I had a tonsillectomy yesterday, so I’m currently living on a diet of ice cream and chicken broth, but that won’t stop me from delivering the quality DIII tennis coverage you so desperately crave.
Coach: Mike Gennette, 20th season
Location: Thousand Oaks, CA
2010 Ranking: 7
2011 Ranking: 20
2012 Ranking: 12
2013 Ranking: 7
2014 Projected Ranking: 19
Let me take you back to a time, before the Caveman couldn’t beat Alex Johnson, when nobody had ever heard of the phrase “Ballou for Two.” Cal Lu was just a middling program struggling to make a name for itself in the SCIAC, consistently holding down that T30 position in the rankings, being the 12th best team in DIII with a purple/yellow color scheme. What a difference two players can make!
When Giuffrida and Ballou came together in 2010, they made sweet, sweet tennis love together, as the Kingsmen came out of nowhere to stun Amherst and Cruz. For the last four years, the Kingsmen were a team that nobody really wanted to play. Between Ballou, Giuffrida – and, more recently, Worley – Cal Lu could make any match close by taking #1 doubles and the top 2 singles. If another one of their doubles teams got hot, they could beat anyone, and that’s how they took down Hopkins and Williams last year. (That’s right, Cal Lu beat Williams last year). The Kingsmen were also a team that could lose to just about anyone if their top two lost a match. In the last couple seasons, Cal Lu lost to Mary Washington twice, went 5-4 with Christopher Newport (yeah), and went 5-4 with Whittier and P-P last season.
This season, it looks like Cal Lu is going to roll out that same formula with a different cast of characters. The Cal Ballou Era is over, but they’ve brought in a stud to replace him in Cardenas, and Nichols is ready to play the role of Worley. Cal Lu is also among the best, if not the best, player developing programs in the country. Gennette helped turn 1- and 2-stars Worley, Wilson, and Nichols into legitimate contenders, and if he can get one more Hurculean improvement this year, they’ll stay in the top 20.
Key Losses: Nicholas (1 singles, 1 doubles), Ray Worley IV (2 singles, 1 doubles), Thomas Millet (5 singles)
Key Additions: Moises Cardenas, ?????
There’s no sugarcoating it. Those losses are pretty devastating, especially for a team that wasn’t especially deep to begin with. They will have a hard time recovering from that. The good news is that they didn’t exactly rely on wins from the bottom of the lineup anyways, and they’ve held on to a couple strengths from last season.
To start, I gotta figure Cardenas will insert himself directly into Ballou’s shoes. I don’t know much about him, but he seems like an Alex Lane-esque individual who took some time off after college to play Futures and has since decided to get an education. The Peruvian (?) made it to the semifinals of the California regional before falling in a tight one to Konstantinov.
Nipping at Cardenas’ heels will be Alex Nichols. The former #3 got almost no love last year, and bowed out in the 3rd round of the ITA to CMS freshman Max Macey, but unheralded 3-star had several huge wins last year, and is an invaluable asset in doubles. He’ll do just fine at #2, though he’ll have trouble competing against the top tier programs.
Connor Treacy figures to play #3 for the Kingsmen. The two-year starter got an unfortunate draw and lost a close match to CMS’ Morkovine in the first round of the ITA, but he picked up a couple impressive wins in the backdraw before falling to yet another CMS freshman. Treacy also teamed with Nichols to make it to the doubles final before falling to the team of destiny. These two made up one of the more underrated #2 doubles teams when they came together late last season, and they will probably be formidable there again this year.
After that, things get a little more depressing for the Kingsmen. Fergus Scott – a New Zealander who had an underwhelming fall tournament, Devon Belcher – who came out of nowhere to play a decent #6 at the end of last season, and Marcelo Sousa – a Brazillian who has had a terrible singles career so far, but has been great in doubles, and sophomore – are the popular picks to take the last three singles spots. Cal Lu also has Rudy Bukich and rising sophomores Sean Handley Ian Slater, and Chris Hartman waiting in the wings. If just one of them developed really well over the Fall, Cal Lu will have a nice little lineup on their hands. I really have no idea what’s going to happen with the bottom of this lineup, but the point is, the situation is not as dire as many have imagined for the Kingsmen.
As far as doubles goes, Treacy and Nichols gave Cal Lu something to really get excited about. If they can play .500 tennis at #1, that would bump Cardenas to #2 with someone like Fergus, which would be very dangerous. If Cardenas/Scott play #1 as ITA seeding suggested, Treacy/Nichols will be a lights out #2 team. That leaves an experienced Sousa to team with “whoever got really good this year” at #3. It probably sounds like I’m grasping at straws here, especially if you read this preview right after reading the CMS preview, but Cal Lu has enough players to make a very good lineup. With some good coaching, some chemistry, and a little luck, the Kingsmen could make this another solid season.
Cal Lu went a little lighter on their schedule this season.
That’s not to say this schedule is a frolic through a rose garden; the Kingsmen play 12 ranked teams this year and a smattering of other opponents who will give them tough matches, but it’s a far cry from the 25 ranked matches Gennette normally pulls. This is a good thing.
The Kingsmen jump right into things with Indoor Nationals. I know I just spend the whole last section saying that things aren’t that bad, but they are really going to have a tough time at Indoors this year. The only match I potentially see them winning is against Cruz because the rest of that field is just a bit too tough. We’ll have to wait to see how that one plays out.
After that, the Kingsmen start their home stretch with the annual match against Mary Washington. The Eagles have always given Cal Lu fits, even when the Kingsmen were the better team, so that doesn’t bode well for this match. I really think Cal Lu is still slightly better than Mary Wash this year, but the Eagles might squeak that one out. After that, they have Vassar and Skidmore. They should be able to handle Vassar, but Loutsenko will neutralize Cal Lu’s strength at the top of the lineups, and the Thoroughbreds should win that one. Their last match before moving into the SCIAC schedule is against Chicago. Those two programs are really the antithesis of each other. Cal Lu is the hard-working, sock-you-in-the-jaw West coast team; Chicago is the incredibly-talented, somewhat-smug Midwestern team. Unless Chicago has changed their team culture dramatically, I expect Cal Lu to through them off with their fire and take that one in an upset. (Let’s go Cal Lu!!!!).
In SCIAC play, things will get very interesting. The match against Whittier could come down to the rematch between Konstantinov and Cardenas. That’s another 5-4 match in the making, but I’m not going to pick it now. The P-P match looks a little less favorable for the Kingsmen. I believe the Hens have the depth to take down Cal Lu in a 6-3 sort of match. The home match against Redlands should play out very similarly to the P-P match, and Cal Lu simply doesn’t have a chance against CMS. I truly believe that Cal Lu has the ability to win any of those matches (except CMS), but they are probably the underdog in all of them. I would consider one win against those four teams a victory for Cal Lu this season. In the midst of all that is an ass-kicking at the hands of Williams.
Last but certainly not least is their neutral site battle with Cruz. The two (potential) matches with Cruz may just define the season for Cal Lu. The Slugs play a lot of teams Cal Lu doesn’t and vice versa, so whoever loses that/those match/es will pick up a lot of indirect losses that they really don’t need. Conversely, I’m sure whoever wins that match will get a random, useful indirect win or two that the other team picked up along the way. Basically, I think whoever wins that/those matches ends up in the top 20, while the other ends up in the 25-30 range at the end of the season. I’m going with Cal Lu to complete their 5th consecutive top-20 season, which is something to be very proud of. Unfortunately, that won’t be enough to get them into the postseason field.