Coach: Chris Garner, 6th season
Location: Amherst, MA
2009 Ranking: 2
2010 Ranking: 2
2011 Ranking: 1
2012 Ranking: 5
2013 Projected Ranking: 3
Until last year’s shocking quarterfinal loss to Wash U, the Amherst men’s tennis program had enjoyed a five-year steady rise through prominence and into dominance. Coach Garner had earned himself a reputation as a Yoda of sorts for taking a unique scheduling approach and seemingly being able to get his players to peak at the right time. They came out of nowhere to stun Middlebury (after losing twice to them in the regular season) en route to a surprising finals appearance in 2009; then, albeit less surprisingly, did the same to Williams, Emory and CMS in 2010. When they won the title in 2011, it was almost a foregone conclusion, and most seemed to think that they were a shoe-in to repeat in 2012. Garner’s teams were incapable of laying an egg, we thought. I drank the Kool-Aid. Last year’s quarterfinal loss shouldn’t have been as surprising as, say, CMS’ loss to Swarthmore, but it was more jarring because it didn’t fit into the narrative we had written for the Jeffs. Sorry Amherst, welcome back to Earth.
Since then, Amherst has lost 2/3 of their lineup, two matches to lower-ranked teams, and their aura. After losing one DIII match in two years, they’ve now lost three in a row, and they will be approaching this season with an entirely new lineup. All is not lost for Amherst. In fact, they still have a ton going for them. They brought in probably the most talented recruiting class in DIII history, and have several players in their lineup capable of filling in for their departed veterans. They dominated the singles portion of the ITA Fall Regional without one of their two returning starters, Joey Fritz. Moreover, the “non-starters” from last year’s squad are 3- and 4-stars with big match experience thanks to Garner’s scheduling philosophy. They may have lost more than half their lineup, but the Jeffs don’t rebuild, they reload.
With so many freshmen in the mix, it’s really difficult to say how the Amherst singles lineup will fall, let alone the doubles lineup. Kahan played #1 singles for most of last year, and was very solid, but he finished the season with losses to Pena and Putterman. More recently, he lost to Abhishek at #3 singles against Carnegie Mellon. I don’t know if he’s battling injuries or if he simply slumped in the fall, but expect him to slot in near the top of the lineup. Amherst’s prize recruit, Andrew Yaraghi, lived up to his billing by winning the Fall tournament without dropping a set and beating Hersh in their dual match against Hopkins. He also got rolled by Carnegie’s Heaney-Secord, so he’s far from a lock for the #1 singles spot. Freshman Ben Fife made quite a splash in the fall, beating Kahan, Bragg, and Bettles in the Fall tournament and Duke Miller in a dual match, so expect him to be in the starting lineup. Then there’s Joey Fritz. Fritz was abroad this fall, but he won last year’s fall tournament and was rock solid for the Jeffs at #4 singles. He struggled a bit, however, when playing in the top half of the lineup, so I expect him to fit in near the bottom of the lineup again this year. After that, the Jeffs have an embarrassment of riches. Junior Chris Dale started in doubles and was successful when sniffing the bottom of the singles lineup last year. Sophomore Jon Cypers and Andrew Scheiner started in their Fall matches but struggled. Reindel and Mlaver had good results when playing near the bottom of the lineup last year, and either could start this year with a bit of improvement. Then, the rest of the freshmen class, especially Aaron Revzin, will throw their names into the conversation.
The Jeffs lost their national championship doubles team from last year along with half of their #2 and 3 doubles teams, so the first hour of tennis will look completely different for them. They also struggled a bit in the Fall, so there is a lot of fiddling to be done. Yarghi and Fife were a decent combo, and Revzin has proven himself to be a capable doubles player, so Amherst could end up with three freshmen or more in their doubles lineup. Regardless, expect Kahan and Dale to be mainstays in the doubles lineup.
So…. Amherst starts its schedule with 17 matches in six days over Spring Break in Southern California. Most of these matches are against non-DIII opponents, so they don’t matter for rankings purposes, but Garner’s goal seems to be to get as much of his 50-man roster match experience as possible. The only “real” match, as far as I can tell, is against Cal Lu on the 19th of March. The Kingsmen nearly surprised Amherst last year, and the Jeffs will really want to start off with a DIII win to quell any questions of their ability to win this year. Regardless, it will be their second match of the year, and the Cal Lu guys can be intimidating/obnoxious, so the freshmen could struggle. I expect Amherst to escape with a 6-3 victory. Their other match against a ranked team will be on the 23rd against Wisconsin-Whitewater, which I expect them to win easily with a split squad (no disrespect to W-W, they just beat P-P with a split singles squad last year).
When they return to New England, they start their NESCAC schedule with a home match against Bates on the 6th of April. Bates might have the edge at the top of the singles lineup, but Amherst is so much deeper it’s ridiculous. Amherst has Skidmore the day after, a team they rolled through with a split squad last year, so I don’t expect that match to be cause for concern. Their biggest regular season test will come a week later at home against Williams. These two teams played a barn-burner last year, but Amherst will be a completely different team. The following week (the 21st) the Jeffs play Bowdoin before finishing their regular season with a home match against Middlebury. I’m not sure how Amherst managed to get all of their big NESCAC matches at home, but that’s what happened. It’s too early to make a call for this year’s Amherst team, but since I’m somewhat obligated to do so, I think they will start a little slow and improve, especially in doubles, as the year goes on. They will get a friendly draw at nationals and ease their way into the Elite Eight. Obviously, I have them finishing third. That’s partly because I remember their young teams making runs in 2009 and 2010, but it’s also just a subconscious attempt to prop up the status quo.