Coach: Andrew Girard, 10th Season
Location: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
2009 Ranking: #14
2010 Ranking: #8
2011 Ranking: #17
2012 Ranking: #19
2013 Projection: #10, D3TG
First glance at the rankings trend would lend you to the assumption that the Tartans (congrats on the mascot 1st round win, btw) are a team that’s trending downwards. I happen to think that the opposite will happen this year. Looking at the huge drop from 2010-2011, CMU saw no recruits come in. The past two years, they’ve seen probably 7 viable starters come through recruiting, which obviously is a huge boost to the team. Throughout the years, CMU has had a reputation of being a talented team, but also a team that doesn’t tap into that potential. I’m going to assume that some of this has to do with workload, but at the end of the day they’ve underachieved when you look at their talent. However, that’s another trend that may be changing. I thought that last year was their least talented team since 2009, and many people projected them to be in the mid-20s at the end of the year. Truth is, they were one Case Western win away from making the NCAA tournament and finishing at least #14 in the country. Was that the start of a potential overachieving run for this team? This year will basically tell that story. They have all the talent this year, with an amazing recruiting class that can propel them, as we saw with their fall win over Amherst and their solid ITAs performance. But can they make that next step? They’ve had this kind of opportunity once before, and got shut out in the Elite 8 against Wash U, and haven’t been the same since. I think this year will really depend on how they balance schoolwork, etc, with their tennis, and if they are fully committed, this may be one of the more dangerous sleepers in the country.
The Tartans lost only one player from last year’s team, Jeremy King, but it looks like they played the 2nd half of the season without him, I assume due to injury. Fact of the matter is they brought in three 4-star+ freshmen, all who notched wins against Amherst in singles. Speaking of their singles, that actually looks to be a huge strength for the Tartans this year. I think their lineup really is solid all throughout, however one thing I would like to call out is that they may not have a dominant #1 singles player. Sophomore Heaney-Secord notched a huge win over Yaraghi in the fall, but my question is whether or not he can do it for a whole season. Last year, he finished the season with losses to NYU, Wash U, and Case in consecutive days at #2. Now, he’s playing #1. I’d say the most important piece in this years lineup will be Duke Miller’s performance at #2 singles. Miller has had success in almost every slot he’s played at, barring #1 last year, which isn’t an easy task. He’s an All-American doubles player, slotted at one dubs this year, and I expect a standout season for him at 2. He’s played there before, it’s his senior year, and he’s had a knack for winning tough matches. With Duncan (who was an amazing #3 last year), and the freshmen manning 3-6, I’d look at 2 wins for sure from that part of the lineup against almost anyone. #1 is in question, so the pressure lies with Miller. His matches could be the difference between a breakout for the Tartans or an underachieving year, and to be honest, his track record shows that he can do it. If he plays exceptional, they’ll easily beat that #10 projection I have. Doubles-wise, this was a very strong lineup last year, even without King. They had leads over Case, Wash U, Kenyon, and NCW after doubles. It’s not necessary that they come out with 2-1 leads, but it would make them that much tougher that they did. In doubles, the player to watch for me is sophomore Thomas Cooper. He had strong doubles play at #2, with different partners, and I expect him to be there again with Miller and Duncan at the top. That’s already a strong lineup, and they have more talent to mix and match from there.
One thing that Coach Girard has consistently done over the years has been setting up a schedule that puts the Tartans in the hunt. This year is no different. They’re real schedule instantly kicks off on spring break, where they will play two HUGE matches, and two HUGE opportunities. They’ll face off against #6 Bowdoin and #10 Trinity, and I think the opportunity match here is Bowdoin. It’ll be their first match, and they’ll still have that overinflated ranking. CMU can really validate their Amherst win here, and I expect this one to be tough. Against Trinity, I think that CMU’s strengths (bottom of the lineup) works well against Trinity, and they’ll pull this one out close. But a successful spring break means 4-0 for a team with high hopes.
Moving on, they’ll tackle their East and Midwest foes, starting with two winnable matches against Mary Wash and Washington and Lee. Judging by past results and ITAs, these matches should not be a problem for a talented squad. However, lose one of these matches and you can guarantee yourself a tough draw if you make NCAAs. The matches that I’ve by far been looking forward to for this team are against rivals Hopkins and Kenyon. These teams play each other every year, and Hopkins has really given it to them the past few years. Unfortunately for CMU, I think Hop matches well with this team, and they’ll take a loss here because Hop singles is just a bit deeper and more talented. Against Kenyon, you know it’s going to be interesting. Missing a starter last year, CMU went 5-4 against the #2 team and were 2 games away from the upset on their home courts. Now, they’ll travel to hostile Kenyon, where they’ve had some success, but it’s definitely not going to be easy. Right now, I have to pick Kenyon, but I can see this team winning it. If they lose, I’d hope for that to be motivation going into UAAs, where they will play two of Case, Wash U, and Emory, with a potential Chicago. That will determine where they land if they make nationals.
Overall, I see this team as a lower 1 or high 2 seed going into nationals, but it really depends on how they finish out the year. Fitness and injuries play a huge part, but so does dedication. CMU can take the next step as a program, or they can continue on their path of so-so seasons. We shall see!