Monday, April 4, 2011

Mid-Season Reports

Lately, I haven't been focusing a lot of attention on individual teams and their specifics. With this post, I will be grading and evaluating all the play this spring on a team by team basis and hopefully uncover a few statistics behind why each team is doing what they are doing. When I refer to a player or doubles team's record, I mean their record against tough D3 competition, meaning teams who are ranked or close to ranked. I will use the most recent ITA rankings.

Key Wins: Carnegie Mellon
Losses: Chicago, Rhodes, Mary Washington, Emory
Analysis: Although Dension got a win on the road against CMU which I'm sure is their program's biggest win in several years, they can't be all that happy with their performance this year. This is a solid team that plays good doubles, but their singles have let them down. They led in doubles against UMW and Chicago and went on to lose 4 of 6 singles matches. 3 of their losses were very winnable and with that they have to be disappointed. I think they will judge their season by how they perform against Kenyon in the next month, but after seeing flashes of brilliance this season from the Big Red, I'm not impressed with their overall performance, highlighted by the Rhodes match.
Grade: C+

Key Wins: UT-Tyler, Denison
Losses: None
Analysis: Rhodes has done what was asked of them and for that they should be praised, but the fact remains that they haven't beaten anyone legitimate. This is a veteran team and I was quite impressed with the Denison win, but the fact remains they are untested. In my opinion, it's easier to get fired up for a couple big matches over the course of a season versus having to play great teams every week. Rhodes benefits from that and I expect them to enter the SCAC tournament with upsets in mind. A potential semifinal against DePauw will define their 2011 season and tell the country how good they really are.
Grade: A-

Mary Washington
Key Wins: Cal Lutheran, W&L, Swarthmore, Denison
Losses: Emory, Trinity (TX), Pomona-Pitzer, Whittier, CMU, Redlands, Bates, CMS
Analysis: Talked a lot about these guys and they are up and down. Player To Watch Sam Wichlin has a record of 7-15 playing at the top spot in both singles and doubles. This is a talented team who isn't meeting their potential and this has been going on for 3 years. They've got a solid top of the lineup and good depth, but can rarely put everything together on the same day. If you take out the California stretch, they aren't terrible, but a loss to Bates at home certainly isn't what I expected. This should be a top 20 team, but it looks like they will finish outside the top 20 for the 2nd year in a row.
Grade: D+

Key Wins: Trinity (TX), Swarthmore
Losses: Kenyon, Tyler, Cal Lutheran, Bowdoin
Analysis: I've said it time and time again, this team would be a lot better if they were constantly tested. The talent is there as shown by their win over a top 10 program, but they turned around and lost 2 matches which I thought were very winnable against CLU and Tyler. The fact that they got outplayed by Tyler doesn't give me a ton of confidence in them, and I think they are ranked appropriately at 22. I thought the Trinity match could be a breakthrough, but they were fatigued by the end of their trip which is understandable. At this point, all they can do is sit back and win their conference and then pray that they don't get sent to California. 8-10 in doubles play isn't typical Whitman, but this team has a lot of room to grow.
Grade: B-

Key Wins: Kalamazoo, Mary Washington
Losses: Hopkins, MIT, Brandeis
Analysis: I said depth was an issue. They are 4-11 at the 4 through 6 singles spots and 1-4 at 3 doubles. You can't be a top 20 team if you only have half a team. I know they had high expectations for this season, but they've lost to 2 teams outside the top 20, including Brandeis who was ranked 30th on Saturday. I think they still have the potential to knock of Trinity (CT) because of the matchup, and like I said preseason, 5th in the NESCAC should be a victory for them. At the moment, this looks a typical Bates season where they expect results and don't get a lot. While they look well on their way to a 4th straight 6th place finish in the NESCAC, they still have time to turn things around.
Grade: C


Key Wins: Bates
Losses: Amherst
Analysis: Not a whole lot to say as the Engineers play a fairly soft schedule. I thought it was a great win for them to beat Bates, but when they moved to the big leagues they got walloped by Amherst. The match I have circled on my calendar to judge MIT is a date with Bowdoin in a few days. This is winnable for MIT and will show us whether or not they are truly top 20 material. This is a very talented team who will make the tournament through the independent pool, but I don't see them a serious threat to upset a top seed in their region. If they can manage to beat Bowdoin I'd be impressed, but I don't know what to make of this team at the moment.
Grade: B

Key Win: Gustavus, Carleton
Losses: Chicago, Emory
Analysis: DePauw hasn't made as much noise as they usually do and this weekend's GLCA tournament will define their season. They don't have a top 25 win on their resume and unless they win GLCA, they won't be a Pool C contender. The Tigers are playing solid doubles with a 9-3 record and 2 of the losses coming to Emory. The story remains that they lost their biggest match of the season and they did after they swept doubles. No doubt this is a dangerous team as they swept Chicago who just swept Wash U. The positive for DePauw is that they have their conference tournament to fall back on if things don't work out. I actually expect a GLCA final appearance from them this weekend, but I don't know if they can take out Kenyon.
Grade: C

Cal Lutheran
Key Wins: Brandeis, Tyler, Whitman
Losses: CMU, UMW, NCW, Kenyon, Amherst, Bowdoin, Williams, Middlebury, CMS
Analysis: I know this isn't how they envisioned their season, but I absolutely commend the Kingsmen for their effort after the adversity they've faced. They could have gone into the tank, but they continue to give top teams trouble. One stat defines this season for the Kingsmen. They are 1-23 at 5 and 6 singles. That's just putting too much pressure on your top guys to win and that's why they don't have a top 20 win on their resume. Player To Watch Ray Worley is playing higher than his comfort zone and is 11-13 overall. I think a victory for CLU would be finishing 3rd in the conference and beating Redlands, but I expect a typical match from CLU, meaning they win at the top and lose 5-4. This is a dangerous team, potentially top 12, with Ballou, but he's not around and they have to deal with things the way they are.
Grade: B-

Carnegie Mellon
Key Wins: Cal Lutheran, W&L, Mary Washington
Losses: Emory, Santa Cruz, Kenyon, Denison, Johns Hopkins
Analysis: Things went downhill quickly. I don't know why it happened, but a 9-0 loss to Hopkins shows me they're done. They came into this season with high hopes coming off a program-best year in 2010, but this team has been terrible the past 6 weeks. I don't believe loss of seniors is an excuse; look at Kenyon. There are no reliable positions each match and they haven't been winning close matches like they usually do. Player To Watch Bobby Mactaggart is 1-15 on the season and he would need a miraculous turnaround to put CMU in the tournament. They're 8-16 in doubles and don't have enough players to dig out of holes every match. I expect a 3rd or 4th place finish from them at GLCA and they are lucky to escape a tricky UAA quarterfinal against Brandeis or Case Western. A promising start has turned into an absolute disaster and I'm not quite sure where to put the blame.
Grade: D

Key Wins: Mary Washington, Skidmore, Gustavus Adolphus
Losses: Emory, Santa Cruz, Amherst, Trinity (CT), Williams, Middlebury, Pomona-Pitzer
Analysis: Looks like another mediocre year and NCAA tournament miss for the Bulldogs. I can understand the losses to top teams, but a loss to Trinity (CT) is bad for a team this talented. It looks like the P-P match last Saturday is the first time they showed fight and desperation, but the winning edge they used to have isn't there anymore. They don't have a top 20 win on their resume despite looking like a good team on paper. Player To Watch Anish Nanda is 2-14 on the season. He has been removed from the doubles lineup and demoted to 4 singles. This is not what Redlands needed. They were really expecting a turnaround this year and although it could still come, this seems like another massive disappointment for a team that isn't used to adversity and losing like this.
Grade: D

Key Wins: Case Western, Whitewater, Gustavus, Denison, Kzoo, DePauw, Wash U
Losses: Kenyon, Emory
Analysis: Chicago has obviously turned their season around with a win against Wash U and although things looked grim at the beginning with a loss to Kenyon and a near loss to Denison, this team deserves a lot of credit for sticking with it. I expect them to enter the top 10 for the first time in program history when the next rankings are released, and they may very well find themselves in the Final 8 this year. They've put together a doubles record of 13-14 and manage to get contributions from all positions in the singles lineup. This remains a dangerous team who can beat anyone on any day, and if they can turn in a repeat performance against Wash U in a potential UAA semi, the country should be scared and I'll be flat out impressed. It's about time the Maroons stepped up and did something good.
Grade: A-

Key Wins: Whitman, Skidmore, Cal Lutheran
Losses: Trinity (TX), Pomona-Pitzer
Analysis: Bowdoin has been solid this year. Nothing more and nothing less. They don't have a top 16 win on their resume, but they also have beaten the teams that they were supposed to beat, although I'm sure the Skidmore match was closer than they would have liked. With the emergence of Chicago, Bowdoin may need to make some noise in the NESCAC if they want to qualify for the tournament. 2 years ago, Oscar Pena was one of the best freshmen in the country, however last year's season-long injury clearly set him back, as he has turned in a record of 2-7 so far this spring. If he can find his game and become the elite player that he used to be, I think this team has the ability to rise to the next level. But as is, they don't have enough depth and they are nothing more than solid.
Grade: B

Trinity (CT)
Key Wins: Redlands
Losses: Pomona-Pitzer, Santa Cruz
Analysis: Although I think this team is still vulnerable and they will show it when they play Bates, Brandeis and Bowdoin, so far I can't criticize them because they've taken care of business. They played an unbelievable match against Redlands which was one of the closest matches I've ever seen. That shows me that this team has a ton of heart, unlike some Trinity (CT) teams of the past. On paper, they aren't really a top 15 team, but if they continue to win that's all that matters. I don't expect the Bantams to make the tournament this year with all of the stiff competition that they have, but for the lack of personnel, I think they are doing a great job at the moment.
Grade: B+

Johns Hopkins
Key Wins: Vassar, Bates, Kalamazoo, Carnegie Mellon, Swarthmore
Losses: Emory, NC Wesleyan
Analysis: Hopkins has shown vast improvement over their last couple matches and that's a great sign. They've blown out the teams they were supposed to, and put together great matches against CMU and Emory. The thing that bugs me is the NC Wesleyan match. They just didn't show up for singles, and maybe it's because NCW is in their head, but you just can't do that as a top team. Player To Watch Andy Hersh is 6-2, but has been removed from the doubles lineup. I like this JHU team because I think they have more depth than previous years, and as I've said, it's all mental for them. They will most likely be on the road for NCAAs and face a higher ranked team in the Sweet 16, but they love that underdog role and this could be their breakthrough year.
Grade: B-

NC Wesleyan

Key Wins: Cal Lutheran, Johns Hopkins, Christopher Newport
Losses: Wash U, Trinity (TX)
Analysis: In my opinion, one of the most dangerous teams in the country, as you don't really know what you're going to get. What they have yet to do, is really win a big time match against a great team in a pressure situation. They've proved that they beat Hopkins, but I have a feeling they may need to beat a top notch team to make the Final 8 again. I think this is a much better and more mature team than the one that showed up at Indoors, but we won't see their true colors again until NCAAs. At that point, we'll figure out how much they've grown. If they can get back to the Final 8, that's a fantastic accomplishment, and I definitely think they have the tools to do so. Where they are going to get wins is unpredictable, but the thing I like about this team is they don't really have any weak spots in the singles lineup. If their doubles is on, they will be tough.
Grade: B

Trinity (TX)

Key Wins: Mary Washington, NC Wesleyan, UT-Tyler, Bowdoin, Vassar
Losses: Santa Cruz (2), CMS, Wash U, Whitman, Pomona-Pitzer, Amherst
Analysis: Maybe I overrated Trinity (TX) heading into this season. The end result remains to be seen, but when you look at their current resume, it's not impressive. The fact that they beat NCW and played well at their Texas quad is a good sign, but they lost to Whitman. It's great they tested Wash U and Cruz, but they didn't win, and I hope coming just short isn't the story of the 2011 Trinity Tigers. Player To Watch Max Frey is 13-11, to go along with a team doubles record of 22-14. This is great, but all the teams are a little inconsistent and can't seem to get on the same page in the same day. Their entire lineup has had flashes of brilliance, but when you've lost against every top 10 team you've played and a team outside the top 20, it's hard to consider yourself a true national title contender. I expect them to win the conference and be dangerous in NCAAs, and for the sake of making me look good, I hope they make a Final 4 run.
Grade: C+

Key Wins: Redlands, Cal Lutheran
Losses: Pomona-Pitzer, Santa Cruz
Analysis: This isn't really a midseason report because the Ephs haven't played a ton. They define their season by NESCAC success, and I think they have a legitimate shot to get 2nd in NESCAC this year. They aren't a fantastic team as shown by their California losses, but they are a solid 9 or 10 in the country and will be a contender for a Final 8 spot depending on their NCAA regional. I've said before that this is the youngest team in the country, and that can show at times. Player To Watch Felix Sun is 5-3 so far, and the Ephs will need him to be an on court leader if they want success this year. The real tests for Williams will be against Bowdoin, Amherst and Middlebury and if they find themselves in the NESCAC title match and the Final 8 of NCAAs, that's a great accomplishment. If they don't, and miss the Final 8 2 years in a row, it could be a sign that the program is slipping. It's a thin line between success and failure for Williams right now.
Grade: B

Key Wins: Whittier, Brandeis, Mary Washington, Trinity (TX), Tyler, Bowdoin, Skidmore, Trinity (CT), Williams, Redlands
Losses: Emory, Kenyon
Analysis: Their resume speaks for itself. Along with Kenyon, they are the biggest surprise of the year. The Hens are playing at a significantly higher level than anyone expected and with all their wins, have solidified themselves as a legitimate top 8 team. They are getting it done on the doubles court with a 27-9 overall record, although they have cooled off slightly in recent matches. The fact remains that they can play with anyone in the country and although I often count them out, they are a serious threat to win the SCIAC and the NCAA West regional. I think CMS and Cruz have taken notice, because P-P certainly has my attention. The impressive thing is their consistency. They proved that their Stag-Hen performance was no fluke and they have more quality wins than anyone in the country. I expect the Hens to finish strong and give whoever they play some serious trouble in NCAAs. If they had beaten Kenyon, they would have received an A+.
Grade: A

Key Wins: Chicago, Kalamazoo, Case Western, CMU, Vassar, Whitman, Pomona-Pitzer, CLU
Losses: CMS
Analysis: I'm shocked by how good they are. Look at the underlying story here and you see a team that was ranked 12 lose 4 starters and become #7. If that's not top notch development and coaching, I don't know what is. Kenyon's guys play with so much heart and are motivated every match. They were in slightly over their heads against CMS, but the fact that they have beaten everyone else they've played is impressive, including 2 potential top 10 finishers in Chicago and Pomona-Pitzer. They are the story of the year to me because I thought this team would be decimated. Player To Watch Jeremy Polster is 11-7 playing at the top of the lineup and Coach Thielke is well on his way to a well deserved Coach of the Year award for this. I see Kenyon earning the 5th or 6th overall seed in NCAAs. They could find themselves in their first ever Final 4 with a decent draw.
Grade: A+

Santa Cruz
Key Wins: Trinity (TX) (2), Carnegie Mellon, Swarthmore, Redlands, Trinity (CT), CMS, Williams
Losses: Wash U (2)
Analysis: Although they looked a bit sluggish at Indoors, the young 2011 Slugs are buying into Coach Hansen's motto of growing throughout a season. They've picked up their play significantly and are getting the job done everywhere in the lineup. Brian Pybas hasn't been quite as tough as last year, but I expect him to pick his play up heading to NCAAs. Player To Watch Erich Koenig is 13-6 with most of his losses coming early in the season. I'm impressed with Cruz all around and would not be surprised if they toppled CMS in NCAAs. I think a lot will depend on who gets the homecourt for NCAAs. This is a typical Slugs team that plays great doubles and gets the wins they need in singles. They have a doubles record of 21-9 and I'm most impressed with their 3 through 5 players in singles. Counting out Cruz in any match is a huge mistake and they are proving that this year. I think the losses to Wash U were wakeup calls, but the fact remains they won the biggest match of their regular season against CMS.
Grade: A-

Wash U
Key Wins: NC Wesleyan, Santa Cruz (2), Trinity (TX)
Losses: Emory, CMS, Chicago
Analysis: Wash U is performing about as I expected. I was impressed with their Indoors performance and their other win against Cruz, but other than that they haven't been all that special. Obviously they are 5th in the country which is impressive, but everything seemed to be smooth sailing until that Chicago loss. I can't remember the last time the Bears lost to a team outside the top 10. I thought the top 2 singles spots would be tough for Wash U and they have turned in a record of 7-7 which is pretty good. My overall view is that the Bears are very solid and play at a consistent level. You know what you are going to get from them. To beat Wash U, you either have to bring a ton of energy in doubles or a lights out singles lineup. I think they were overmatched against Emory and CMS and Chicago just played better doubles. I'm interested to see how the Bears respond at the UAA tournament.
Grade: B+

Key Wins: Trinity (TX), Redlands, Cal Lutheran, MIT, Vassar, Skidmore
Losses: CMS
Analysis: The Jeffs literally have 14 guys that are legitimate starters on a top team. It's scary. But what matters are the top 6, and that wasn't enough to beat CMS. Austin Chafetz hasn't seen much playing time early in the season, so I'm assuming injuries may be a factor. If he gets to 100%, they are my pick to win nationals no matter what happens the rest of the season. Luis Rattenhuber has been somewhat of a disappointment after a lot of hype, because at the moment it doesn't look like Herst has someone that can win at 1 or a team that can win at 1 dubs. But the story with Amherst will be the same as the past 2 years. They will raise their game in May when NCAAs come around. They are going to raise their game to another level in a month and the question is if everyone else can keep up. Despite being 4 in the country, I still see them as the best team and no one will convince me otherwise. They got their early season loss out of the way and they are on the same path as the past 2 years, except now they have a much stronger team.
Grade: B

Key Wins: Brandeis, Mary Washington, Swarthmore, Kenyon, Skidmore, Amherst, Trinity (TX), Wash U, Gustavus, Whittier, Cal Lutheran
Losses: Emory, Santa Cruz
Analysis: With wins against 11 quality opponents, it's hard to criticize them, but there have been some chinks in the armor this spring. The Wash U match showed what a difference Robbie Erani can make, because he hasn't seen much action in singles. I believe he makes the singles lineup significantly stronger. The problem I see for CMS is that they are very good everywhere, but they aren't great anywhere. They don't have that automatic win like Emory, and they don't have Brian Pybas to count on for at least a win a match. They have to go out every match and grind, and that wears on you. In the past, I believe fatigue and mental toughness have been issues for them late-season. I was very surprised they lost that Cruz match. CMS always has a good regular season, but I can't really judge them until the season is over. Their NCAA performance will define them, especially since they are playing at home.
Grade: B

Key Wins: Mary Washington, Carnegie Mellon, Wash U, Redlands, Vassar, Pomona-Pitzer, CMS, Hopkins, DePauw, Denison, Chicago
Losses: None
Analysis: Emory is perfect this year and that's the bottom line. They've rebounded very nicely since last year and head into UAAs as a heavy favorite. As usual, the support is coming from the top of the lineup. Player To Watch Colin Egan is 19-1, and Pottish, Goodwin and Egan are a combined 32-0 in singles play. That is just unstoppable. A lot of these stats get thrown out the window in the heat of the moment at NCAAs, but that's impressive and can't be ignored by Emory's opponents. Everyone knows where Emory is vulnerable and that's doubles, but there's a lot of pressure for the Eagles opponents to win in doubles, because they know they are going to lose if Emory gets ahead. It's a nice luxury to have 2 great players, but taking advantage isn't so easy and Emory has done that perfectly. They should head into NCAAs confident and will obviously be a serious threat to win it.
Grade: A+

Key Wins: Redlands, Gustavus, Cal Lutheran, Brandeis
Losses: None
Analysis: The defending national champs haven't been tested yet, and this isn't a mid-season report for them either. They remain at #1 in the country from last season, but they certainly haven't looked impressive so far. It was good for this young team to play some tough matches, but they don't have a top 15 win on their resume yet and that means they are unpredictable going forward. They took care of business against Redlands, but compare that to what Cruz and Emory were able to do against Redlands. I know better than to count them out in NESCAC play especially since they have had Amherst's number in the past. I can see them finishing anywhere between 1st and 4th in NESCAC play, but as I've said, Midd is Midd and they are always a threat. I really can't make a judgment on them yet, but I am looking forward to regular season matches against the other top NESCAC teams.
Grade: B+