Coach: Russel McMindes, 4th Season
Location: San Antonio, TX
Conference: SCAC (Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference)
2009 Ranking: #15
2011 Ranking: #10
2012 Ranking: #10
2013 Projection: #12, D3TG #10
First off, sorry to those of you who were waiting with bated breath for this team preview. I was supposed to get it out earlier, but I decided to watch 27 straight hours of election coverage instead. Not to flood the blog with political opinions, but, since the two states are in my constituency, congratulations to Colorado and Washington for passing a pair of important referenda. That was unnecessary.
Right, Trinity (TX). Though I had never looked at the historical rankings before now, I’ve pretty much always associated Trinity with being around #10 in the country. They’re always in the mix near the top of the rankings, though never a legitimate title threat. Some years (2011) they seemed poised to make a breakthrough but didn’t. While other years (2012) they seemed bound to drop half a dozen slots, and impressed. Before the Fall Nationals, I would have said that this would definitely be a year that the Tigers would drop, but the emergence of Skinner as a star gives them exactly what they need to stay in the top 10. They lost their most consistent winner in both singles and doubles in Frey, and Santa just dropped a healthy Skinner right into their lap.
The Tigers have a reputation for playing phenomenal doubles, and this is true. They also have a reputation for laying one or two eggs a season, which is also true. Right now, they have the team to remain in the top 10 in a quickly improving DIII, but they can’t afford another bad loss this season, or they will see themselves moving down.
The Tigers only lost one player from last year’s top ten team, but he was a big one both literally and figuratively. Frey was Trinity’s leader for the past two seasons. Most of the time, losing a player like that is bad, but Frey’s departure also represented an opportunity for the rest of the team to step up. Skinner jumped at the opportunity, and is arguably filling in better than Frey ever did (time will tell).
Without Skinner as a reliable #1, their lineup looked incredibly pedestrian: DelaFuente, Haugen, Curtis, Mayer, Skinner, and someone else. DelaFuente doesn’t have the weapons to win consistently against the top guys, and the rest of those guys hadn’t proven themselves. Now, they have Skinner (a top 10 player at worst), DelaFuente (a proven 2), Haugen, Curtis, and Mayer (three guys with a ton of experience), and a wealth of options for their sixth (judging by fall seedings, it would be Moreno and he would be playing higher than #6, but they also have Dunn and Benavides and some other good players). I’m not entirely convinced that is a top 10 singles lineup, but if they roll those six guys out with a 2-1 lead, they’re going to be very tough to beat.
And a 2-1 lead is what they expect to have. Skinner and Mayer will probably win about half of their matches at #1 doubles. Then, they drop a former doubles all-American in DelaFuente down to #2 with a much-improved Moreno, a formidable combo at #2. I’m sure they will play around at #3 doubles, but given their tradition, they will find a very, very good #3 doubles team. (Curtis and Dunn did the best in the Fall Regionals). Playing with a ton of energy and getting the lead in doubles will be more important for them than ever this year if they want to make it back to the Elite Eight. As I mentioned, I’m not sold on the middle of their lineup, but with wins from Skinner and DelaFuente at the top, great doubles, and decent depth, expect them to remain near the top of the “second tier.”
If you take one quick glance at Trinity’s schedule, there should be one match in there that makes you go, “WTF!?” That would be their Wednesday, March 20th HOME date with Johns Hopkins. It’s November, and I’m already excited to see how that match plays out. A clash of styles: Trinity’s doubles vs. Hopkins’ singles. A match between a rising recruiting power, and a traditional program that wins with development fighting to remain relevant. Two fiery teams playing on Trinity’s frat row. Their home court advantage didn’t exactly help them in their quad a couple years ago, so I’ll take Hopkins in that one, but it should be insane.
As for the rest of their schedule, it looks about the same as it always does. They start off with Indoors, where they will play Cruz in the first round for the third year in a row. The Slugs seems to overperform at Indoors every other year, and this is their off year. The Tigers might actually be better off losing, because they aren’t about to beat Emory, and that would set up a 3rd place match against either Hopkins or Kenyon. They would lose to Kenyon, and they would rather have their only match against Hopkins be on their home courts. If they lose, they get GAC and either Cal Lu or NWC, both matches they would win. I think they’ll go 1-2 with a win over Cruz in the first round.
After Indoors, they make their annual California trip where they have matches against NWC, Cal Lu, CMS, Case, and Carnegie. From a regional standpoint, it’s very interesting that they’ve elected not to play Redlands, but let’s focus on the matches they will be playing. I would expect them to beat NWC and avenge their 2012 loss to Cal Lu. CMS will be a tough match for them to win, but I’m guessing that’s the match they’re most excited to play. History has shown they are incapable of beating top 5 teams, though, so I would take the Stags in that one. Case is an improving team, and that’s the match on their schedule that looks a lot like Whitman 2011 and Skidmore 2012 to me. Though they have a day off, they will be emotionally drained from their previous three matches, but they’ll also need to play well to beat the Spartans. After that, they play Carneige, a team with an incredible recruiting class that will be moving up this year. Since it’s the Tigers’ sixth match and the Tartans’ 3rd, I feel pretty confident that CMU will win that one, leaving Trinity at 3-2 on the trip.
After California, all they have left is Kalamazoo and their conference tournament, both of which they will win easily, sending them to the NCAA’s with a national ranking around 10 once again, where they will be matched up with a beatable team in the Regional Final (though they could get a tougher draw if they drop below two out of Carnegie or Case) . Realistically, I don’t think they’re an Elite Eight team this year, and they will fall to another Bowdoin-like team (perhaps Middlebury this year) in the Sweet Sixteen.