Just when you finally get used to 2017, BOOM, 2018 hits you, but it’s a very exciting time of the year. Everyone is starting to finally recover from the Christmas and New Years hangovers, college students are coming back to campus getting ready for an exciting spring, blog season previews are coming out (almost) every day and the new bloggers, @DIIIWestTennis and @NewD3Central, are one step closer to being added to the infamous blog group chat. HOW CAN YOU BEAT THAT?! Anyways, today we’re going to take a look at a team that has always had the potential to be super exciting, but has fallen short in recent memory. I have high hopes for this team this season, so let’s get into the spirit of 2018 by taking a look at your North Carolina Wesleyan Battling Bishops!
Location: Rocky Mount, NC
Coach: Albie Brice (1st year, kind of…)
ITA National Ranking: 32
ITA Regional Ranking: 9 (Atlantic South)
Blog Power Ranking: 34
Twitter Handle: @NCWBishopTennis
UTR Power 6: 67
Overview: Head Coach Albie Brice has come back to take over a program that lost it’s head coach midway through last season. Brice helped reinstate the men’s program in 1999, coached for five seasons after that and was the interim head coach this spring, so he is familiar with the school and shouldn’t have too much trouble transitioning in. Luckily for Coach Brice, he won’t have to start from scratch like he did in 1999 and has inherited a team with plenty of talent. After fall ITAs, this team had a UTR Power 6 of 69, since then, it has dropped slightly, but still these guys can play. To put that in perspective, some other teams with the same UTR are UT Tyler, Trinity (TX), Johns Hopkins and Gustavus, all of which are ranked in the top 20 of our blog power rankings. This team is loaded with talent and I think under Coach Brice, the Battling Bishops can be very dangerous.
Key Losses: David Appelqvist (UTR 11.11) – Listed as a freshman last season, Appelqvist no longer seems to be on the roster, which will hurt the Bishops since he went 16-3 last season mainly at 4 singles and 17-5 split between 2nd and 3rd doubles.
Key Additions: Aditya Iyer (Projected UTR 12.23, 86% Reliability) – After a strong showing at the UMW Kickoff Classic, Iyer had to withdraw in the second round of ITAs due to an injury. I think Iyer can be very dangerous this season as long as he remains healthy.
Best-Case Scenario: NC Wesleyan regroups under Coach Brice and lives up to their full potential. They take down Sewanee, CNU and W&L and make a jump into the top 25. Sikh qualifies for NCAAs in singles and also in doubles with whoever ends up being his partner this season.
Worst-Case Scenario: The Bishops suffer a total collapse and lose to everyone relevant. They then fall apart during the USA South final and somehow find a way to lose to Averett and miss the NCAA tournament. Yikes.
#1 Singles: Sebastian Sikh (Sr. UTR 12.16) – The big serving Swede will most likely be the top dog for the Bishops. He was a great two behind Kjellberg, but has struggled since the departure of his All-American doubles partner. Sikh needs to really step up as a true first singles player this season to allow his team a chance to pull off upsets.
#2 Singles: Ioannis Brokakis (Jr. UTR 11.49) – The Bishop’s very own Greek Freak has played two most of his career. He has beaten the players he’s supposed to beat and lost to the players he’s supposed to lose to. In order for Ioannis to put his team in the best possible position he needs to take a step forward this year and take down some twos that are better than him on paper.
#3/4 Singles: JD Telles (Jr. 11.41 UTR)/Aditya Iyer (Fr. Proj. UTR 12.23) – I could see this position being flip-flopped throughout the season. My gut tells me that Telles will start the year at three based on experience, but could lose that spot if the freshman phenom starts doing well. Regardless, depth will need to be a strength of NC Wesleyan and it starts with these positions.
#5/6 Singles: David Chang (Sr. 10.36 UTR)/Mark Sokolov (Sr. 10.21 UTR) – I think the Bishops keep the seniors here pretty much all season because the experience this pair brings to the table. Championship teams almost always have juniors or seniors anchoring the lineup because they know how to win in difficult situations. NC Wesleyan will lean on these two to produce W’s if they want to pull out some difficult matches this season.
In the hunt: Richard Gende (Jr. Proj. UTR 11.01), Augustine Gonzalez (So. Proj. UTR 10.21)
Schedule Analysis: Honestly I’m not in love with the Bishops’ schedule. They have a few decent Atlantic South matchups, a couple of very tough nationally ranked opponents and a bunch of double headers against the same conference teams. At first I thought this could be a typo, but after looking at last year’s schedule, it looks like that’s just something they do to get more experience for their players. Anyways, you can look at the whole thing here.
While I don’t enjoy the whole schedule, I do think NC Wes has a pretty good start to the season with a bunch of high caliber matches. They start with Elon, which will be a tune up match against a strong D1 opponent to prepare for the rest of the season. After that, they travel to the beautiful mountains of Sewanee, TN to take on Piedmont, an easily winnable match, and the Tigers of Sewanee. I am really looking forward to this match. If the Bishops develop the way I think they could, I think this will be a very very good match. The next week NC Wes will travel to Virginia to take on CNU, which will be another important match to take a step in the right direction in the Atlantic South.
The next two matches will be very tough for the Bishops though. They take on Case Western and Emory, both of which are probably going to be blowouts against the Bishops. Any confidence that was gained in the matches against Sewanee and CNU could easily be stripped away from the Bishops and send them into a midseason lull after these matches. Following this, NC Wesleyan opens up their conference schedule, which should be plenty of easily winnable matches and give the Bishops the number 1 overall seed heading into the USA South tournament.
The USA South conference tournament is normally held in mid April, so the Bishops are normally one of the first, if not the first, team to punch their ticket to the big dance. I would assume this will be the same story this year unless their biggest conference rival Averett has something up their sleeve. Spoiler alert: they probably don’t. Anyways, NC Wesleyan is unique in the fact that they normally get a couple of tune up matches before NCAAs. This year they will take on TCNJ and Washington and Lee, which are two teams that will be very similar to the kind of competition they will face if they end up with a two or three seed in their region.
Realistic Prediction: Do the Bishops have talent? Absolutely. Have they fallen short in the past despite the talent? Absolutely. I would love to put my faith in NC Wes, but at the same time, I am still not sold because they haven’t proven much. I think NC Wes loses to Elon, Sewanee, CNU, Case, Emory, UNC Charlotte and W&L. I will say this though, if NC Wes has turned the corner, I can definitely see them scaring and maybe even beating Sewanee, CNU and W&L. I guess this is where I’m supposed to say, “let the racquets do the talking.”
Anyways, I’m tired and need to wrap up this article so leave a comment below, tweet at me @D3RegASouth or shoot me an email at D3RegionalASouth@gmail.com! Are the Bishops going to return to the days of former glory? Tell me what you think. Until next time, RegASouth out!