Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 Team Preview #23: Kalamazoo

Nate Eddy

Coach: Mark Riley, 4th Season
Location: Kalamazoo, Michigan
Conference: MIAA
2008 Ranking: 28
2009 Ranking: 22
2010 Ranking: 17
2011 Projected: NR

I've given my fair share of criticism to Coach Riley, but when you look at the numbers, he has Kalamazoo going in the right direction. After they dropped from 15th to 28th between '07 and '08, he developed the guys he had and got this team back on track with a rise of 11 spots over 2 years. Last year was their first NCAA Sweet 16 appearance under Riley and it was well-earned, as this team cracked the top 15 last season. So why do I have them unranked for 2011? They lost 3 of their top 4 singles players from last year's team as well as 4 of 6 doubles starters, and while this was happening, they only brought in 2 freshmen, one of whom may see time in the bottom of the lineup. If anyone in the country is in a rebuilding year, it's Kalamazoo. That's perfectly acceptable too as long as Riley recruits the players that he needs, so that he can get this team back on track. Kzoo is really in no danger of losing the conference, so they should find themselves in the tournament again, and that may be enough to be ranked at the end of the season. The problem with this team the past few years is that they only show up half of the time. When they decide to play, they can very good, and they showed that in wins against DePauw and Chicago last year, as well as at NCAAs when they crushed Luther and took 2 of 3 doubles from Wash U. This year's team needs to bring that level all the time. Big news for Kzoo is that they were selected to host the 2013 NCAA Championships, so maybe they can make their way back to the Final 8 by then. To do so, I think it's as simple as they can't just look for local talent anymore. Riley needs to expand his recruiting to national and international to make his team a serious contender on the national scene again. The majority of their team hails from Michigan, and I think the last 3 years have shown that isn't going to work anymore. I've said this in other previews, a finish of #17 is good, but it's not good for Kalamazoo. And if they finish this year unranked, that will have to be the first time in many years they aren't ranked. Looking at their schedule, it is littered with opportunities. Matches I'd focus on are Whitewater, Case Western, Bates and a potential GLCA quarterfinal against Denison. They just aren't at the level of Chicago and Kenyon this year so they aren't threats to win those matches. They've got one of the best players in the Central region in junior Nate Eddy, but he won't be enough to take this team anywhere this year because they just aren't that strong. A rebuilding year for Kzoo in 2011, so let's hope they actually rebuild.