Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Weekend Recap: April 7 - April 10

Mark Kahan, Amherst

I apologize again for the absence, but everyone needs a vacation. I thought a little downtime might be appropriate since we are entering the last third of the season and things will get busy. I will try to touch on all the key matches from this past weekend and discuss their significance.

Brandeis d. MIT 6-3
There will be a lot of good matches in these recaps, but this one is definitely up there in best comebacks of the year. Brandeis was down 2-1 in doubles and lost 5 first sets on the road and they managed to come back and win. After a rough California trip for the Judges I was questioning them a little bit, but this match leaves no doubt in my mind that they are on the brink of being a top 20 team. This was a big win for them and had to give them confidence heading toward a Sunday showdown with Trinity (CT) which I'll discuss later in this recap. A disappointing loss for MIT who started the season well with a win against Bates. I think they are also a borderline top 20 team and usually don't play up to their talent. This was obviously a winnable match for them, but I still thought they would be a threat to Bowdoin the following day after this result.

Bowdoin d. MIT 5-4
One thing that pops out at me is Bowdoin is missing 2 starters from their starting lineup to begin this season. Nico Fenichell hasn't been in action since California and this was Chris Lord's first match out of the lineup. Bowdoin can't afford to have injuries if they are hoping to finish top 4 in NESCAC this year. The injuries almost cost them in this match but they managed to win somehow. MIT again went up 2-1 in doubles and ended up losing a heartbreaker. Bowdoin's release said that MIT led 5-1 in the 3rd set at #6 singles before Bowdoin staged a comeback. This basically kept Bowdoin's tournament hopes alive and allowed them to play another day. Their chances of winning NESCAC are almost none so that Pool C bid is their ticket to the tournament and every win is huge for them. Kudos to the Polar Bears for battling in this and finding a way to win. Sullivan has really been rock solid at the top of the lineup this year and I think he deserves a last NCAA appearance during his senior year.

Redlands d. Cal Lutheran 6-2

I thought CLU has a good chance in this because it was a good matchup for the Kingsmen, but obviously they needed to get ahead in doubles because Redlands is too deep to succumb to CLU's weak bottom half. The Kingsmen's weakness is on display perfectly in this boxscore, but what impressed me was Redlands ability to sweep doubles. This match all but ends Cal Lutheran's NCAA tournament hopes and despite a rough season, Redlands is still hanging on by a thread if they could manage a big win in the SCIAC tournament. A solid and much needed win for the Bulldogs against a feisty opponent. One thing that worries me for Redlands is that Anish Nanda was nowhere to be found in the starting lineup. I tapped him as the key to Redlands success this year so that's very disappointing to see.

DePauw d. Denison 5-3
Carnegie d. Case Western 6-2
Case Western d. Denison 5-4
DePauw d. Carnegie 5-1
As I said previously, the GLCA tournament lost a lot of its luster after Kenyon withdrew, but some good tennis was played this weekend as DePauw came out on top for their first GLCA tournament win since 2007 when they also beat Carnegie in the final. The Tigers needed this for confidence purposes heading into the SCAC tournament. They don't have enough of a resume to get an at-large bid so they will need to beat Rhodes and Trinity (TX) on back to back days to gain entry into the tournament. DPU's doubles has been solid this year and if they end up meeting Trinity, I think they need to put up at least 1 point on the board in doubles if they want to have a shot. This is a tricky team who could be dangerous if they find their way into the tournament.

Carnegie is the big disappointment of this season by far and they could finish out of the top 20. I'll take some time to discuss them now since their season is virtually over entering the impossibly difficult UAA tournament. This season tells me that they remain a 2nd tier program who had a good year in 2010, rather than a 1st tier program who had a bad year in 2011. There's really no excuse for what happened this year because if you look at other teams around the country who were decimated by graduations, those teams were just fine (Kenyon, Trinity (CT)). One loss is acceptable, but they've been consistently bad for a while. This is a bit shocking after Girard's National Coach of the Year award in 2010 and I'm surprised that he would let this happen. I thought the gap was closing between CMU and Wash U/Emory, but the truth is it remains very wide. This is a large blemish for this program because the top teams don't have "down years." I don't talk a lot about intangibles, but clearly something big was missing this year, because the fact remains they are a solid team on paper. I expect them to lose to host Brandeis in the UAA 1st round this weekend.

Another disappointing showing for Denison as they led 2-1 after doubles against DePauw and let the lead slip away again. The following day when they fell behind against Case, they couldn't manage to win 4 singles matches. They play Kenyon tomorrow, and if Kenyon is anywhere close to healthy, I don't expect it to be much of a match. Good fight from Case in the 3rd place match. I think they could be a factor in this weekend's UAA tournament. If they can get a big win this weekend, they could get some Brandeis-like momentum and confidence heading into the 2012 season. Case is a program ready to turn the corner, but they still need that big win to get there and they could get it this weekend.

NC Wesleyan d. Mary Washington 8-1
This was destruction and at the moment, I think NCW could be the most under the radar team in the country. It's no mystery that NCW can play amazing singles, and if they can somehow get their doubles working, I expect to see them in the Final 8 for the 2nd year in a row. They have to hope for a little luck of the draw from the NCAA committee, but if they can get in a decent region, they are probably the favorite even if they aren't the top seed. The Bishops have been playing great tennis since Indoors and I expect it to continue. This confirms once again that UMW isn't a threat to top 15 teams. Wichlin seems to be injured and he's really their only hope at remaining competitive. They will limp into the post-season, but I think it could be a big boost if they can manage a win in the NCAA tournament.

Middlebury d. Trinity (CT) 7-2

Good showing from Midd, they were dominant across the board and to me this win cements their place as a definite top 10 team. Their was very little doubt that was true, but now that doubt is gone. They seem to be solid everywhere, but this was a statement win and I look forward to their upcoming matches against the other NESCAC powerhouses. This was a good chance for Trinity to get their feet wet in NESCAC play, but by no means was it a bad loss. If anything it was a good learning experience to remind them they need to get better, because they had some big wins coming into this match. This brought them back to down to earth and they still have a long way to go before they clinch a tournament spot.

CMS d. Redlands 8-1
Not much to say here. CMS was impressive and showed no mercy against their conference rivals. They reminded Redlands that the gap between the teams remains huge. A good confidence builder for CMS heading into a match against Pomona-Pitzer followed by the conference tournament. I was impressed by the Stags doubles and this is something that will need to be clicking for them to make a national title run.

Amherst d. Bowdoin 7-2
Again, not much to say here. Amherst took care of business with half their lineup and Bowdoin also played shorthanded as I mentioned earlier. The Jeffs were dominant heading into the Sunday showdown with Williams.

Gustavus d. Carleton 8-1
I was very wrong about these 2 this year. Gustavus has picked up their play significantly without much in the way of personnel additions, and it seems as though Carleton has fallen off after a big 2010. Gustavus will enter the conference tournament as the heavy favorite. I think the Gusties are a serious sleeper in the NCAA tournament who could knock off a top team on the right day. This team continues to grow and I expect to see them in the top 30 at year-end which is a big accomplishment. It shows that the team has a lot of heart and the program is making strides towards a rebound.

Skidmore d. TCNJ 5-4
Skidmore is a team I really like, but they were points away from getting swept in doubles against a team I don't consider top 30 material. Skidmore is talented as shown by their near upset against Bowdoin early in the season, but this result worries me a little bit. They are the favorite to win their conference tournament against Vassar and could also be a sleeper in NCAAs if they are all on the same page. A good rebound for Skidmore in singles, but they still need to improve over the next month to compete with anyone respectable in NCAAs.

Trinity (CT) d. Brandeis 7-2

A really impressive result for Trinity (CT). The thing that pops out to me is the 2 singles match where Simon Miller of Brandeis retired when he was leading. I hope he is okay for this weekend because he has been the cornerstone of Brandeis tennis for the past few years and deserves to play UAAs at home as a senior. This had to suck the life out of the Judges and they went down easily after that. Trinity (CT) continues to be solid and from the looks of it, it will be them and Bowdoin battling it out for that 6th and final Pool C spot. Their regular season match with Bowdoin was rescheduled for April 29th, and they could also meet again in the NESCAC tournament. Although I think these 2 are quite far from the NESCAC top 3, 4th in the conference should be enough to get you into the tournament.

Amherst d. Williams 5-4
Every time these 2 step on the court it's a war. There's not much else that needs to be said. There have been many incredible matches this year, but because of the rivalry and significance of this, I have to say this is the best match of the year up to this point. Williams managed 2 of the doubles as well as 5 first sets and Amherst managed incredible comebacks at the top 3 spots. Every team in the country should mimic Amherst's fight because it is absolutely unmatched. They never give up and they dig themselves out of ridiculous holes time and time again. They are still playing without Austin Chafetz and I have no reports on his status. Williams youth showed in this match and they folded in a match they should have won. I hope it will only make them hungrier and I hope they aren't effected by this loss going forward. Amherst was tougher in this and they have been the tougher team for the past several years. I would be surprised if these 2 don't meet again this season, but the headline match of this weekend surpassed the hype. I think specifics and analysis are irrelevant, I'm just in awe of this match result. Williams showed that they are a very good team because they certainly have some critics, myself included. But the story here is really Amherst, showing that they are tough as nails and will rise to any challenge. Despite struggles this season, this is why they remain as my pick to win it all this year.