, I think they will win matches by being dominant in doubles. Basically, doubles and their top guys will carry them against the majority of teams but against Kenyon they need their 3 through 6 to step up.

Where They'll Lose - I said above that their top of the lineup is their strong suit. I question the bottom of their singles lineup since these players were not as established in the juniors. Most of their schedule is fairly simple so these players shouldn't have much trouble, but against tough teams I don't know if they will come through for the Big Red.

Schedule Analysis - Obviously the biggest match of the season will be the NCAC championship match against Kenyon on Denison's home courts. This will be their only way to make NCAAs. Other matches to watch are a mid-season contest against a tough Bates team. They are playing at home and this should be a very even match. Lastly, a probable showdown with Kalamazoo at the GLCA could show us how good Denison is. A win in that match could give them a shot at Carnegie Mellon or DePauw.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Season Preview #1: Bowdoin

General Team Discussion - Since Coach Joyner took over just a few years ago, Bowdoin has proved that they are a national power. They have had success in the NESCAC and have found themselves in the Sweet 16 three straight years now. They have hovered in the 10-15 range since 2007 and they probably will be a fixture there for years to come. They had an upset win in the NESCAC tournament a few years ago, but for the most part I think they have established themselves for the time being as a very solid #4 in NESCAC, well ahead of Trinity (CT), but far behind the top 3. This 2010 team could be their weakest in a few years. I consider Sullivan and Pena to both be top 20 players in the country, but I'm concerned about the bottom half of their lineup. Neely/Pena had a great run to the NCAA finals last year and they will need to be a force at #1 doubles if Bowdoin wants to qualify for the tournament out of a very competitive Pool C. If my power rankings hold, they are team #7 from Pool C and miss the tournament. I doubt they have the team to knock off a top 3 NESCAC so they will need to win matches in their out of conference schedule. Bowdoin is dangerous this year as always and if they can manage to find themselves in the tournament, they could give Midd or Amherst a run for their money on the right day. Bowdoin will be competing with the SCAC #2 and possibly the UAA #4 for the last Pool C bid.

Where They'll Win - Bowdoin has 5 spots that they can win against any team in the country on the right day. Their doubles is strong as always with the defending NCAA runner up at #1. Sullivan should be able to carry whoever he plays with at 2 giving them another strong team and potential Anderson/Cranin combo at #3 could be a consistent winner. The last two spots where they are very strong are the top 2 singles spots. Sullivan is a former NCAA Semifinalist and can potentially take out Lebedoff, Chafetz or Peters. Pena is one of the top sophomores in the country and should go close to undefeated at #2 if he's playing to his potential. These two great players give Bowdoin a chance against anyone if they are on their game.

Where They'll Lose - If Bowdoin isn't ahead after doubles, they are in big trouble against any top 15 team. Typically a very deep team, their two graduating seniors really hurt them. They brought in a solid recruit who could see some time at 5 and 6, but I don't think they can get consistent wins 3 through 6 singles against other good teams. Anderson has typically been very good low in the lineup but his NESCAC opposition should be a little too much at the #3 spot. Neely could be a very good 6, but he has been in and out of the singles lineup during his career. Bowdoin needs to jump ahead in doubles to give their 1-2 punch a chance to lead them to victory.

Schedule Analysis - Their first 10 days of the season could determine their NCAA fate. They have huge out of conference matches against Trinity (TX) and Redlands in California. They will have a shot to knock off a beatable CMS team as well. A huge match for this team as always is their showdown with Trinity (CT) and this is a must-win. If Bowdoin comes out of their California trip with losses to Trinity (TX), Redlands and CMS, their NCAA chances look grim. Another match to keep an eye on would be a home match against Williams on April 24. This is winnable and could save their season if they are in a tough spot.