Location: Lewiston, ME
2009 Ranking: #23
2010 Ranking: #27
2011 Ranking: #26
2012 Ranking: #16
2013 Projection: #20
Until last year, Bates was one of a handful of solid NESCAC teams forced into obscurity by the conference’s dominant foursome. When one thought of the NESCAC, Amherst, Williams, Bowdoin, and Middlebury were usually the four teams that came to mind. Bates, Tufts, and (to a lesser extent) Trinity were mere afterthoughts. At least until last year when the Bobcats announced themselves as national contenders by beating Hopkins and pushing Herst to the limit in a span of a couple weeks. Dating back to Boe-Wiegard in 2006, Bates has traditionally been a top-heavy team that has trouble recruiting and playing against the best in the NESCAC. Last year was no different they had a three-headed monster at the top of the lineup in Berg, Bettles, and Crampton, but they had a really hard time finding wins deep. With Trinity (CT) in a down year, the Bobcats got their first sniff of Pool C, and were (rightfully) furious when the Bulldogs were picked ahead of them.
This year looks to be more of the same, as they return basically the same lineup (with a year of improvement), but will need to beat at least one of the top four to make it into Pool C. Last year, it was conceivable for the NESCAC to get five teams in, but with Wash U and Carnegie looking good this year, and the SCIAC as strong as ever, that won’t be happening. Three of the top 4 should be out of reach (Williams, Herst, and Midd), but Bowdoin might be slightly vulnerable. If they used that snubbing as proper motivation this summer, they could potentially find their way into the tournament.
Ohbytheway, here is their team blog. It’s very good as team blogs go.
Last year, I consistently said that Bates had half of a team. That’s not entirely right, but there is a seed (more like a bushel) of truth to it. Their success hinges solely on the successes of Berg, Bettles, and Crampton. How pronounced was the difference between those three and the rest of the lineup, you might ask? Well, in matches against teams currently ranked in the top 30, Bates went 22-11 in the top 3 singles spots, and 4-28 in the bottom three singles spots. The .667 winning percentage at the top 3 positions is incredible, especially considering the calibre of teams Bates consistently played against, but 4-28 is worse than terrible. It’s horrendous. It’s unworkable. You just can’t win a championship with a record like that. (Note: they went 13-9 at #1 and 2 doubles and 3-8 at #3 doubles. It’s not as pronounced, but you get the point).
One would hope that Bates’ success last year would have allowed them to bring in a good recruiting class to bolster their depth, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. They brought in a guy from Romania, but he was apparently seeded behind Planche in the Fall ITA. Planche is a decent #6 singles player, but they need someone better than him to win in the NESCAC, so, for their sake, I hope I’m wrong about Bardan or that Planche just got way, way better over the summer.
It’s hard to believe that a team with three of the top 10 players in the NESCAC will not contend for the title, but that’s how it is. Bates will be extremely dangerous to any team this year, since their top three are capable of winning 5 matches for them, BUT that’s no way to win a championship because if one of them has a bad day, they’re screwed.
Here is their schedule.
Bates has basically the same schedule that screwed them last year. In order for them to make Pool C, they have to play the teams that will be competing for Pool C spots. By virtue of being in the NESCAC, they are basically locked into matches with Pool C teams, which is good for them, but they are screwed by their own Spring Break. Bates has a very early Spring Break, so they have to travel to California in February.This is good for them in that they get to start earlier than the other NESCAC schools, but it also means (arguably) their most important match of the year will be their second match of the year, and it will be played in conditioned they are completely unfamiliar with.
Bates starts their season on February 18th against UC Santa Cruz. That would be a great win for them to get because Cruz both vulnerable and good enough to pick up some HUGE indirects for them (I’m looking at Redlands and Cal Lu). Unfortunately, they will not have played outdoors yet, so I think they probably lose that 5-4. They have a couple days off (and a 10-hour drive) before their massive match against P-P on the 21st. The Hens are probably just better than the Bobcats, but Bates has next to no chance playing them on their home courts in their second match. After that, they have CMS on the 23rd, which is the same story with even less hope.
After that, they head home for NESCAC matches in March. Unfortunately, any advantage they would have gained by starting early is essentially negated by the fact that they play most of their important NESCAC matches on the road. 2013 Middlebury is better than the team that beat Bates twice last year, so I don’t see them pulling off that upset on the road on the 10th of March. They play Amherst on the road on April 6th and Williams on the road on April 16th. They also have a rematch against Hopkins on the 23rd, and I don’t think they will be able to sneak up on the Jays twice (especially since Hersh should be healthy; knock on wood).
Now, let me get to the good news: the Bobcats were never going to finish ahead of Midd, Williams, or Herst. They have a chance to finish ahead of Bowdoin, and, as luck would have it, that’s the one big match they play at home. Bowdoin had a breakout season last year, and it stands to reason that they would regress towards the mean (especially with the departure of Pena). The Polar Bears have surprised me before, but if Bates is going to make it to the tournament, they absolutely have to beat Bowdoin. At home, it’s possible.
I expect them to beat MIT, Tufts, and Trinity; but their path to the NCAA tournament includes a win over either UCSC or P-P, a win over Bowdoin, and a win in the NESCAC first round. (They might sneak in with 2 out of 3, but I doubt it). A stunner over one of the other teams I mentioned would make a fantastic supplement, but that’s basically what it will take for them to make the tournament this year, and I don’t see it happening. Until they get some depth, Bates is not a legitimate title contender.