Saturday, March 12, 2011

Stag-Hen Analysis

Colin Egan, Emory

Vassar - A bit disappointed in their performance, but my conclusion is they just aren't that good this year. They are probably slightly weaker than last year's team who finished 28, so I just don't see them as top 30 material. They probably can beat Skidmore on a good day, but it will take a lot of work to get there. I really expect John Cox to instill a winning attitude in this program, but great things don't happen overnight.

Swarthmore - Not too much to say, but I'm happy to see them get a win on a big stage. They're still a decent team and after seeing them give Whitman a hard time and beat Vassar, they may be in the 30-40 range of teams this year. That's probably an improvement over the past 3 years which is a step in the right direction.

Trinity (TX) - I don't really know what to say. Trinity was beaten up with illness this weekend; I get that, but this morning was not good. I can understand a loss to P-P, especially given how the Hens did in their next 2 matches. Trinity is almost on Chicago's level when it comes to underachieving at the moment. In their defense, their California trip last year was a trainwreck and they ended up just fine at the end of the season, but they have to remember that there are only so many chances. They still have Amherst and Bowdoin on this trip and those are far from walks in the park. The point of doing well in the regular season is to give yourself an easy region in NCAAs (unless you're in California), or make NCAAs period. I can see Trinity losing to Bowdoin and Amherst, losing all 3 matches in their quad and then losing the conference final to DePauw on some fluke day. That means they probably miss the tournament. I picked this team 4th in the country pre-season, and the way they played the first month of the season, they're not even top 10. The talent is there, I don't doubt that, but they aren't where they need to be mentally or on the court. I still think they are extremely dangerous, potentially near the level of the top 3, if they put it all together. But me saying that and them actually doing it are 2 very different things.

Whitman - Not a good start for Whitman, but they got their big win against Trinity. To begin, the Kenyon match was closer than its 8-1 score, but Kenyon was better in tight situations, and I attribute that to the first month of the season. The Lords had another gear to go to and Whitman did not because the bottom line is warm up matches against teams in the NWC don't get you used to the level needed to beat a team like Kenyon. Whitman is obviously limited geographically and scheduling wise, but by the time they got into the groove of this tournament, look what they were able to do. This team reminds me a lot of DePauw; very hard working, plays good doubles and doesn't have a lot of flashy stars. Basically, a team like P-P who can be a thorn in Trinity's side because they have the doubles and depth to keep up with the Tigers as well as a great attitude on court. I've been on Whitman about beating a higher ranked team and they did it. They deserve this win and they'll be rewarded for it ranking wise. Depending on how results play out the next few days, Whitman will be top 15 in Thursday's rankings with top 12 also a possibility and #10 not out of the question. Even though they slipped in the match they were preparing for, they showed a ton of resiliency and for that they deserve a lot of respect. They may not be the most talented bunch but their hearts are as big as anyone.

Pomona-Pitzer - Emory won the tournament, but to me, the Hens were the top story this weekend. This is an experienced team that is well coached and I feel like Belletto's first several years as head coach have all lead to this year. He's taken what he has and made the most of it, and for that, this program deserves praise. I was on PP about not being able to get a big win, and they finally showed that they are the real deal. The most impressive thing is that they didn't go away after their Trinity win. They took more points from Emory than CMS did, and even though they lost the Kenyon match, they made a statement that they are a serious Pool C contender and a potential top 10 finisher this year. They are in great position to make the tournament now and will really have to mess up to not get a Pool C bid, especially if Trinity gets some wins later in the season. I was so impressed with this team this weekend and if they continue to get better, there's no reason they can't give CMS and Cruz a hard time. It's unfortunate they may not make it out of the California regional, but given how far this team has come, just making it should be a big accomplishment. I expect to see them top 10 in the next rankings.

- The Lords continue to play top notch tennis and showed great mental toughness dominating Whitman in doubles and coming back from a 4-2 deficit against PP. Remember that this team lost 4 starters from a team that finished 12th last year and now they look like a solid top 10 contender. If that's not enough warrant for coaching staff of the year awards, I don't know what is. I am continually impressed by the 2011 Lords. I keep expecting them to slip and it doesn't happen. Interestingly enough, they are through the difficult part of their schedule and that means they have pretty much locked up a top seed in their NCAA regional. Given that they beat Denison, the only tough thing remaining is GLCAs where they see Case or Denison in the semis and then CMU or DePauw likely in the final. They've weathered the storm and done what they needed to do, and I can't say enough about how impressed I am that they successfully patched up the holes left by last year's graduating class. A fantastic tournament for Kenyon and I really am a believer in this team now.

CMS - I blame it on a bit of overconfidence. They absolutely crushed the #7 ranked team in the country and watched Emory struggling against a Pomona-Pitzer team that the Stags crush year after year. The Stag faithful will make the excuse that Robbie Erani didn't play (I'm assuming he's injured), but the bottom line is he wouldn't have won that match for CMS. As tough as CMS is and as much depth as they have, they were significantly weaker than Emory mentally. They didn't get outplayed or outcoached, they just didn't come through in the clutch. The good news is that's a fixable problem and it comes with experience. Playing NAIA teams is not the same as playing D3 matches, so in reality this was a great test for CMS to see where they stand and they will be ready for Amherst next weekend. It may have been good for them to get a wake up call like this, because they had been cruising so far this season. They get into the real heart of their schedule now, but they know they aren't the best team in the country. They train hard, but they need to do some re-evaluation if they want to win a national title. The talent is there and the match was closer than the 7-2 result, but they lost pretty badly in a match I know they expected to win.

Emory - The moment NCAAs ended last year, I was on the Emory bandwagon for the 2011 Eagles because I know the quarterfinals of NCAAs is not an acceptable result for this program. We haven't seen Herst yet, but Emory is the team to beat right now and has cemented themselves as #2 in the country and potentially #1. The Eagles came through where I thought they were vulnerable and I think it's great that they don't just count on their top guys to win matches. It was probably good for them to be pushed in that semi because it showed them that they need to play better doubles, and that's exactly what they did. Emory has designed their doubles lineup so their 3 team is a sort of insurance so that they don't get swept. They got a quick point in the final and took the pressure off the other 2 teams. I have absolutely no criticism of this team right now because I think they are not only talented, they have finally become focused and humble and are no longer the loud-mouth team that everyone used to hate. They will continue to be tested throughout the season and that's good for them, because I know how badly they want the national title back after a 4 year dry spell topped off by a particularly bitter defeat in 2010.