Coach: Bryce Parmelly, 2nd Season
Location: Santa Cruz, CA
2009 Ranking: 1
2010 Ranking: 5
2011 Ranking: 6
2012 Ranking: 9
2013 Projected Ranking: D3West 14, D3TG 14
UC Santa Cruz has to be the most decorated DIII tennis program in the country. Since Hansen started the team three decades ago, the Slugs have won seven national championships to go with 19 Final Fours, 13 finals appearances, and 111 all-Americans. Like the old Big 10 football teams, however, times are a-changing in the DIII tennis landscape, and Cruz hasn’t been able to change with them. Other traditional powers like Amherst, Williams, CMS and Emory have attracted 4- and 5-star recruits (predominantly) from families with no need for academic scholarships who are looking for a world-class education, something Cruz can’t match. The Slugs have remained successful by continuing their tradition of sculpting great athletes into great tennis players. Unfortunately, Hansen, the master sculpter, is gone, and the recruiting trail has left his apprentice, Parmelly, with less raw material to work with. Amidst a state-wide budget crisis and swirling rumors about a potential program collapse, one wonders if this season might be Cruz’ last hoorah.
Santa Cruz’ future might be in question, but that doesn’t mean that this season won’t be good. If Nurenberg plays, they return basically their whole lineup from last year’s team that got to the finals of Indoors, beat CMS, and finished #9 in the country. Even if he doesn’t, they still have Koenig, Halabi, Larsen (if he stays eligible), Bettwy, Rosner (if he plays), Scandalis, and Rogers. Koenig has demonstrated that he is a legitimate #1 singles player. Just last year, he notched wins over Weichert, Razumovsky, and Kowalski, among others. Halabi is an impenetrable wall. I never thought he would fare that well in the top half of the lineup until he advanced to the finals of the Ojai last year (wins over Weichert, Lipscomb Wood, and Nurenberg), and he backed it up with a win over Marino in the fall. Rosner had an up-and-down season last year, but he’s capable of playing some really good tennis. Bettwy was a rock for Cruz at #6. Rogers had a tough season last year, but had good wins in 2011. Larsen is a doubles all-American and a huge asset in singles. Scandalis hasn’t done anything in singles so far, but he will almost definitely be in the doubles lineup.
Their lineup, and their success this season will be entirely dependent on who plays and who doesn’t. I’m not about to make a guess. If they could roll out Nurenberg, Koenig, Halabi, Larsen, Bettwy, and (someone else) with another year of Cruz-level development they could be a national championship contender. Watching the team play last year, however, I get the feeling some of these players aren’t totally into. They need EVERYONE to go all in to be successful. Without a little Cruz cohesiveness, they’re just another middle-of-the-pack team.
As an independent school, Cruz has the advantage of not having to worry about making the NCAA tournament. As a California school, the have the disadvantage of needing to get past CMS, P-P, Cal Lu, and Redlands just to make it to the Elite Eight. They are also disadvantaged in that they don’t have any big matches after April 21st to help them prepare for Nationals. Still, they consistently play one of the best schedules in the country, and this year is no different.
After a trio of DI matches, they see their first significant DIII action Feb. 18th against Bates. That match means much more to Bates than it does to Cruz, but Cruz will be match tough and it will be played on their home courts. If the Slugs can put 6 of the 8 guys I mentioned on the court, they should win a close one (all these predictions are going to be made assuming at least six of those guys play). That will be their only experience before National Indoors, starting Feb. 22nd, where they will meet Trinity in the first round for the third year in a row.
Cruz seems to perform extraordinarily well at Indoors in years in which they travel to Whitman for some indoor experience beforehand (getting to the finals in 2008, winning in 2010 after graduating 5, and getting to the finals last year). This is an odd year, and Skinner has been doing his best Roger Federer impersonation, so I’m guessing they lose that first rounder. After that, they have to be careful not to drop one to Gustavus. If they win that, they should be able to top either Cal Lu or NCW for 5th, which would be a good result. If they win their first round, they will lose to Emory and Hopkins.
Starting in March, they have a home match against Redlands and a home quad with P-P, Whitman, and Tyler. The Redlands match will be the most interesting of the four. Both are programs in dire straights with the potential to be great. That match could be a turning point in both seasons. If Nurenberg plays, they could win all four matches, but with him out, I think they win three of four with close wins over Redlands and Whitman and a loss to P-P.
After that, I don’t see them beating Williams or Middlebury in SoCal, but they should be able to topple Depauw. Cal Lu could give them a scare on April 14th, but there’s no way in hell those seniors lose their last match on their home courts. If they beat P-P, the match against CMS on April 21st will be the biggest of their regular season, as it will determine the host of regionals. I seriously doubt it gets to that point.
What it all comes down to is Cruz needs to be better than CMS to get to the Elite Eight. Without Nurenberg, they aren’t even really all that close. With Nurenberg, Cruz is a top tier team with an outside shot at a national championship if the chips fall in the right places (if, for example, their doubles gets got at the right time like they did in 2009). Without him, they are middling second tier team doomed to trudge through a season of mediocrity. Like I said in the P-P preview, I’ll predict a Round-of-32 loss to P-P for Cruz.