Justin Wilson, Cal Lutheran
I want to go over the results from the past 2 days and preview a very big weekend. The first half of the week was full of big matches and although Wed/Thurs matches didn't have the significance of Monday and Tuesday, they certainly weren't short on drama. Today, there were 2 matches which I didn't expect to be all that competitive. I'll discuss CMS-Skidmore and CLU-Amherst a little later.
First on Wednesday, Redlands lost to Amherst 8-1 as expected. Another dominant performance by Amherst, cruising in doubles and not dropping a set in the 5 singles matches they won. They continue to play Chafetz at 4, which I guess we will see for the remainder of the season. Redlands just isn't competitive with the top teams. ITA Rankings came out today (I'll have a separate post) and Redlands is sitting at 8th in Pool C. That means they have to go out and beat someone, they can't just sit back and go through the motions. Granted, they've lost to Cruz, Amherst and Emory, but I haven't seen anything from them that implies they are better than last year. They've got to make a move sooner or later and it may not be against Pomona-Pitzer the way the Hens are playing. The other 2 matches Wednesday both came down to the wire and were tied 4-4. The early match pitted Bowdoin against a Skidmore team who I expect a lot from this year. One thing for Skidmore is they were missing one of their star freshmen, Jimmy Sherpa, and without him they will struggle against a team as good as Bowdoin. I'm not sure where he is, but Skidmore isn't deep enough to be a top 20 team without him. Hats off to Bowdoin, who proved me wrong about not being able to come from behind after doubles. Skidmore jumped out to an early lead, but Bowdoin really dominated the 4 spots they won in singles. Sullivan has lived up to his preseason All-American status and he has been the rock for Bowdoin this week in singles, starting his spring season 4-0 at the #1 position. Given the new ITA rankings, Bowdoin currently sits at #7 in Pool C, but they have an opportunity to play the #6 team, Trinity (CT), this weekend. Bowdoin has done what they needed to do so far and they are in a good spot.
Unbelievable heart and resiliency by Cal Lutheran. They could have folded after Indoors and an injury to their top player, but they didn't. Since Ballou has had surgery, they've beaten Tyler and Whitman and played 5-4 against Kenyon. Along with Paul Burgin, Justin Wilson is the biggest surprise for me this season for an individual. He's playing at a very high level right now and has been rock solid for this team. This is Cal Lu's 4th match that has been tied at 4-4 this year and it's the first one they won. I am impressed that they are doing what they're doing and I think they are going to keep it up. They have more shots against ranked teams and they can sneak their way back into Pool C. If they pull some upsets and get confident, watch out for them. I have a feeling they are going to make more noise this year. What a roller coaster season for the Kingsmen, but they have to be pleased with themselves. Whitman had a decent trip. They got the big win they needed and Coach Northam praised his team for their fight, but the bottom line is they are still ranked 20th in the country. I know it's bad to get caught up in rankings, but they don't lie. They saw the prize after that Trinity match, but couldn't get the job done against a team who I consider inferior to them, and then followed it up by not showing up at 2 of the doubles spots. I think they were physically beaten up by the end of the trip and there are a lot of positives to take from the past week, but the bottom line is they still have a lot of work to do to be able to compete with the top 15 teams on a consistent basis. I see it as though they are losing matches they shouldn't be losing, but they did get their big win and may go home satisfied.
I don't have much to say about today's matches. CMS put their full lineup out which I found a bit surprising, but after the Emory match and with Amherst coming up, I guess Coach Settles decided that his guys could use the practice. Pretty routine victory for CMS, they've certainly asserted their dominance over the lower ranked teams. Cal Lu put up a good fight but was beaten by a more talented team. A good experience for the Kingsmen, and they did pretty well I thought. Amherst is just rolling and we'll see how they do this weekend.
Friday through Sunday should be nothing short of fantastic. Tomorrow, we've got 2 evenly matched contests. On the East coast, Bates takes another spring trip and they will play Mary Wash tomorrow. Bates was ranked 23rd today and Mary Wash was 25th. The Eagles played a solid match at home against W&L last weekend, so we will see how they do in this. They are probably slightly overmatched at the top of the lineup, but have more depth, so this should be a good contrast of styles. I like Mary Wash in a close one, because I trust them at home, I just don't know if they can get it done on the road. Bates is officially done from Pool C if they lose. The other match tomorrow is an absolute must win for Redlands. The pressure is squarely on them against a lower ranked Skidmore team and throw in the fact that Redlands is playing for their tournament life. With Bowdoin's win over Skidmore, Redlands desperately needs this, and it would help to win in convincing fashion. Skidmore is playing their 3rd ranked team in as many days, so they could be a little tired. This would probably be the biggest win in the history of Skidmore tennis if they could pull it off, but I expect Redlands to be too tough on their home courts. The Bulldogs win and keep their NCAA hopes alive.
Saturday Skidmore plays again at Pomona-Pitzer, and judging by the past weeks results, I don't expect it to be too competitive. PP is at a very high level right now and Skidmore may be a bit down on themselves, especially if they lose to Redlands Friday. Again, it would be a huge win for Skidmore, I just don't know if they can do it. The second match pits Bowdoin against Cal Lutheran in a match that is crucial to both teams Pool C chances. Cal Lu has been so tough at home the past month and Bowdoin will have been in California for a week, so fitness could start to become a factor. This is Cal Lu's chance to get back into the Pool C hunt, and the way they've been playing, I certainly think they can win. The Kingsmen probably need to get ahead in doubles because of their depth issues, but if they do that, it's anyone's match. The main event this weekend is obviously Amherst at CMS. The Stags are looking to rebound from last weekend's poor performance against Emory and Amherst is trying to establish themselves as the dominant team in the nation. Midd still stands at 1, but this match should have implications as to who is #1 in the country late in the season. I believe having the #1 overall seed in NCAAs is huge, because when you take the big 3 this year, whoever isn't #1 will have to win brutally tough matches on back to back days, whereas #1 will have an easier team with whoever ends up being #4. This match is tough to predict. I like CMS to step up after a tough loss to Emory, but the question is if Amherst is just too talented. CMS obviously has to play better doubles than they did, and I still don't have a status report on the whereabouts of Robbie Erani. He could potentially make a big difference and allow CMS to better compete deep in the lineup. Lane or Johnson will need to pull off a huge win, but at the moment I just can't pick against Amherst as I expect the Jeffs to pull out a tough win.
Sunday brings double duty for both Cal Lutheran and Trinity (CT), as the Bantams play both Bowdoin and Cal Lu, and the Kingsmen also play Santa Cruz. The Bowdoin-Trinity match was one of my matches to watch because it is a huge rivalry and huge for Pool C. Again, Cal Lu will have a chance to get another win on their resume and they have to keep their heads held high even if they get crushed by Cruz. The Slugs match up well against the Kingsmen, so I don't foresee too much trouble for Cruz playing at home in that match. So we've got CLU-Cruz, CLU-TrinityCT and Bowdoin-TrinityCT all taking place in Santa Cruz, California on Sunday. In Baltimore, Hopkins takes on Bates in what will be JHU's biggest test of the year to date. Hopkins will have too much depth and too much talent, but their top guys will be tested.