Coach: Chuck Willenborg, 9th Season
2009 Ranking: #11
2010 Ranking: #13
2011 Ranking: #13
2012 Ranking: #8
2013 Projected Ranking: D3AS #5, D3TG #6
I’d like to start off by saying thank you to the Hopkins website for giving me ITA historical rankings, SO helpful . All schools should be doing that so I don’t need to navigate through the ITAs terrible website. But anyways, take a quick look at those historical rankings, and you can tell that this is a team on the rise. Before last year, they were known as a team that folded under the pressure of NCAAs, especially after blowing a lead against NCW three years ago to keep them from the Elite 8. Last year was a huge step in the right direction, as they reached the final 8 for the first time in 4 years, and were one match away from taking out the national champions. This is also a good time to put to rest the “Hopkins chokes in NCAAs” theory. In all honesty, I think it’s absolute trash. Yes, they blew a huge lead at home against NCW, but they were playing at an offsite indoor venue and theoretically there probably weren’t many fans there. Two years ago, they lost at Williams’ indoor venue, known to be tough for visitors. Not to mention, the main players from those seasons have now been replaced, and I think for the better. Some people may point to last year, where they were two games away from beating Emory with a 4-1 lead in the third set, but can we really attribute that choke to a whole team? (apologies to Warren Elgort) However, the rest of the team (Brown, Lim, Hwang in particular) won HUGE matches against Emory. And the match before against Midd? Brown, Hwang, Lim, and Reiter won in singles. Not to mention a solid beating of Amherst in the fall, and this will be my sleeper pick and one of my favorite teams to watch in 2013.
For Hopkins, I actually want to start with a little doubles analysis first. If Brown/Lim, who ended the season as a very good three doubles team last year, continue to keep up a top 10 doubles team pace, this team is going to be even more dangerous than I thought. My analysis is that I think they’ll be a little bit inconsistent up there based on their skills, but this could be a huge boon to the Hop season. The rest of the doubles lineup looks pretty underwhelming to me, and I believe Hop will be counting on experience at 2 (Hersh/Camei) and talent at 3 (randoms). I expect it to be tough for this team to pull off sweeps, but any 2-1 lead will be a huge game changer.
In singles, this will be a very, very tough team to match up and down the lineup. Their weakest spot may be at #1, where Hersh is a solid player and definitely one of the grittiest players in DIII, but he’s far from a guarantee. His game style allows players having a good day to take him down, and I don’t expect a consistent win from this position, let alone against top teams. Moving on, the strength of this team will be at the 2, 3, and 4 spots. Brown ended last year on a torrid run, taking down a ton of top players and had a good showing in nationals. Hwang defeated tough opponents against Midd and Wagner of Emory, and Lim came up clutch twice in the same two matches at #6. All three had great ITA regional performances again, with Lim beating Miller of CMU as the biggest surprise. However, the most vital spots may be at #5 and #6. Reiter is definitely a #5 any team would like to have on their team, so I’ll list him as a strength. I need to see some performance from him this year, however before locking him in as a top #5. 6 is a question mark to me, but Schwartz played well in the fall and maybe he’s turned the corner in his junior year. If these guys turn out to be top at their positions, this is a title contender – mark that down.
The Hopkins schedule
Hopkins begins the year right off the bat at Indoor Nationals, and they’ll have to navigate through a tricky but definitely a winnable first round match vs. Cal Lutheran. I see Ballou winning two points against them, and if Worley can steal 2 singles – anything can happen. However, Hop will get through and start our season with a HUGE matchup against Kenyon. Kenyon is a team that can compete at every spot with Hop in singles, so whoever wins doubles wins this match, in my opinion. We shall see. Depending on this match, they’ll play either Emory or another team that they should beat. Top 3 finish in indoors for Hop. Their next big match will be against CMU at home at the end of March, and this year will be a nice year for this annual rivalry. CMU showed that their singles is much improved, and I believe that the Tartans have better doubles than the Jays, but I take Hopkins on their funky home courts. The Jays finish the year with pretty easy matches, such as Haverford, Mary Washington, and Washington College, along with their conference tournament. In a year where they have a lot of talent, I must say I’m questioning this schedule. I get that they have experience already but a few more big matches would be nice, wouldn’t it? I hope this doesn’t hurt them when it comes playoff time – people might attribute a tough loss to choking instead of general match experience.
Overall, it’s pretty clear I have high hopes for this team. They have the talent for a national championship, but obviously championships don’t just get handed to you. But it’s damn good to be in the conversation.