Coach: Ben Belletto, 9th season
Location: Claremont, CA
2009 Ranking: 28
2010 Ranking: 20
2011 Ranking: 8
2012 Ranking: 11
2013 Projected Ranking: D3West 13; D3TG 11
Until 2011, I was always surprised that P-P wasn’t better than they were. They had great facilities, a great location, and a really unique recruiting niche. As Pomona College, they could compete with the likes of Claremont, Amherst, Williams, etc. for recruits looking for a truly excellent academic institution. As Pitzer College, they could simultaneously compete with the likes of Redlands and Santa Cruz for the players that needed to go to a school with less-strict admissions standards. They could even have an advantage in that category, as Pitzer a) is a better school than both of them, and b) doesn’t require test scores for admission. Anyways, they moved up a little in 2010 with wins over Mary Washington and Gustavus before finally putting everything together in 2011 with wins over both Trinity’s, Bowdoin, Williams, and (most importantly) Redlands. Ironically, they didn’t do it with recruiting.
Starting in 2008, when they got Tommy Meyer, P-P has managed four 3-stars, nine 2-stars, a bunch of 1-stars and a horrifically underrated Maxwell Sabel. That’s far from being a bad recruiting track record, but it’s not what you would expect out of a team as highly ranked and ideally placed as P-P. So no, they haven’t won by recruiting the best players. They’ve won with well-coached doubles, hard work, and a lot of heart. I’ve always thought that doubles success is a good indicator of both coaching and passion (Passion because intensity can beat talent more often in a 40-minute proset than a 2 out of 3. Coaching because most juniors don’t come in knowing how to play doubles, so good coaching is necessary).
Sure, they lose Tommy Meyer, Uday Singh, and Alex Groth from last year’s squad, but they bring back a lot of depth, and their development is off the page. Let’s take a closer look at their strengths and weaknesses.
(editor’s note: for those looking for more in-depth coverage of P-P, check out their team blog
The knock on P-P has always been that their singles play is not that of a top 10 team. To take a page out of D3TG’s book, let’s take a look at the stats. In 19 matches against teams currently ranked in the top 30 last year, P-P went 31-26 (.544 winning %) in doubles, and 59-55 (.517) in singles. You don’t have to be a match major to tell me that’s about the same. Their 11 matches against teams currently ranked in the top 15 tell a different story. In those matches, they went 16-17 in doubles (.485) and 24-42 in singles (.364). The average ranking of those 11 teams was about 8, so basically what these statistics are telling me is that P-P has the doubles of a top 8 team, and the singles of a top 18 team.
Think about that, then think about the fact that they only lost one singles player from last years lineup, but three doubles players. Will their singles skills come up to meet their doubles prowess, or will they lose that edge in doubles and drop down closer to 15. Obviously it will probably be somewhere in between. Judging by the performances of Sabel, Hudson, and Weichert in the Fall tournament, you can bet that P-P will be stronger than they were last year in singles, but can the freshman come in with the same level of competency in doubles? I kinda doubt it. They return a very good doubles team in Allinson and Sabel. I’m sure they will find someone (Hudson) to throw with Weichert to make a solid #2 team, but I’m a little worried about #3 doubles for them. Their experimental teams in the fall just didn’t work.
To sum it all up: Singles=better. Doubles=worse
(editor’s note: here’s their schedule)
The Hellhens start their season on February 21st with Bates. It was mentioned in the Bates preview, but that match will be vitally important. P-P is gunning for CMS this year, but chances are, they will be a Pool C team this year, and a loss to Bates early in the year would really put them behind the 8-ball. Their next big matches are on the 6th and 7th of March against NWC and Mary Washington. NCW is a bit of a question mark this year, but they should be fine, and the Hens have owned UMW of late. If either of those matches end up being long, they could be in trouble because they travel on the 8th to Santa Cruz for three matches in two days against Cruz, Whitman and UT Tyler.
Cruz is first for them, which is probably best. Last year, they beat Cruz in the regular season before falling in the regional semi. Without Nurenberg (and potentially Larsen), I just don’t see how the Slugs can win, but expect it to be competitive. Koenig, Halabi, Rosner, Bettwy, and Co. still make up a good team. Later in the day they have Tyler. That could be a real trap match for them. They will be physically and emotionally exhausted after the Cruz match and Tyler is MUCH improved from last year. I still can’t imagine Pomona losing that match. (Plus, if this is scheduled like a normal quad, Tyler will be coming off a brutal morning match with Whitman). They play Whitman on Sunday the 10th, and that will be a REALLY interesting match. Though Whitman beat P-P last time they played in 2010 (also in Santa Cruz), the Hellhens will be the prohibitive favorite. I’m guessing those matches will be Whitman’s big ones of the year (unless someone drops out of Indoors or Cruz is going to their place again or something), and their lineup will have undergone a complete overhaul from last year. Again, hard to believe P-P wouldn’t win, but I’ll wait to see what Whitman’s throwing out there before I make a pick.
Shortly thereafter, they travel back home for the Stag-Hen. Their first round match against Bowdoin will be BY FAR the most important. Obviously, they’re two Pool C teams, so a direct win is also great. Also, the winner gets matches against Emory and either CMS or Kenyon (nothing to lose), while the loser gets Swarthmore and potentially Pool C contender Case Western (everything to lose). Hellhen fans should circle the Friday the 15th of March in red for that reason.
Their last out-of-conference matches are Williams, Whitewater, Middlebury, and Gustavus. Williams is returning everyone from the team that beat Pomona last year, so I doubt the Hens can win there. Middlebury is a little better than they were last year, so I would expect them to win again, BUT remember that last year’s 5-4 win over P-P was the only thing that kept the Panthers in Pool C. P-P dominated GAC last year by neutralizing their strength in doubles, but if the Hens lose some of their doubles strength, that could turn into an interesting match. Whitewater is basically the same team as GAC, so ditto. I’ll take the safe route and pick P-P to lose to the NESCAC powerhouses, and beat the Central wannabes.
Then, there’s the SCIAC. For most, it’s pretty inconceivable that P-P wouldn’t make Pool C, but last year they actually flirted with the cut line a little bit in the middle of the season before beating Cruz. I would expect P-P to drop a little in the rankings this year if their doubles dip didn’t coincide with weak-looking years for Redlands and Cal Lu. There’s always the chance that Redlands just snaps everything into place, but if it hasn’t happened yet, I don’t see it happening now. As long as P-P wins those two matches, they’re safe for Pool C, and we’ll see if they can put a charge into CMS. Needless to say, I’m picking the Stags in the regular season, in the SCIAC championship, and in the regional final. (Though if you’re keeping track at home, that means I think the Hens will make the regional final, unlike last year).