I want to give congratulations to several people to begin this post. First of all, thank you to all the players who work tirelessly each day, and their coaches, so we have something to talk about. This site wouldn’t be possible without your hard work, and it just continues to get more enjoyable for me as the level gets higher. Secondly, congratulations to all the seniors, who I have covered for the last 4 years and good luck in your future endeavours. You guys should all remain connected and help each other out in the real world, even if you hated each other on the court. And thirdly, a proper congratulations to John Browning, Chris Redmond and their Emory Eagle team who won a well deserved 3rd national title in the history of the school. An amazing performance from Emory for those 3 days in Cary, you really earned it with all of your hard work. Finally, thank you to D3tennisguy. I don’t think everyone knows how difficult it is to do this on an every day basis. People expect quality content, and even though some people think it is enjoyable to write, it eventually becomes a chore as D3tennisguy can attest. Without him, this wouldn’t have been possible, so I hope that you can all thank him by email for putting in the effort that he does. I had the easy job of writing once a week, he did the real hard work. Hopefully we will be able to figure out a system that works for next year. If you are interested in joining our team, please contact both of us by email.
I’ve just concluded my 5th year covering D3 tennis, and even though my role was diminished this year, it was probably the most enjoyable year I’ve had of following all the action, just because everything was so unpredictable. We had 2 of the biggest upsets I’ve ever seen this year, in Swarthmore over CMS and Wash U over Amherst. I’d love if readers would comment with their most memorable upsets ever in D3 so we can compare. The final 3 days of the season in Cary had everything, and this was the most dramatic Final 8 I’ve had the pleasure of covering. We started with Emory digging out of a hole against Hopkins to Wash U and Kenyon sweeping doubles and holding on for wins in the afternoon matches. The next day had Williams with a near miraculous comeback against Emory, and Dillon Pottish in the hospital after his 2nd D3 loss in 3 years of playing. The final had Kenyon with a 2-0 lead and 2 match points for a 3-0 lead, only to see Emory come back and dominate the singles. If a few points swing differently who knows what happens, but Emory knows how to win and that’s exactly what they did. D3 continues to get better, and we saw this year that the level was at an all time high with really 35 or 40 very quality teams. Next year, I expect the level to be even higher, and as I tweeted this week, 21 of 24 singles starters from this year’s Final 4 teams will be returning, and the incoming freshmen class may be the best we’ve ever seen. I expect 2013 to be a remarkable year, so let’s go team by team and see where each program stands at the moment and what their outlook is like for next season. I’m going to order the teams the way I expect them to finish in the ITA rankings and I’m only doing the top 25. This is just what I think, please don’t post comments of “why is team x ahead of team y” because I’m not going to respond. The ITA rankings aren’t out yet, and I’m just doing it this way for organizational purposes.
NOTE: 130PM PST Monday: 12 of 25 done.
24. MIT - Another typical season for the Engineers. They have established their place as a consistent 20-30 team who always beats lower ranked teams but can’t really challenge the top teams in the Northeast. They return their entire team next year and despite this fact, I expect them to be the same team as they were this year. They bring in a highly rated 4-star to beef up their roster a little bit, but again, I think the school is too difficult and their players have other things to focus on besides tennis. Compared to some of the other Northeast schools where tennis is king, MIT just isn’t on the same level program wise. That said, it’s impressive that they are ranked to begin with, but the closest matches they had against legitimate teams this year were 6-3 losses to Bates and Midd. It’s really going to be difficult for these guys to take their program to the next level despite the fact they continue to bring in top recruits. However, they do better than another very difficult academic school who has a ton of talent, and they should be proud that they do more with less than the infamous Chicago Maroons.
23. Gustavus – Another step in the right direction for Gustavus this year after hitting rock bottom in 2010. Although they didn’t get that signature win, this team beat Kalamazoo, Whittier and Chicago which is very good for them. The important thing for GAC is to draw on this year and keep moving forward in 2013. They return their whole team next year, and I’m sure all of them gained a ton of confidence and experience from the 1st round of Indoors against Emory, which ended up being one of the overall best matches of the season. If these guys end up hosting Indoors again, Emory better watch out in the first round next year as this would be the 1-8 match once again. Gustavus renewed their reputation for playing outstanding doubles and gritty singles, and as much as I’ve trash talked them over the years, I was very happy to see them back in the Sweet 16 and contending with the top teams in the country this year. It’s great for D3 tennis to have this program in the mix and I would expect they will return to the top 25 in 2013. The real question will be if they can keep moving up the rankings, as they don’t add much as far as recruits are concerned. GAC should be proud of their 2012 season and I’m looking forward to their Indoors performance next year if they are in fact hosting it because they will be a big-time wildcard.
21. Washington & Lee
20. Mary Washington – Make it 4 years in a row that Mary Wash has had a disappointing season. I feel like these guys lose a couple matches and go in the tank mentally, and once that happens it’s nearly impossible to recover. They had a very good team this year with new 2 freshmen and they started off on a great note playing Whitman very tough and actually beating Cal Lutheran in early March. After that win, it was all downhill from there as their only semi-legitimate wins were Swarthmore and Kalamazoo. They made the Sweet 16, but to be honest a year end ranking of 20 is giving them too much credit. I see a steep drop off from Carnegie to them, and I see this #20 spot as the beginning of the 3rd tier of teams. The strange thing is that when you look at Mary Wash on paper, I believe this is a team that should be competing for Final 8s and challenging the top teams in the country. They typically play with a lot of energy, but they can’t seem to snap out of this multi-year funk they’ve been in despite having a couple good wins over CLU along the way. They lose 1 starter and bring in no recruits, and I’d bet the house we will see another season in the 20s from UMW in 2013. Until they string a couple of matches together, they won’t have the confidence they need to compete with the best in the country.
19. Carnegie Mellon – This is what I consider the last team in the second tier, and despite their low finish of 19, they actually had a pretty good season. Most came into the season thinking they lacked talent in singles and that turned out to hurt them in the long run, but they put together some very impressive doubles play and that’s something we’ve never really seen from this program. If a few points went their way throughout the season, this could have been a tournament team that finished 11 or 12, but they fell just short against both Kenyon and Wash U, and really only managed 1 big win against NC Wesleyan. Although they seem to be headed in the wrong direction ranking wise, I believe this was the conclusion of their rebuilding process after their great run in 2010, and they will be tough next year. D3tennisguy used to word “dangerous” to describe the 2013 CMU squad, as they return their entire end-of-season starting lineup from this year as well as add 3 recruits who are expected to start, 2 of which are foreign and somewhat unknown quantities. It’s very possible that they will get back into the top 10 and I could even see them making a deep run in NCAAs, but at the very least, I expect them to climb back into the top 15 next year. The moral of the story is that this was a good team in 2012 and this low finish is somewhat deceptive because they just weren’t able to get it done in singles during UAAs against some tough teams.
18. Case Western
17. Bates – Along with Bowdoin and Cal Lutheran, the most pleasant surprises of 2012 for me. But at the same time, they really finish this year as a question mark. I’m not sure if this is the team that destroyed Hopkins and nearly beat Amherst, or if this is the team that lost to Redlands and Midd twice. I’m still not buying the bottom of the lineup as top-2o quality, but they have 3 players who can play with anyone in the country and that will take you far. It’s unfortunate for them that they play in the brutal NESCAC, but I think this program as a whole took a large step forward this year breaking into the top 20 and beating a top notch program in Hopkins. It was a shame for them that they got robbed when it came to NCAAs. This was a third tier team heading into this year, but they moved into the second tier this year, and with their whole lineup back next year, they should be very good again and compete for a Pool C spot. The real unknown for 2013 Bates is their listed Romanian recruit. If he can come in and be a solid #4, these guys could go from #17 to #7 and I could potentially see them as high as 3rd in NESCAC. The important thing for Bates in 2013 is to keep moving forward rather than back into the 20s where they were previously.
15. Middlebury – I’m not exactly sure what happened this year, and I’m not sure if anyone is. I think that the talent was there, and for whatever reason they couldn’t put it all together. They were beaten by a better team in NCAAs, and they actually had a pretty good regular season with wins over P-P and Bates, but for Middlebury standards 4th in NESCAC and 15th in the country just doesn’t cut it. I understand they had to rebuild after their 2010 national title team, but I had them projected at 6 in the pre-season and they never even got close to that. As I’ve said, the Panthers will really feel the pressure to perform next year, especially with Bowdoin and Bates getting better. The good news is they’ve got 4 very good recruits coming in and they only lose 1 key starter, so there is no excuse for Midd not to be in the top 10 next year. I don’t want to judge this team and Bob Hansen’s coaching based upon 1 year, but I imagine this sort of finish to the season was not what everyone had in mind. They missed the Final 8 for the first time in 10 years, and really didn’t even come close to beating Hopkins in that match. After several years in NESCAC battling for Pool C bids, maybe Hansen will realize he didn’t have such a bad deal at Cruz after all.
13. NC Wesleyan – If you want to see more on NC Wesleyan, please see the comments section below, but the moral of the story is the reign of NC Wesleyan among the D3 elite may be short lived. They had a very good year, beating eventual national runner up Kenyon, destroying a tough Case Western team and beating Whitman comfortably in NCAAs. The loss that really hurt them was against Carnegie Mellon, and while this is not a bad loss by any means, it really hurt them ranking wise. Given their geography, it’s very tough for them to avoid Emory in NCAAs which is unfortunate. I would have loved to see what these guys could do against Hopkins or even the 2nd through 4th place NESCAC teams. This should turn out as a 3rd consecutive top 15 finish for one of the most dangerous teams in the country. They showed hints of improved doubles play this season but that continued to be their problem against Emory. I talk about a lot of teams being question marks heading into next season, but that goes double for these guys. As most know their coach is leaving and several players from their international roster may jump ship as well. The future of NCW depends on who they hire as a coach, but I must say they certainly spice things up as a team who can beat anyone on any given day. For the sake of D3, let’s hope NCW gets the right coach and remains as a powerhouse for many years to come.
12. Cal Lutheran – This was a slightly worse version of their 2010 season where they got hot early in the season and wilted near the end. I made the mistake of not taking them seriously heading into the season, but they had an early season statement win against P-P to establish that they were a serious contender. The way the season has turned out, it puzzles me that these guys can lose to Mary Washington and beat Kenyon within the same week, but that’s exactly what happened and that’s the story of this team. They know that they have issues with depth, especially with Wilson graduating, and if I were them I’d just recruit 10 2-stars and hope one of them is good. While they always seem to pull a transfer or some supposed secret weapon out of their hat, I can’t imagine them as a top 10 team next year with Ballou and Worley as their only true threats and everyone else in this year’s lineup shifted up a spot. This is a very solid team who’s a threat on a good day, but they are never going to challenge CMS doing what they are doing. Ballou will probably be the most dominant player in the country next season if he stays healthy, but a few dominant players only take you so far. Interested to see what these guys do next season, but unless some transfer pops up along the way, I see them slipping back to where they were in 2011 because they just lack depth and everyone else is improving.
10. Trinity (TX)
9. Johns Hopkins – Obviously a huge step forward for Johns Hopkins this year, making their first Final 8 in school history with their outstanding freshman class. They nearly toppled the eventual national champions, but more importantly they got over the mental hump that they couldn’t make the quarterfinals of NCAAs. This was a weird year for Hopkins, especially given their inexplicable easy loss to Bates, but other than that they played like a top 5 team. The big issue for JHU as everyone knows is their doubles. There were very few matches (if any) where they were up after doubles against a legitimate opponent. What worries me is that they lose their top doubles pair to graduation, so they somehow have to figure out how to prevent their doubles lineup from going from awful to worse. While they had a top 5 singles lineup in the country this year, they played doubles like they weren’t in the top 25. Next year, they may very well have the best singles lineup in the country, but as we saw in NCAAs, if you get swept in doubles you can only go so far. While I would certainly consider them a national title contender in 2013 with their freshmen getting a year of experience under their belt and another solid class coming in, I’ll be anxious to see how their doubles lineup does at Indoors, because those 3 points will make or break their season, just as they did this year.
8. UC Santa Cruz
7. Bowdoin – Definitely the biggest surprise of 2012, the Polar Bears lost one of the best players in program history, got a new coach and somehow moved into the top 10 in the national rankings. They posted wins over Carnegie, Trinity (TX), Wash U, Middlebury and Williams and established themselves as a trendy pick to make the national title match heading into the Final 8. They strengthened their depth a bit heading into this year, but their roster didn’t change significantly 2011 to 2012. I think this is a testament to the hard work the guys put in as well as the incredible work that first year head coach Conor Smith did. These guys had been static in the 11-17 range in the rankings for several years, consistently falling in close matches when they faced top ranked programs. That all changed this year, and heading into next year they will no longer have the element of surprise on their side. How they handle that will be crucial, and if Bowdoin can remain in the top 10 after losing top player Oscar Pena, it will be a great accomplishment. They bring in a decent class, but most of their current lineup is made up of lower ranked junior players and look what they’ve done. Bowdoin in 2013 will be one of the biggest stories, and if they can put together a repeat performance of #2 in NESCAC, we could see this program take off in the next few years.
5. Wash U
4. Williams – As I said in the Top Stories column, Williams had a great season, but I know they thought they could win the national title, so they have to feel as though they came away empty handed in North Carolina. They got through a very tough quarterfinal against Bowdoin, and although they had a handful of chances against Emory, they couldn’t get the job done. The good news for Williams is they put together a very consistent regular season and ended up finishing 3rd, as most projected they would. They’ve come a long way since their Sweet 16 loss in 2010, and to me, 2013 is their year. Although they lose their leader in Will Petrie, they return their top 5 and bring in an excellent class highlighted by Zach Weiss’ brother Howard, who I expect will compete for a top 3 spot in the lineup. They may have the deepest singles lineup in the country next year, and if they can play doubles like they did this year, they are my early favorite to win the national title in 2013. The 2013 Ephs will have 4 seniors and a junior in their starting lineup in all likelihood, and with the epic matches these guys have been through, it’s hard not to like them during crunch time in the Final 8 next year. Although Williams hasn’t won a NESCAC title in quite a few years, it’s hard not to like their chances next year.
2. Kenyon – What a remarkable year for the Lords, topped off by a 2nd place finish in NCAAs and a near sweep of Emory in doubles in the Championship which could have turned the match in their favor. Although they started off shaky with a loss to NCW and another loss to Cal Lu a few weeks later, these guys were nothing but solid for the majority of the season. Burgin and Razumovsky have turned into stars, and the amazing thing about this year’s run to the final is that they return their entire starting lineup in 2013, as well as adding a very good class highlighted by a 4-star who I expect will come in and be an excellent 3 or 4 for Kenyon. Their player development has turned into some of the best in the country and Coach Thielke was very deserving of his national Coach of the Year award, which actually showed up one year late. I expect that this near miss from Kenyon will make them that much hungrier next year, however one area where I feel they can definitely improve is doubles. Although they played great doubles in NC, this was a shake area in several matches this season and it has historically been a strength of theirs. With their singles lineup stronger next year, I expect they may be even better and will definitely be in the mix for a national title. Although they just missed this year, if a few bounces go their way, 2013 could be Kenyon’s year.