10. Can Williams do it again? The Ephs pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Final 8 history with their win against CMS, on the road, in last year's quarterfinal. Williams returns their whole team for this year and the good news for them is they are out of the spotlight in the NESCAC this year. All eyes are on Amherst and Midd and Williams will go about their business and quietly be a top 8 team for the whole season. At the end of last year, I was worried about them beating Hopkins to qualify for the Final 8 - but they did a lot more than that. I really like their chances to get back to the quarterfinals, but going further will be the real test.
9. Emory hasn't won a title since 2006 - 2nd is great, however anything but a national title is not acceptable for the Eagles. Emory has to feel like they've been punched in the stomach 2 years in a row by the same team, although the losses were very different. The Eagles got flat out crushed in singles last year and I don't see any signs that would make me think they can win it all in 2012. Yes, they have the two best players in the country, but if Goodwin can't win his singles matches in NCAAs then Emory doesn't have a chance to beat the Jeffs. The Eagles will almost definitely be a top 5 team and most likely a top 3 team this year, but if they aren't winning national titles they aren't happy.
8. Watch out for Case Western - A team in the rise who quietly crept into the top 20 in 2011 and stayed there for a decent portion of the season. They have solidified themselves as a solid #5 in the UAA and I can even see them finishing 3rd in the conference in 2012. I think that this is a solid top 20 team in 2012 who could flirt with the top 15 and an NCAA berth. They are bringing in one of the best recruits in school history and Coach Wojtkowski has done wonders with this program over the past couple seasons. I expect Case to give a lot of top 15 teams a very hard time and I can see this as the true breakthrough year for this program where they establish themselves on the national scene.
7. CMS and Hopkins performance in NCAAs - At this point, both teams have a reputation for choking during May. You can't even argue with that fact. That being said, I believe both of these teams will field the best teams they've ever had during the 2012 season. Hopkins has the top recruiting class in Division 3 and how their freshmen respond will go a long way in determining their fate this year. CMS has 4 of 6 starters back from last year's team that should have finished #3 in the country, plus the best recruit entering D3 this year. I expect to see both of these teams in the quarterfinals this year and I think on paper, Hopkins is close to a top 5 team and CMS is the clear #2 in the country.
6. 5 consecutive Final 4s for Wash U - The Bears are usually overshadowed by other more flashy teams, but more so than anyone else, they go about their business and collect wins. More so than other years, they will have a young team in 2012 with no seniors in the starting singles lineup. The Bears currently hold the longest streak of Final 4s in D3 with 4 in a row, and I think they have a good chance to make it 5 in a row if the NCAA draw goes their way. They finished #3 in the country last year, but anyone who thinks they were actually the 3rd best team is foolish. I think a lot depends on what happens with Wash U's doubles this year, as beating Emory and taking back the UAA title are certainly attainable goals.
5. Pomona-Pitzer the new #2 in SCIAC? P-P really had a breakthrough year last year, but their year was very similar to CLU's 2010, and we saw what happened to the Kingsmen last year. P-P showed separation between Redlands and CLU, but there is also a large gap between the Hens and CMS. I like P-P to be in the bottom half of the top 10 again this year, as they return most of their starting lineup from last year and they have a solid recruiting class. What they do in 2012 will be one of the most interesting stories for me personally, as I'm anxious to see if they can close the gap with the top dogs in California. They play a tough schedule as always, and you wonder if they are tired by the end of the year because they clearly didn't have their best stuff in the last month of the season.
4. DePauw's conference switch - For those unaware, DePauw switched conferences from the SCAC, where they used to be grouped with Trinity (TX) and Rhodes, to the NCAC, where they will now compete against Kenyon and Denison. This is great news for the Tigers of Trinity and bad news for Kenyon, as the Lords will now have to constantly watch their back when it comes to NCAAs because they don't necessarily have an auto bid to NCAAs. I really like this year's DePauw team and I expect them to be somewhere between 11 and 13 in the country. I don't think their ranking of 16 did last year's team justice and I expect the Tigers to make a lot of noise in their new conference this season.
3. Indoors returns to Gustavus - After a one year hiatus in which National Indoors moved to Mary Washington, the Gusties announced that Indoors will be returning to its proper home. I would think last year's switch was a combination of Gustavus being overmatched and financial issues. Either way, its great to see GAC take back this great event and I hope that they can give some tough matches to the Indoors field which is always elite. The Gusties have incredible fan support and the atmosphere during their matches is as good as any in D3 tennis. I was delighted to see this news a couple months ago, as I think Indoors is the next best thing to NCAAs despite the outstanding Stag-Hen field this year.
2. Hansen to Middlebury - This was just a shocker and I have mixed feelings about it. I have my own theories as to why Bob Hansen left his beloved Cruz, but I think that he saw a dead end in California and a new beginning in Vermont. I don't expect Midd to be a top 5 team this year because they still don't have a lot of experience, but I'm anxious to see where they will be in 3-5 years as Hansen now has a very attractive school to market. Obviously it's going to be a different environment from Cruz and we will see how the best coach in D3 history adjusts. I think that there will be unnecessary pressure on Midd this year and they won't perform up to everyone's expectations. I see them being 3rd in NESCAC and somewhere between 5 and 9 in the country this year.
1. Can anyone touch Amherst? The Jeffs simply go through the motions during the regular season and everyone knows that now. They really don't care about wins and losses in March and April, but rather focus on getting better and being healthy in May. The only weakness they showed during NCAAs last year was the first 15 minutes of doubles against Trinity. Other than that, they were completely untouchable. Nothing suggests this won't happen again and for 5 more years. I think that we have a dynasty in the making in Amherst, MA and no one can stop it. If this team feels like winning nationals, they are going to do just that. In other news, the Jeffs have signed 2 5-stars who will start in Fall 2012. I'm not joking when I say I think we could see 5-6 national titles in a row from Amherst, but how long does Garner hang around?