Coach: Mike Geanette, 19th Season
Location: Thousand Oaks, CA
2009 Ranking: 26
2010 Ranking: 7
2011 Ranking: 20
2012 Ranking: 12
2013 Projected Ranking: D3West 16, D3TG 16
Oftentimes, the ranking progressions are enough to illustrate where a program is headed, but in this case, they don’t tell the whole story. For a long time, Cal Lu was really a middling sort of DIII tennis program. Nationally, the Kingsmen were thought of in sort of the same terms Tyler is thought of now: usually ranked somewhere around 25-30 and vastly inferior to its primary geographic rivals. In 2010, the Kingsmen put Ballou and Giuffrida together and immediately had a top 10 team. Their meteoric rise in the first half of the 2010 season is still one of the most mystifying and memorable stories from the past decade of DIII tennis. The fact that I remember their wins over Amherst and then-#1 UCSC so vividly shows just how indoctrinated we all are to the DIII heirarchy, while simultaneously demonstrating how difficult it is for a team to insert itself into the conversation. That’s exactly what they Kingsmen accomplished. So far, their lack of depth has prevented them from joining the first tier, and it appears that will be their fatal flaw again this year.
This blog devoted a ridiculous amount of attention to these two guys last year, but when it comes to CLU’s lineup, the discussion starts and ends with Ballou and Worley. To see if the facts bear out that observation, let’s hop aboard the statistics express:
Ballou and Worley in doubles matches against ranked DIII teams: 14-2
The other two doubles teams in matches against ranked DIII teams: 8-25
Both teams were pretty poor, but Millet and Sousa were a respectable 6-11 against a very tough schedule, while Wilson and Treacy went 2-14 with their wins coming against Whittier and Trinity (CT). Now for the singles:
#1 Ballou, 12-3.#2 Wilson, 8-9. #3 Worley, 14-1. #4 Treacy, 6-9. #5 Millet, 9-8. #6 Sousa/Jacobs/Kowalczyk, 2-14.
Ballou needs to stay healthy/eligible if this team is going to do anything at all this year. Without him, they’re a team in the mid-20′s, so I’m going to write the rest of this assuming he’s playing. With Wilson gone, Worley is going to have to move back up to #2 singles where he has struggled in the past. He has improved tremendously since his disastrous sophomore campaign, and I think he’ll be very successful there, though I doubt he’ll be able to dominate the same way he did at #3 last year. Treacy and Millet were solid #4 and 5 singles players, as you can see, but the numbers from last year don’t seem to indicate that either one is ready to move up to #3. The Kingsmen need at least one of those guys to make a huge leap to replicate their success from last year. Cal Lu has done a great job developing players in the past, so I’m optimistic for them (Worley and Wilson come to mind). If both players make a jump, this team will be legitimately dangerous. Unfortunately, that’s where it ends for Cal Lu. They have Jacobs, Kowalczyk, and Sousa, but all of them proved that they aren’t legitimate top 10 starters last year. The Kingsmen also didn’t appear to pick anyone up on the recruiting trail, though I wouldn’t be surprised if freshman Sean Handley ends up in the starting lineup.
Doubles is the same story. Worley and Ballou are going to be a force to be reckoned with again, but Cal Lu is going to have a hard time finding two more doubles teams that can win matches against their brutal schedule. They can put Millet and Sousa back together, but they will need to improve to win consistently at #2, and I don’t think there’s another decent doubles team in that lineup for Cal Lu. When things fall right for the Kingsmen, they are capable of taking down almost anyone in the country, but they have a blaring fatal flaw. Elite teams don’t have holes in their lineup, and that will prevent them from cracking the top 10.
Coach Geanette has drawn criticism on this blog before for creating too brutal of a schedule. Some of that criticism is warranted. The schedule sets his players up for injury and burnout, and prevents them from tinkering with their games. When are they supposed to work on their slice or fidget with their service motion when they have matches against top 25 teams every weekend? That’s a problem, but Cal Lu needs those tough matches. As a Pool C team, they need as many matches against top 15 teams as they can get, because, at the end of the year, the wins matter more than the losses. Geanette has toned it down a bit this year, but it’s just one of the mixed blessings of being a So Cal team.
Anyways, Cal Lu is going to start off their season the same way as last year, with matches against a couple teams outside the top 30 to get them warmed up (Brandeis and Chapman aren’t bad, but they’re not good enough to threaten CLU). Then, they head to national Indoors. Their last trip in 2011 can only be described as disastrous. They lost a 5-4 match to CMU, got slaughtered by NCW, and then lost 5-4 to tournament host Mary Washington, which was a huge upset at the time. Their prospects this time around are a little better. They go in as the #6 seed, and they will lose to Hopkins. After that, they get a match against NCW, which they should actually win! Then, they would get either Cruz or Trinity in a match that doesn’t really matter that much because they play both of those teams later in the season. That should be a close match, but I would expect both teams to eek out a victory against the Kingsmen if only because they have more experience at Indoors.
Two weeks later, they start their home stretch against Trinity (TX). Last year, they were able to surprise Trinity, and this one should be an absolute battle. If I had to pick now, I would take Trinity because Skinner can hang with Ballou, and they have more depth, but I might change my tune after indoors. They have Skidmore the following Tuesday, which is a classic trap match. If they aren’t careful, they’ll go the same way as Trinity last year. Four days later, they play a road match *gasp* against Redlands. This is an absolute must-win for them as a Pool C team, but I have no confidence in Redlands right now, and I think CLU will win. After that, they have six straight home matches against Amherst, Williams, Trinity (CT), P-P, CMS, and Whittier. The Kingsmen got close to upsetting both Amherst and Williams last year, but those were matches in which almost everything went perfectly for CLU. There’s no way they beat either team this year. On the flip side, they absolutely dominated Trinity (CT) last year, and should do the same this year.
The P-P match is the one that most intrigues me. The two teams split their meetings last year, and both matches were extremely tight. P-P lost more key players to graduation, but for some reason, I think they have the upper hand here. It’s probably because my perception of the 2013 CLU team is skewed by Ballou’s absence in the Fall, so I guess we’ll have to wait and see. They just aren’t going to beat CMS, and they will have to be extremely careful against Whittier. I think the Poets have the potential to jump to the second tier this year. They’ve gotten five 3-stars in the past three year, and have senior leadership from Seneviratne. It seems like only a matter of time until they break through with a win over one of the SCIAC’s big four, and Cal Lu and Redlands are the two most likely victims.
They finish up their season with their end-of-the-year road match against Santa Cruz and the SCIAC championships. Let’s look at their chances to get wins that will help their Pool C resume: Indoors against Hopkins (unlikely), Indoors against Trinity or Cruz (more likely), home against Trinity (coin flip), on the road against Redlands (70:30), home against Amherst and Williams (very unlikely), home against P-P (coin flip), home against CMS (unlikely), on the road against Cruz (coin flip), SCIAC tournament against whoever. If I’m a Cal Lu fan, that makes me very nervous. Sure, they should win at least two of those matches, but I’m not sure if wins over NCW, Skidmore, Vassar, Redlands, and Whittier are enough to get them in Pool C. And if they lose to either Redlands or Whittier, their season is over right there. This is a team that plays too many close matches for that not to come back and bite them in the ass at some point. They’ve been pulling out the close ones lately, but I think they’re about to regress to the mean and miss out on the post season.