Coach: Dan Greenberg, 4th Season
Location: Williamstown, MA
2009 Ranking: 8
2010 Ranking: 11
2011 Ranking: 4
2012 Ranking: 3
2013 Projected Ranking: 1
In the early aughties, the Williams Purple Cows were the DIII tennis dynasty. They won national championships in 1999, 2001, and 2002 to go with finals appearances in 1998, 2003, and 2004. Since then, they haven’t been able to overcome their NESCAC counterparts, and, despite back-to-back Final Four appearances, they haven’t been able to win their conference since 2005 (correction: 2003). Williams raised eyebrows across the country by hiring 2008 alum Dan Greenberg as the head coach in 2009, and there was cause for concern when the Ephs fell out of the top 10 for the first time in 15 years in his first season. Williams appeared headed for another semi-disappointing season in 2011 when they engineered and incredible comeback against CMS to earn a Final Four spot. Last year, Williams went from underdog to favorite when they lost just one 5-4 match to Amherst in the whole regular season. Their spirits were dampened a bit when they lost to Bowdoin in the NESCAC Championships, but they avenged that loss two weeks later in the Elite Eight before falling to the eventual National Champion Emory Eagles in an epic semifinal match. Speaking to their tenacity, they returned the next day to beat Wash U in the 3rd place match after having their national championship aspirations crushed.
Personally, I think Williams is ideally suited to win the national championship this year. The three teams they lost to last year all lost significant pieces: Bowdoin lost Pena; Amherst lost Chafetz, Jung, Waterman and Rattenhuber; and Emory lost Pottish Goodwin, and Kowalski. Williams lost their six singles player and a replaceable #3 doubles team. True, they are ranked behind Kenyon, who returns everyone, but their season last year was much more impressive than Kenyon’s. I generally underrate Kenyon, but let’s not forget that they lost to both NCW and Cal Lu. Four of Williams’ top five are seniors who will be spurred on by championship disappointment. Just like Emory last year, Amherst the year before that, Middlebury before them, and Cruz in 2009, I think those guys will have the unique brand of hunger that will lead them to the national championship.
Williams returns its top five, so it’s no secret who they’ll be rolling out in the singles lineup. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think they changed their lineup for the whole year last year. It went Meyer, Sun, Micheli, Weiss, and Chow. The Cows had a superbly underwhelming performance in the singles portion of Fall ITAs, so there’s no way to predict whether there will be any shifting within that top five. If their 7-2 win over Wesleyan in the fall is any indication, junior Adam Reich is the leading candidate for the last singles spot, with senior Dylan Page just behind him. Williams also brought in one of the better recruiting classes. Weiss’ little brother is probably the best among them, but they have three other freshmen who will be throwing their names in the ring as well. The competition for those singles spots should be incredibly intense, but I would be surprised if Greenberg went away from his seniors.
Williams also has a wealth of options for their doubles lineup. They will almost certainly go with Fall National Champions Meyer and Micheli at the #1 spot. Sun and freshman Alexander Schidlovsky made a semifinal run in the fall tourney before falling to Meyer/Micheli, while former Fall ITA National champ Bryan Chow and freshman Brian Astrachan cruised to the semis before falling to Crampton and Bettles from Bates. With Chow out of the lineup against Wesleyan, Williams tried out Sun and Weiss at #2, but that didn’t exactly work out. If I were to guess, I would say Sun and Chow will be in the doubles lineup on separate teams, leaving two spots open for the freshies and seniors like Page. As always, we’ll just have to wait and see.
Weirdly enough, Williams is scheduled to play Bates on January 18th. I’m not sure how that worked out because I’m pretty sure the NESCAC schools aren’t supposed to play until their spring break. Regardless, Williams beat Bates pretty comfortably last year, and since both teams are basically the same this year, there’s no reason to think that match would go any differently. Their schedule really starts when they make their annual pilgrimage to So Cal, where they will play nine matches in ten days.
Their first is against Pomona-Pitzer. The only danger there is that it will probably be both Williams’ first outdoor match and their first tough match in two months. If P-P comes out hot and neutralizes Williams’ doubles strength, the Ephs could be in for a long day. The next day, they play Cal Lu in Thousand Oaks. Cal Lu is obviously always dangerous, but despite the 5-4 scoreline, Williams was really in control of that match last year. I think they’ll be just fine against the Kingsmen. They have Redlands three days later, which should be a pretty easy win for the Cows. Williams plays both Depauw and Whitewater on the CMS courts the next day. I’m guessing Greenberg will be going with a mixed squad against both those teams, because neither is a serious threat. Cruz the next day could be very interesting if Williams is exhausted from the previous two days, but I really think the Ephs are significantly better than the Slugs this year. The big match of the trip is against Claremont four days after the Cruz match. Last year, Williams took a 2-1 lead in doubles, and when Wood went ice cold in singles, it was pretty much all over. We still have no idea how good Dorn is, but I’m thinking of him as a replacement Lane. If Wood is hot in both singles and doubles this time around, the Stags could definitely win, and I’m really looking forward to this one.
That does it for their Spring Break schedule. Unfortunately for them, they don’t get much time to recuperate, as they have to fly back across three time zones to play Skidmore and Bowdoin at home three days later. Bowdoin beat them at home in the NESCAC championships last year, so they’ll have to get up for that one. The Big One is the following week on the road against Amherst. Last year, Williams lost two of three three-setters at the bottom of the singles lineup in a 5-4 loss. This year’s Amherst team is incredibly different from the Jeffs of the past few years and will be fueled by three very impressive freshmen. Nevertheless, Williams hasn’t beaten Amherst since 2010, and that match will be incredibly important for their confidence heading into the post season. The following week, they go on the road to play Middlebury. Again, Middlebury is the giant question mark this season. The new Panthers, Johnston and Campbell, tormented Williams in the Fall, so that will be another one to look out for. Those matches will take them into the NESCAC tournament. To put it simply, I think they will win that and go on to win the national championship. It obviously won’t be that easy, but since I have no way of predicting who they’ll be playing, there’s nothing more for me to say.
So there it is: Williams is my pick to win the national championship this year. Who does everyone else have?