Monday, January 31, 2011

2011 Team Preview #20: Williams

Will Petrie

Coach: Dan Greenberg, 2nd Season
Location: Williamstown, Massachusetts
Conference: NESCAC
2008 Ranking: 6
2009 Ranking: 8
2010 Ranking: 11
2011 Projected: 9

2010 was the first year since 1996 that Williams failed to make at least the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament and finish in the top 10 in the country. Losing to Amherst is unfamiliar territory for the Ephs, but I think it taught them a lesson and I expect them to be back in the top 10 this year. I think Williams is the only team in the top 20 who will start no seniors, so they certainly have a bright future. Last year, I think some questionable scheduling did in Williams. They started with a road match against NC Wesleyan. Going to that match, I'm pretty sure Williams was very sure that they were going to win comfortably. They were wrong and I think it took them a few weeks to recover after that loss and it also really did them in when it came to rankings. The problem is that when your season is only 6 weeks long, you've got to be sharp every match, and one loss can really hurt you. On the positive side, this really was one of the best teams in the country last year. They beat Amherst 2 weeks before the Jeffs made their run to the final, and they even played very close with Amherst in the NCAA regional final. That shows me that this team has top 8 potential if they are playing well. One thing that worries me is that freshman Matt Micheli is currently not on their roster, and he was slated to play #2 for them this spring and would have been one of the best freshmen in the country. I'm not exactly sure where he is but they will miss him a lot if he's not in the lineup this spring. Williams does have one of the best players in the country in Felix Sun who really should support them and get a lot of wins even in the tough NESCAC. They have a great supporting cast as well and really are as deep as anyone in the country. Traditionally, Williams doubles is not very good. They are known for getting swept and getting into fairly big holes, and it would make life a lot easier if they could avoid that this year. I expect the Ephs to grab one of the Pool C spots and hopefully they can put together a strong enough regular season to get a top seed in their region. They've booked a California trip this year and scheduled 4 ranked teams out there, and I certainly would think Redlands, Cruz and CLU are all huge matches for them to try to pad their out-of-conference resume. I don't think it even needs to be said that matches against their NESCAC rivals are very important to them. I definitely expect Williams to get back on track this year and be in the hunt late in May after last year's disappointment.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

2011 Team Preview #19: Redlands

Anish Nanda

Coach: Geoff Roche, 12th Season
Location: Redlands, California
Conference: SCIAC
2008 Ranking: 12
2009 Ranking: 10
2010 Ranking: 16
2011 Projected: 16

I have mixed feelings about the state of Redlands tennis. There are two sides to this: one being that they are clearly not as good as they used to be, and the other is that they are still a good team who finished 10th in the country only 2 years ago. 2010 was clearly not a good year, as they missed the NCAA tournament for the first time in 17 years, and they have now finished double digits in the rankings for 4 consecutive years, something that only happened once between 1992-2006 when they finished 10th in 2003. The thing that puzzles me is that I'm not sure if the team just isn't there, or the talent is there and they just can't win. They enter this year on the outside looking in when it comes to the NCAA tournament. With 2 top 10 teams in their conference, it is going to be very difficult for the Bulldogs to make the tournament, but I feel it's something they have to do to get back on track as a program. When you have a tradition like Redlands and you train as much as they do, things better go well or alumni and the athletic department will start pointing fingers. That finger pointing will start if they have another bad year in 2011. There's a lot of pressure on this team, but I feel they have both talent and experience. They've got 4 very solid players led by senior Cam Spearman who should see time at both 1 singles and 1 doubles. He's got arguably the biggest serve in D3 and is a great doubles player. After him are sophomores Anish Nanda and Darren Dahl, and grad student Jeff Hammond who missed his first year with an injury. Dahl was supposed to be a 1 or 2 player last year for Redlands but rarely saw the lineup, so hopefully he will meet his expectations this year. Nanda was one of my players to watch and should form the other half of a potential NCAA doubles qualifier with Spearman. Redlands also has one of the most underrated doubles teams in the country in Hammond and Keven Wong. Doubles was a big problem last year, and it's something they are known for and need to fix to get some wins against their daunting schedule. 3 matches I have my eye on are an early season contest against Mary Wash, a mid-season date with Williams and a home match against Cal Lutheran. Redlands really needs to put together a team effort because they don't have that star player in their back pocket. 3rd in the SCIAC and 16th in the country isn't bad by any means, but it's not up to Redlands' standards.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Matt Seeberger Becomes Assistant Coach at UC Santa Cruz

I missed this before doing my Cruz preview, but with the departure of Bryce Parmelly, both Colin Mark-Griffin and Slug great Matt Seeberger will be coaching Cruz this year. If Seeberger's playing career is any indication of his coaching prowess, the Slugs will have many national titles in their future. I'm looking forward to seeing what he can do with the Slugs in the upcoming years. It's great for UCSC to have the most decorated tennis player in D3 history back on campus.

2011 Team Preview #18: Brandeis

Simon Miller

Coach: Ben Lamanna, 6th Season
Location: Waltham, Massachusetts
Conference: UAA
2008 Ranking: NR
2009 Ranking: NR
2010 Ranking: 30
2011 Projected: 25

This is case number 2 where the NCAA selection process does in a team. I didn't pay much attention to Brandeis most of last year, and that's because they didn't really do anything. UAAs roll around and all of the sudden these guys are knocking off a top 20 team and giving top 10 teams just about all they can handle. Credit to the coach for getting his players ready to play, and credit to the players for realizing the importance of the conference tournament and believing that they were as good as anyone else there. They should carry a huge amount of confidence into this season and I think they will. 3 or 4 years down the road when Brandeis is top 20 in the country, I think Coach Lamanna will look back at the UAA 1st round in 2010 and realize that those 4 hours were a turning point for his program. Had they lost that match, I probably wouldn't be writing about them now and they probably wouldn't expect much from themselves this season. That's over and they have to think about the present. I'm not going to count Brandeis out of the NCAA tournament, but I'll say they are a real long shot. They will have a crack at 9 ranked teams this year, so they will certainly have their fair share of opportunities. They start with a California trip and managed to schedule CMS and CLU. These matches will be good for Brandeis because it will show them the level they need to get to eventually. The biggest match for them in California is against Pomona-Pitzer, a team closer to their level. Later in the season, I'd keep an eye on contests against Bates, MIT and Trinity (CT). Brandeis' current #1 Nick White transferred from Trinity (CT) after his second year. They host the UAA tournament this year and will surely have a crack at a top 20 team there. I expect them to start 4 seniors this year, most notably Nick White and Simon Miller, so they certainly won't be short on experience. Brandeis is currently a good team who has shown vast improvements over the past couple years. It's an uphill battle from here though as it's easy to become a good team, but very difficult to be a great team. The next few years will tell us if they have what it takes to break into the elite of D3, and that starts in 2011. They have to finish better than they did last year and continue to show improvement.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

2011 Team Preview #17: UC Santa Cruz

Erich Koenig

Coach: Bob Hansen, 30th Season
Location: Santa Cruz, California
Conference: None
2008 Ranking: 4
2009 Ranking: 1
2010 Ranking: 5
2011 Projected: 5

Every year I underrate these guys and every year they prove me wrong, so here we go again. I had them at #8 in the fall and then remembered who I was dealing with and figured I should move them up. Cruz's season last year was a mixed bag. They won the Indoors title, but didn't do much the rest of the season until NCAAs when they took down Cal Lutheran and gave CMS all they could handle in Claremont. Cruz comes into this season much like last season. They have a strong top of the lineup but they are fairly inexperienced and seemingly lack the depth of other top teams. I'm beginning to think that the outstanding recruiting being done by CMS is becoming a little too much for Cruz to handle. The Slugs have won the national title in '05, '07 and '09, and therefore one would think they may be in line for one this year. To do so, they will have to topple 2 excellent California teams just to get to the Final 8. Compared to other years, Cruz plays a more daunting D3 schedule which will hopefully prepare them for NCAAs. I expect them to do well at Indoors as always and after Emory, I think Cruz is the favorite to win it. Don't underestimate Bob Hansen and don't underestimate training 25 hours a week, because coaching and practice always makes Cruz one of the best in the country no matter what their roster looks like. Taking a look at some specifics on their team, Brian Pybas will have to remain as one of the top players in the country for the Slugs to be in the top 5 this year. Equally as important is sophomore Erich Koenig who was one of my players to watch. The hope for the Slugs is that first-time starter Parker Larsen will become a rock solid #3, giving Cruz a shot to win against anyone at the top of the lineup. Their doubles should be excellent as always and how they do in doubles will most likely determine the outcome of most of their matches. Another note is that Bryce Parmelly is no longer assistant coach and recent Slug alum Colin Mark-Griffin has taken over. This says to me that Hansen will be at the helm for many more years and is showing no signs of slowing down. I mentioned their schedule earlier and they have 12 matches against ranked D3 teams before NCAAs, which is a lot for them. The most important matches are the Indoors 1st rd against Trinity (TX) who will be hungry for an upset, home matches against Cal Lutheran and Williams and then the quad in Texas with CMS, Wash U and Trinity (TX). If you look at those 6 matches and Cruz manages to win 4 of them, I think that's impressive. If they win 2 or less, they should be a little worried. Cruz will really be tested this year and needs to focus all of their efforts on developing and training hard enough so they can give themselves a chance to win against CMS in NCAA Regionals.

List Of Non-D3 Tune-Up Matches By Team

I've compiled all notable tune-up matches that teams are playing prior to their D3 seasons beginning so we can stay posted on their results and lineups...

Feb 11: Westmont (NAIA)
Feb 19: Concordia (NAIA)

Feb 3: Shorter (NAIA)
Feb 12: Auburn-Montgomery (NAIA)
Feb 17: Georgetown (D1)

Trinity (TX)
Feb 4: Abilene Christian tournament
Feb 10: St. Edward's (D2)

Jan 26: Santa Clara (D1)

Wash U
Feb 6: Drury (D2)
Feb 12: McKendree (NAIA)

Carnegie Mellon
Feb 4: Bucknell (D1)
Feb 5: WV Wesleyan (D2)

Feb 13: Dayton (D1)

Jan 28: Toledo (D1)

Feb 5: UCSD (D2)
Feb 12: Point Loma Nazarene (NAIA)
Feb 12: Vanguard (NAIA)
Feb 26: Westmont (NAIA)

Feb 25: Grand Valley St. (D2)

Feb 13: Lewis-Clark State (NAIA)

Mary Washington
Feb 13: George Mason (D1)

Christopher Newport
Feb 18: Old Dominion (D1)

Feb 6: Saint Cloud St. (D2)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Missed Cruz Result From Saturday

Cal Poly d. Santa Cruz 6-1

Not a bad start for Cruz against a pretty solid D1 program. I have to think Pybas and Koenig will shine when they get into D3 play. Was expecting a bit more from the Cruz freshmen, only 1 played and that was at #6. With this lineup, the Slugs have a lot of work to do to compete with CMS and CLU this year. However, focus should be on Trinity (TX) at the moment meaning the Slugs have to get their doubles as strong as possible.

2011 Team Preview #16: Whitman

Chris Bailey

Coach: Jeff Northam, 17th Season
Location: Walla Walla, Washington
Conference: Northwest
2008 Ranking: 20
2009 Ranking: 24
2010 Ranking: 19
2011 Projected: 18

Each year if you take a look at the rankings, there are typically 3 tiers of teams in the top 25. You have your elite teams, usually top 7-10, the second tier who can all beat each other on any given day, and then everyone else. Whitman is always one of the best in that third tier. Their problem has been when they step up to that 2nd tier, they get beaten pretty badly. Two years ago, they had matches against DePauw and Chicago and lost both. Last year, they played Redlands and didn't really show up in a 7-2 loss. A goal I'd set for Whitman this year is to try to break into that 2nd tier. As I have things right now, I consider them the #1 team in the 3rd tier and they certainly will have opportunities this year. There are 2 very significant matches on their schedule, those being against Kenyon and Bowdoin. I consider the Kenyon match the biggest of the season for Whitman, because I think Whitman could match up well against the vulnerable Lords this year. Whitman somehow has to figure out how to avoid the California region in NCAAs, because everyone, including them, knows they don't have a chance there. To me, Whitman's ticket out is to win as many matches as possible this season. Try to break the top 15 and get as high as possible prior to NCAAs. I think the better they do, the better the chance they can get sent elsewhere, and Whitman can certainly give some of the lower #1 seeds a hard time. Whitman has restrictions on their match scheduling due to location and conference requirements, so there certainly is more pressure to perform when they do get a crack at a top team. Coach Northam does a fantastic job and really maximizes the talent that he has. He has made this program into one of those teams you don't want to play and they are very consistent every year. You just know that they are going to win their conference and be in the top 25 every year and that's something that can't be said for a lot of other programs who are lower in the rankings. Whitman has experienced players in Etienne Moshevich and Chris Bailey who are both very tough if they are healthy, and they also have one of the best freshmen in the country in Andrew La Cava. He is the best recruit ever to attend Whitman and maybe he can attract more top talent to Washington. The goals for 2011 are simple: win the conference, break into that 2nd tier and avoid California in NCAAs.

Monday, January 24, 2011

2011 Team Preview #15: Skidmore

Luke Granger

Coach: Nathan Simms, 5th Season
Location: Saratoga Springs, New York
Conference: Liberty League
2008 Ranking: NR
2009 Ranking: 21
2010 Ranking: NR
2011 Projected: NR

Before I start the preview, I will warn everyone that of all the teams I'm previewing, I probably know the least about these guys. I predicted them to be a top 30 team last year and they fell apart and finished 3rd in their conference, but after some good recruiting by Coach Simms, they seem to be flirting with the top 30 and a conference title once again. 2009 was a historic year for Skidmore tennis, as they finished 21st in the country, made the NCAA Sweet 16, and backed all of that up with a win against traditional powerhouse Washington & Lee. Last year, I'm not exactly sure what happened, but they seem to have put it behind them. From my point of view, they are fairly even with Vassar and the conference title may come down to whoever plays better in early May. Vassar may not agree with this assessment just like last year, and they may very well be correct, just like last year. It seems to me though that Skidmore has really restructured, and if they can somehow break the top 25 this year, I'd look at Nathan Simms as a potential Regional Coach of the Year candidate. This program was really a non-factor in the Northeast a couple years ago, but Coach Simms looks like he's starting to turn them around. The next step is to string together a couple of years that were just like 2009. That should start in 2011. Looking at the make-up of this year's team, I believe the truth strength could be in freshmen phenoms Oliver Loutsenko and Jimmy Sherpa. In Skidmore's lone fall dual match, these two played 5 and 4, respectively. This must mean that the Thoroughbreds have a respectable top 3. In my mind, Vassar probably can't keep up with them at the bottom of the lineup. That being said, Vassar seems stronger at the top of the lineup, so the end result may come down to doubles which is a huge question mark at this time. What Skidmore has done is load their schedule with great teams. They have a brutal California trip and the match I'd most pay attention to is against Pomona-Pitzer. If they can win that, it's a huge step for this team. They have scheduled the 3 NESCAC powerhouses in advance of their conference tournament, but let's hope that the beatdown they are going to take from these 3 doesn't hurt their confidence. This team will compete for a conference title, will be in the NCAA tournament and has a great chance at being ranked by year-end as well.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

2 Weekend Results

2 Top 20 D3 teams were in action yesterday, with both losing to D1 opponents.

Eastern Washington d. Whitman 7-0

Whitman has high expectations for themselves this season, but after this result it seems depth may certainly be an issue. 3 and 4 may be their strongest spots and if they can't get wins there they are in trouble. I'm sure this D1 team is quite good and I'm looking forward to reading Coach Northam's take on the match.

University of Illinois-Chicago d. Chicago 5-2

Although it didn't turn out badly, I expected Chicago to do better in this match. Stefanski didn't play in singles which I found odd, and I also expected Golovin to really be a good #2 for the Maroons this year after a great fall tournament. I'm sure Chicago isn't in top form at the moment, but they should realize they have work to do after this result.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

CMS Adds Alex Lane

The Stags have added Alex Lane for this spring. Lane is transferring from Azusa Pacific University, where he played #3 singles and #3 doubles last year for the NAIA powerhouse. He is a native of Claremont, California and played Futures tournaments for a couple years after completing high school, therefore making him a 24 year old sophomore. I expect Lane to certainly be in the Stags top 3 this year, most likely at the #1 spot. This is a huge addition for Claremont, as they were lacking a star player on this year's team. With the addition of Lane, I think CMS has solidified their place as the #2 team in the country at the moment. With Erani and Johnson now able to move lower in the lineup, this becomes a significantly stronger team.

2011 Team Preview #14: Wash U

Isaac Stein and Max Woods

Coach: Roger Follmer, 10th Season
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Conference: UAA
2008 Ranking: 1
2009 Ranking: 4
2010 Ranking: 6
2011 Projected: 7

Their year-end ranking of #6 certainly did not do the 2010 Bears justice. This team was one of the best in the country and gave Middlebury all it could handle in the NCAA semifinal. I don't know how they finished 6 after making the Final 4. To me, this year's Wash U team is a huge question mark. This will be the first year in quite a while that they don't have a true star player, something they took for granted the past 3 years. It was an anomaly for Watts to lose a singles match, and the 2011 Bears don't have that to fall back on, which makes life a lot tougher. This will certainly be a very good team and they are a lock for the top 10, but I don't consider them a true national championship contender given who else is out there. For their standards, they had a bit of a down year recruiting-wise, and this will really hurt them because their team gets significantly weaker. They've got 6 quality starters, but when comparing them to other teams, there are a few spots that are glaring weaknesses, and those don't exist on teams that win national titles. To begin, they've got a top 5 doubles team in the country in Stein/Woods which certainly helps. After that, I'm not sold on their doubles. They've got players, but are they players who can win at #2 doubles against CMS and Trinity? In singles, the #1 spot should be a problem, no matter who is there. I don't consider anyone on their team a top 10 player in D3 this year. They'll be solid at the bottom of the lineup as always, but the middle could be a problem as well, as you will probably see someone who was at 6 or 7 last year in the 4 spot, which is a large jump. All that being said, Follmer is one of the top 5 coaches in the country and his teams always know how to win and step up when it really matters. I think they can do as well as #4 this year if they really play well. They currently hold a streak of 3 consecutive Final Four appearances, which is the longest current streak in the country. The Bears play a very tough schedule, starting with Indoors where they have a very tricky opening round against NC Wesleyan that they should not overlook. They have the quad in Texas with Trinity, Cruz and CMS where they will probably be the weakest team, and they also have a big mid-season date with Chicago before the UAA tournament. Although they always get up to play Emory, I don't see them winning the conference this year. The Bears are a great team and deserve a lot of respect, I just don't think they will be as good as they've been the past 3 years.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

2011 Team Preview #13: Vassar

Max Wilner

Coach: John Cox, 1st Season
Location: Poughkeepsie, New York
Conference: Liberty League
2008 Ranking: NR
2009 Ranking: NR
2010 Ranking: 28
2011 Projected: 29

Vassar really came out of nowhere last year and apparently that was good enough to get their former coach, Ki Kroll, a very good D1 job at Southern Mississippi. Vassar tennis has slowly been on the rise the past couple years, and I think the next 2-3 years will tell us whether this program is just satisfied being ranked in the top 30 or if they want to become a true national powerhouse. They were probably a little better than their #28 year-end ranking last season, but I wouldn't call them top 20 material. This year's Vassar team should be somewhat similar despite the loss of All-American Mike Mattelson. Mattelson was very solid at the #1 spot and will stay on as assistant coach in 2011. The way they make up for his loss is with everyone else gaining a year of experience and also getting transfer Dan Freeman from Colby. Freeman will certainly play in the top 3, and although he's not as strong as Mattelson, he will still allow Vassar to have a strong top of the lineup. I can see Vassar cracking the top 25 this year, but I don't know if the top 20 is realistic. They just aren't talented enough yet and their NCAA result from last year backs that up. They can play tough doubles and hang with some of the top teams in the country, but actually getting 5 wins against a top 15 team is not easy. Instead of getting caught up in rankings, they need to focus on winning their conference because Skidmore is significantly improved from last year. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but the Liberty League still falls under Pool B for NCAAs, so Vassar doesn't need to sweat about making the tournament. Despite that, I think they can call this season a success if they manage to win the league and finish the year ranked. They play a tough schedule and will get a crack at most of the top teams in New England along with Kenyon, Johns Hopkins, and Emory at the Stag-Hen. They will learn about the level they need to reach to become a top 20 team. With the Guzick brothers and Freeman at the top, Vassar is a tricky team to beat. John Cox did great work at Kenyon and I have no doubt he will immediately have this program headed in the right direction.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

2011 Team Preview #12: Trinity (TX)

Bobby Cocanougher and Cory Kowal

Coach: Russell McMindes, 2nd Season
Location: San Antonio, Texas
Conference: SCAC
2008 Ranking: 11
2009 Ranking: 15
2010 Ranking: 10
2011 Projected: 4

I've taken a little bit of heat for putting Trinity at #4 in my preseason rankings. I really like this team and I think they have national championship potential. There's one big reason for that and it's their doubles. Against just about anyone in the country except Amherst, the Tigers will be the favorite on paper at all 3 doubles spots. They've got the clear best doubles team in the country in Cocanougher/Kowal and they have probably the best #2 doubles team in the country in Delafuente/Frey. I don't know who it will be yet, but they will also have an excellent #3 doubles team. That being said, being the favorite and actually sweeping doubles are 2 very different propositions. This brings me to the problem with Trinity's team this year. If they don't get ahead in doubles by at least a 2-1 score, they are in very big trouble against any team in the top 10. They shouldn't put extra pressure on themselves, but doubles is more important for them versus any other team in the country because I don't think the singles talent is there. Their NCAA quarterfinal against CMS is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. They were up 2-1 after dubs and ended up losing 5-2. They need to figure out some way to avoid this. The reason I've moved them up so much is because they have their entire team back plus 2 new freshmen who are potential starters. This will add much needed depth to their singles lineup and allow them to have 8 potential starters in singles. I really like their on-court attitude and intensity, but that energy helps more in doubles than singles. They really need to play as a team and somehow find those 2 or 3 wins in singles. If this happens, big things will follow. I expect a lot out of the Tigers, but I don't expect them to start well. I'm interested to see what they do with their lineup against Cruz at Indoors. I'f I'm McMindes, I take advantage of Cocanougher's fall win and use him as the sacrificial lamb against a pretty much untouchable Pybas. I let Frey take his chances against Koenig at 2. I'm predicting an easy win for Cruz against Trinity in the first round of Indoors, but things will get better from there. They play one of the most difficult schedules in the country and they will be tested all season long. They should have a shot at Emory at the Stag-Hen, they play Amherst out in California, and then they host their quad with Cruz, CMS and Wash U. By the time the quad rolls around, I expect them to be in top form and I think they should go at least 2-1 if not 3-0. They shouldn't get overconfident in the conference final against a tricky DePauw team. This team is a lock for the top 10, they should be in the top 8 and they have Final 4 potential. We know their doubles is great, but this team only goes as far as their singles takes them.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2011 Team Preview #11: Christopher Newport

Gianandrea Heyer

Coach: Rush Cole, 15th Season
Location: Newport News, Virginia
Conference: USA South
2008 Ranking: 24
2009 Ranking: NR
2010 Ranking: 30
2011 Projected: 21

They aren't at the same level, but the make-up of this team is eerily similar to Emory. They've got 2 great players supporting them, a solid #3 and then serviceable players lower in the lineup. In fact, if you take away the Eagles top 2, Newport has arguably the best 2 players in the region in Shulman and Heyer. Newport hasn't been making much noise the past couple years since starting undefeated in 2008 and making their way into the top 20 in the country with some very solid wins. I think this year's team has that sort of potential but they need to focus on one thing and one thing only. That's winning the conference. It will be a very tall task. If you look at last year's USA South final, that's the Newport-NC Wesleyan matchup in a nutshell. Newport was able to take 2 of 3 doubles and they were competitive at the top 2 spots, but NCW absolutely crushed them at 3 through 6, losing something like 8 total games at those 4 spots. I think there are 5 wins for Newport against NCW this year so I'm not going to count them out, but they will need to have their absolute best day to win this conference. The unfortunate thing for Newport is that this is really their only ticket to the tournament. I can see this team being as high as 18 or 19 in the country this year, but that still won't get them close to Pool C. Coach Cole is one of of the most underrated in the country and Newport's great staff has to have some lineup ideas up their sleeve to give them the best chance against NC Wesleyan. Looking at Newport's make-up again, Shulman and Heyer are probably the most underrated 1-2 punch in the country and will carry this team into the top 25 this year. After them, sophomore Garrett Widing will hopefully be healthy this spring and pick up where he left off from a promising freshman campaign. The real key will be seniors Lorenzo Sison and Dusty Nelson, both of whom really need to step up when Newport takes on ranked teams. The Captains need wins from players other than their top 2, and it's as simple as that. Looking at their schedule, they aren't tested all that much, but matches to watch are W&L, Mary Wash and of course the regular season contest with NCW. Their season will come down to the conference final and they know it. They just have to be ready to play.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2011 Team Preview #10: Kenyon

Jeremy Polster

Coach: Scott Thielke, 15th Season
Location: Gambier, Ohio
Conference: NCAC
2008 Ranking: 7
2009 Ranking: 7
2010 Ranking: 12
2011 Projected: 15

Kenyon has always been a good team. In the early and middle part of the decade, they consistently won their conference and qualified for the NCAA tournament. The past 3 years, the Lords became an elite team. Even they will admit much of this was due to Mike Greenberg's leadership ability on and off the court. That era is now over, and it remains to be seen whether Kenyon will go back to being a good team, or remain as an elite team. This elite team could beat any team on any day, and we saw that at 2009 Indoors when they took down the eventual national champions. I don't see that potential in this year's team. I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago that Kenyon is probably the most inexperienced team of anyone expected to be in the top 15 this year. They still have veteran Jeremy Polster, who should be an NCAA singles qualifier this year, and will try to fill the leadership role left by Kenyon's 4 graduates. Polster is the key player, likely to be in the 1 singles and 1 doubles spots for the majority of the season. He is the only player on this team who has really played in a big match. The other potential weapon for Kenyon is sophomore Paul Burgin, who's biggest match was probably the Indoors Semi against Cruz last year. Burgin has the potential to be a very good #2, and he will need to provide a lot of wins for Kenyon this year. Two other top players for Kenyon are transfer CJ Williams and sophomore Kevin Ye. Both should be strong in the middle of the lineup. This is probably as close as Denison has been to Kenyon since 2007, but I still don't think they are good enough to topple the Lords. This is Kenyon's last year enjoying fairly easy conference titles as DePauw joins the NCAC in 2012. I expect Kenyon to win the conference comfortably this year and they most likely will make it to the Sweet 16. If Coach Thielke can take this team further than that and get them in the top 10, he deserves Coach of the Year. They aren't as deep as their competition and based upon historical results, they aren't as strong at the top either. One thing to mention is Kenyon just hired an outstanding assistant coach in Ross Wilson who should really help this team. Kenyon plays a very tough schedule this year and notable matches include Chicago, Carnegie Mellon, Whitman in the Stag-Hen 1st round, and the GLCA tournament with DePauw and Carnegie Mellon. Kenyon should be a very good team this year, especially when considering their inexperience. I think they have to wait a couple years to get back to "elite" status.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

2011 Team Preview #9: MIT

Ken Van Tilburg

Coach: Dave Hagymas, 6th Season
Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
Conference: NEWMAC
2008 Ranking: NR
2009 Ranking: 30
2010 Ranking: 24
2011 Projected: 24

Something that often gets overlooked in D3 is how a coach can turn around a program by simply putting some effort into recruiting. If you want to talk about coaching pedigrees, MIT's Dave Hagymas may be #1 in D3. Before arriving in Cambridge, Hagymas was a long time assistant at Duke, winning a National Assistant Coach of the Year title. He has made this program from nothing into something, and he's the reason for their Sweet 16 performance last season. He is able to steal recruits from other technical schools such as Carnegie Mellon and Johns Hopkins, but this couldn't be done without recruiting. MIT is a very prestigious school to go to, so it really shouldn't be that hard to get smart kids to come there. The Engineers don't have to worry about making the NCAA tournament as they typically qualify through Pool B, so they can focus on development throughout the season and play without pressure. They had a good NCAA tournament win last year before giving Middlebury a tough time in singles, so that has to be a confidence boost entering this season. While I don't think team has top 20 potential quite yet, they are certainly a team to watch over the next few years. They've got a lot of talent on the team, but where they will probably fall short is development due to the difficult academics. If they can continue to rise in the rankings and recruit well, this could be a top 20 team by the end of 2012. Looking at their schedule, they play most of the powerhouses in New England, but the matches I'd pay particular attention to are Bates and Brandeis. These are teams that should be ranked close to the Engineers, and if MIT can win both of these and find their way to a second consecutive Sweet 16, that's a massive step in the right direction for this program. The talent is clearly there, and Coach Hagymas' tennis prowess combined with a lot of hard work has made MIT into a respectable tennis program.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

2011 Team Preview #8: Chicago

Will Zhang

Coach: Marty Perry, 8th Season
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Conference: UAA
2008 Ranking: 25
2009 Ranking: 17
2010 Ranking: 21
2011 Projected: 13

Chicago is either great or terrible. They can come within points of beating Wash U and lose to Kalamazoo in the same season. They were legitimate NCAA contenders the past 3 years if you just look at their talent. They missed the tournament 3 times and in fact didn't really come close to making it any of the years. They had a certain swagger to them and their obnoxious on-court mannerisms made them very unpopular with other teams. I think they need to rethink how they carry themselves because they aren't good enough to act like jerks on the court. If they don't make the tournament this year, something is seriously wrong and changes need to be made. Chicago brought in one of the best recruiting classes in D3 and I expect them to have 3 freshmen starting this year coupled with All-American Will Zhang, Troy Brinker and Jan Stefanski. If you see Brinker at 4 or 5 in the lineup, he could be one of the best in the country at his position. Something always seems to go wrong for the Maroons. Either their doubles is weak, or the top of the lineup isn't showing up or the bottom of the lineup isn't showing up. This year, there should be no excuses. This team is loaded with talent and they should be top 10 if they play to their potential. Their middle of the lineup should be as strong as anyone in the country and I would also expect them to have very strong teams at #2 and #3 doubles. Chicago seems to always mess up their NCAA chances with a bad loss sometime during the season. This year, I think there are 2 must wins on their schedule. The first is Kenyon, which was one of my matches to watch, and also a match against DePauw. The Tigers got the better of Chicago in '08 and '09 and it was probably the loss to DePauw in '09 that kept Chicago out of the tournament. The Maroons will have chances at Emory and Wash U during their season as well as at UAAs and these are definitely potential upsets. Chicago is good enough to play with anyone this season, they just need to stay modest and focus on the task at hand.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

2011 Team Preview #7: Mary Washington

Sam Wichlin

Coach: Todd Helbling, 12th Season
Location: Fredericksburg, Virginia
Conference: Capital
2008 Ranking: 9
2009 Ranking: 18
2010 Ranking: 23
2011 Projected: 19

Last year, with a finish of 23rd in the country, the Eagles concluded their worst season in Coach Helbling's 11 seasons. The team was young and not that strong, but a drop of 14 spots in 2 years is significant, and should be a red flag for any program. The Eagles have the luxury of not having to worry about making the NCAA tournament this year with conference rival Salisbury being very weak. The Eagles still play a daunting schedule, beginning with Indoors where they will be the underdog in 3 consecutive matches, no matter who the opponents are. Mary Wash needs to go back to the drawing board and regroup a little bit. They have a promising sophomore in Sam Wichlin who was one of my players to watch, and they have a 3-time NCAA doubles qualifier in Kaz Murata who definitely could make it 4 in a row this year. Mary Wash is fairly even throughout the lineup, and this was a problem for them last year. They did a lot of lineup switching, but during all of it no one was really consistent. They had 2 bright spots all last season, and that was a win against Redlands and then a conference title. They lost to a clearly inferior team in NCAAs and also had bad losses against W&L and Newport. Something has gone wrong the past 2 years, but I can't put my finger on it. Talent and depth wise, they should be a fixture in the top 20. They get adequate recruits, but the fantastic development that existed in the middle of the decade isn't there anymore. Helbling is one of the top coaches in D3 and I believe this is a crucial year for Mary Wash tennis. If they can start strong and pull an upset at Indoors, it could lead to great things later in the season. As for goals, I think they should focus on the top 15 and winning their first NCAA match, since that is something they've failed to do in the last 2 years. Their players need to develop throughout the season and they need to believe they are still one of the top teams in the country.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 Team Preview #6: UT-Tyler

2010 Regional Finalists

Coach: Chris Bizot, 7th Season
Location: Tyler, Texas
Conference: American Southwest
2008 Ranking: 21
2009 Ranking: 20
2010 Ranking: 22
2011 Projected: 28

I think this is one of the youngest and most unpredictable teams in the country. The Patriots are always lurking and have put together 3 consecutive very solid seasons in which they finished top 25 and won a conference title. Coach Bizot has done a great job with the talent he has available and has turned this from an average no-name team in Texas to a national power who can win NCAA tournament matches. The one thing that has been a staple for the Patriots over the past few seasons are seasons filled with ups and downs. They've often struggled with injuries, and this kept their strong teams out of the top 10. The 2009 squad peaked at #13 and they were definitely better than their #20 year-end ranking. The 2011 team is very young and will most likely start no seniors. The Pats didn't have a very good season last year, but came on strong in the NCAA tournament and upset Mary Washington with a good singles performance. The previous two NCAA appearances for Tyler were below average at best. They finally showed up in the post-season and it was a good experience for their young guys to get a big win in a pressure situation. They have two strong players in Josh Chavez and Adam Chirhart who should be at the top of their lineup this year. There are two wildcards on Tyler's 2011 roster though, and they are two freshmen from Brazil. Although neither had a great Fall ITA, if they can step in and be consistent winners in the bottom of the lineup, Tyler could be a top 25 team. I expect them to be ranked start to finish, but I don't think breaking the top 20 is realistic. When looking at their schedule, there are only 3 matches that I really have my eye on. The first is an early season contest against a deceptively good Rhodes team, and then they have matches in California against Whitman and Pomona-Pitzer. If they can manage to win one of the two California matches, that's a good accomplishment for these guys. This is a semi-rebuilding year for Tyler, but I like this program a lot.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

2011 Team Preview #5: Emory

Dillon Pottish

Coach: John Browning, 12th Season
Location: Atlanta, Georgia
Conference: UAA
2008 Ranking: 2
2009 Ranking: 3
2010 Ranking: 4
2011 Projected: 3

In any sport, when a team suffers a tough loss to end their season, there's always a question about how they will respond the following season. I have no doubt that the Emory Eagles will be competing for another national title this season. Last year's loss to Amherst was a wake up call, a message that they can't dominate like they used to and more hard work needs to be put in versus 5 years ago. Fitness was a big reason Emory didn't win that match, so you know what the focus will be this year. So the streak of 8 consecutive Final Fours is over, but the Eagles still maintain the streak of 11 consecutive seasons finishing inside the top 5. Make that 12 for 2011. This 2011 Emory team is very interesting and has the best 2 players in the country heading into the season. They lost two key seniors, but brought in a class of solid recruits and have probably 4 or 5 guys on their bench who can start on other top 10 teams. Depth really isn't an issue for this team, but the reality is that their bottom of the lineup is a bit overmatched against CMS and Amherst. We saw this last year in the NCAA quarterfinal. If their top 2 fall, they aren't going to win. The reason I'm not sold on this year's Emory team is doubles. They lost 4 of 6 doubles starters from last year's team and to me their doubles is a glaring weakness. Look at the last 4 matches Emory has lost in D3 play. Amherst last year as everyone knows, Wash U 2010 Indoors Semi, Santa Cruz 2009 NCAA Semi, Wash U 2009 UAA Final. They were swept in doubles in those last 3 matches. If Emory can get a lead going into singles, they are incredibly tough to beat. One of the reasons they are the team "everyone loves to hate" is because of the arrogant attitude they carry into matches. The truth is that attitude isn't getting it done for them, because they can get in a huge hole with the 9-point system. If they can rethink how they approach doubles, it could make a huge difference. They've got 3 great players and solid 4 through 6 guys. That's enough to win a national title. They are a heavy favorite to win Indoors and will be tested at the Stag-Hen with CMS and Trinity (TX) competing. I'm interested to see how this team bounces back after last year's loss, which I'm sure didn't sit well with Coach Browning.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2011 Team Preview #4: Washington & Lee

Jeremy Becht

Coach: David Detwiler, 11th Season
Location: Lexington, Virginia
Conference: Old Dominion
2008 Ranking: 18
2009 Ranking: 29
2010 Ranking: 26
2011 Projected: 27

The Generals have quietly fallen during the past couple years. I know there's not much pressure on tennis coaches from athletic departments, but Detwiler needs to get his guys back into the top 20 quickly. I really don't have many nice things to say about this program right now. They aren't a very strong team, their players and coaches get in fights with other teams, and they have been surrounded by accusations of stacking for the past couple years. The good news for the Generals is that they took back the conference last year after losing to Hampden-Sydney in 2009. Prior to 2009, W&L had won 13 consecutive conference titles, so that now stands at 14 of the past 15. Depth has really been a problem for the Generals during the past 2 years as they just can't find enough players to compete against the other top teams in the Atlantic South. They really didn't do much right last year, but they did win a close match against Mary Wash which had to be a big boost for the team. To put it simply, the talent is just not there right now and the blame clearly goes to the coaches for not recruiting. This team has two bright spots and those are their top 2 players. Junior Jeremy Becht is hot and cold, but should be a solid #2 player for a team in the 20-30 range. #1 singles player Hayden White won Atlantic South Rookie of the Year and I'd be surprised if he doesn't make his way back to the NCAA Singles Championships in 2011. He didn't have a great fall, but he should be the best player in the conference this year and one of the best sophomores in the country. After these two, W&L doesn't have much. The Generals will win the conference with ease in 2011 and have another season where they finish in the 24-30 range, but they should be doing so much more. They seem to be satisfied with mediocrity at the moment and that needs to change. They play most of the top teams in the Atlantic South, but two matches I'd pay close attention to are road contests against Mary Washington and Christopher Newport. These are two foes about even with the Generals and we will see how they fair. W&L needs to turn it around quickly, because a program with good tradition shouldn't be doing what they're doing.

2011 Team Preview #3: Carleton

Peter Dunn

Coach: Stephen Zweifel, 12th Season
Location: Northfield, Minnesota
Conference: MIAC
2008 Ranking: 29
2009 Ranking: NR
2010 Ranking: 29
2011 Projected: 30

Carleton enters this season in an unfamiliar position. They are the defending conference champions and the favorites to repeat. With Gustavus being weak in 2010 and Carleton having their best team in school history, there was talk that the Knights might be able to dethrone the Gusties. Not many people, including myself, thought it would actually happen. It did, and Carleton found themselves in the NCAA tournament. The Knights posted their first tournament win in school history before falling to Trinity (TX). What some people may not have noticed is that they took the Tigers top 2 doubles teams to tiebreakers. This is impressive given what the Tigers did in doubles over their next 2 matches. Carleton did what was asked last season, and the real question is if they can do it again. It has to be an embarrassment for Gustavus to not win the conference, so I'm sure they will be out for revenge this year. I'm picking the Knights to win the conference this year and make another trip to the tournament. They are a superior team to the Gusties and only lost 1 starter from last year's NCAA tournament roster. I would be surprised if Carleton doesn't end this year ranked. Coach Zweifel is coming off a well deserved Central Region Coach of the Year honor, quite an impressive feat for a part-time coach who is also a Biology professor at the school. For those of you that haven't done so, read some of the coach's humorous quotes in Carleton's post-match recaps. Carleton has one of the most underrated players in the Central Region in junior Peter Dunn as well as other promising young players. They play an easy schedule, and their only real tests besides Gustavus will be against Whitewater and DePauw. The DePauw match is one I will keep an eye on to see how much this team has improved. This program is going in the right direction and it could really help the program if they can establish MIAC dominance again in 2011.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

2011 Team Preview #2: Johns Hopkins

Andy Hersh

Coach: Chuck Willenborg, 7th Season
Location: Baltimore, Maryland
Conference: Centennial
2008 Ranking: 19
2009 Ranking: 11
2010 Ranking: 13
2011 Projected: 10

Last year, I picked this team #5 in the pre-season and I thought they had a shot at the Final Four. They ended up finishing #13 with a loss in the Sweet 16, so don't pay attention to this preview. Their past few postseasons have been huge disappointments and of course the question on everyone's mind is whether they can turn it around. This year's team has strong players at the top, depth, and a wealth of doubles players, so I don't see why they shouldn't make it the the Elite 8 this year. They brought in a decent recruiting class, and those players should be adequate at the bottom of the lineup. Hopkins has the luxury of not having to worry about making the NCAA tournament because of their easy conference. Their schedule is fairly soft, and a big part of this is because they missed Indoors and won't get those extra 3 matches against top ranked teams. When looking at their schedule, there are really only 3 matches that they are in danger of losing and those would be @NCW, @Emory and at home against Carnegie Mellon. Other than that they should breeze by their schedule. I'm very interested to see what Hopkins will do with their lineup this year, especially in doubles. The once untouchable team of Barnaby/Blythe wasn't very good last year, but I think they will probably play in the #1 spot. After them, you still have Wang, Hersh, Elgort and Rauck to fill out the other two spots. In singles, Hersh was a player to watch and I wouldn't be surprised to see him as a great #2 this year. The bottom of the lineup is key and players like Barnaby and Blythe will need to play top notch singles against NCW and CMU. This is where Hopkins fell short last year. A lot depends on the NCW and CMU matches, because this may determine where Hopkins goes for NCAAs, and this in turn would determine whether they can make the Elite 8. Hard Luck Hopkins has the team to make the Elite 8, I'm just not sure if they can do it. They shouldn't be thinking about 2012 just yet with that amazing recruiting class coming in.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2011 Team Preview #1: Bates

Matt Bettles

Coach: Paul Gastonguay, 16th Season
Location: Lewiston, Maine
Conference: NESCAC
2008 Ranking: 22
2009 Ranking: 23
2010 Ranking: 27
2011 Projected: 23

I'll probably use this phrase a lot during my previews, but the Bates Bobcats are the definition of what's wrong with the NCAA Selection Process. Before I did my research, I didn't know they were ranked at year-end over the past 3 years. The 2011 squad should definitely be top 30 as well. Clearly Coach Gastonguay is doing an outstanding job developing his top players as Bates has had an NCAA Singles Champion, an NCAA Singles Finalist and an NCAA Doubles Champion within the past 6 seasons. This is odd for a program that is consistently outside of the top 20. With the way he is progressing, Matt Bettles could soon be on the list as well. The sophomore quietly made the final of the New England Fall ITA, defeating favorite Andrew Peters along the way. Bettles can hold his own against anyone in the country, but the problem with the 2011 Bates team is the same as every year. They have no depth. Bates struggles to steal recruits from rivals Bowdoin and Trinity (CT) and this clearly shows in their team every year. They have 1 or 2 top players, but never get wins against the other NESCAC schools at the bottom of the lineup. Bates will finish 5th in NESCAC at the absolute best, and this gets them nowhere near the top 6 in Pool C. This is a hard-working team that deserves some post-season exposure, but it won't happen in 2011. Bettles has a decent supporting cast with Tim Berg and Robert Crampton likely to fill out the 2 and 3 spots. The Bobcats top 3 should be able to compete with the best in the NESCAC, but the team goes downhill after them. I just don't think they will be able to put enough points together match after match to break into the top 20 this year. Important matches to watch for these guys are road contests against MIT and Brandeis as well as a conference match at Trinity (CT). If Bates can go 3 for 3 in those matches and finish 5th in NESCAC, they should consider this season a success. The Bobcats are far from making the NCAA Tournament, but they are going in the right direction. Follow the Bobcats on their Team Blog