Monday, February 7, 2011

2011 Team Preview #24: Middlebury

Andrew Peters

Coach: Bob Barr, 1st Season
Location: Middlebury, Vermont
Conference: NESCAC
2008 Ranking: 5
2009 Ranking: 5
2010 Ranking: 1
2011 Projected: 6

The defending national champions are back with a brand new look and a lot of question marks heading into this season. Their former coach Dave Schwarz made this team what it is, and he has now moved on to Brown. Last year's assistant coach Bob Barr takes over as interim head coach for this year. What Middlebury always has is talent, and there is certainly no shortage of that on this year's team. 5 of 6 starters from last year's team graduated, but Midd had a deep bench and brought in 3 new freshmen who should all see time in the lineup if they are healthy. They also have Andrew Peters, who went deep in the NCAA singles tournament last year and returns as one of the best singles players in the country. The senior will have to pull a lot of weight this year, especially with Sun improving and Amherst getting even better. Midd is a very young team, and the problem with freshman is typically that they take a while to adapt to college doubles. The Panthers always have serviceable singles players, but in the past doubles has been an issue. I think a lot will rest on Coach Barr's shoulders when it comes to developing his guys in doubles. A preseason rumor that I've heard is that Midd freshman Teddy Fitzgibbons is having ankle problems and his status for the season is unsure. He still has 6 weeks to heal and it would be huge for Midd if he could be a strong 2 or 3 this year to give Peters some support. Other notable players for Midd are freshmen Zach Bruchmiller and Brantner Jones, as well as returning player Alec Parower, who saw some time in the lineup last year. If Coach Barr can lead this team to a NESCAC title and a finish in the top 4, I would think his interim tag should be removed. He is obviously a very capable coach, but it's hard to follow in a great coach's footsteps. Midd has finished in the top 5 for 8 consecutive years, and if that streak has ever been in jeopardy before, it certainly is now. I know they have a great team, and I also know not the count them out for a repeat of the national championship. Great freshmen are always an unknown, and their freshmen can surprise everyone and all be top players. This team goes about their business, and maybe more than anyone at this point, puts fear into their opponents. They may not have as much talent as last year, but they are still named Middlebury, and that counts for something. Their NESCAC battles with Williams and Amherst are the biggest of the season along with a spring break match against CLU. I can see Midd finishing anywhere from 1 to 8 this year. A lot depends on their health, and even more depends on their new coach.