Coach: Todd Helbling, 13th Season
Location: Fredericksburg, VA
2009 Ranking: #18
2010 Ranking: #23
2011 Ranking: #22
2012 Ranking: #21
2013 Projection: D3AtlanticSouth #25, D3TG #19
For the past four years, we’ve pretty much seen the same results out of the Mary Wash Eagles. They’re a solid team, but they simply do not get the job done against top teams. Let me hit with you a quick fact about UMW: They have gone 3-33 against top 20 teams in the past 3 years, with their wins coming against Cal Lu in 2011 and 2012, and Redlands in 2010. Obviously, that really is not going to get the job done when it comes to a successful season. This is a proud university when it comes to tennis, but unfortunately I don’t see either the talent or the fight for this team to get to a “tier 2” level this year. Let’s get down to the details.
The first thing that jumps out to me immediately is the recruiting class for this year – or lack thereof. The Eagles brought in 1 foreign recruit, but I’m really unsure about his ceiling as he lost in ITAs to a tough player. I’m going to put him at #5 behind Blahkin, Charles, Carey, and Wichlin (in that order). The fact of the matter is that this team lacks top talent, depth, and variety. I had high hopes for Blahkin this year, but he got off to a slow start with an unexpected loss in ITAs, so he’s really a question mark at #1 moving forward in the season. If they are going to take home matches against top teams, they’ll need to lean heavily on the middle of the lineup, which means Carey, Wichlin, and Charles will really have to step up wherever they play. As mentioned earlier, their freshman is a question mark, as is All American doubles player Donato Rizzolo at the bottom of the lineup. I have faith in Rizzolo’s doubles, but not too much in his singles at the moment. If he can improve, that’s a huge boost to the Eagles singles lineup. In doubles, it’s all about the Charles/Rizzolo combination. If they can take that momentum from last year, we’re looking at a very good #1 team. Then they can mix and match with their remaining players at the #2 and #3 spots and potentially escape doubles with 2-1 leads. Overall, this team needs it’s strengths to be in the middle of the singles lineup, and the #1 spot in the doubles lineup. However, I just haven’t seen the ability to win that big match yet, which explains my #25 projected ranking.
The Eagles, as always, have put together a schedule that gives them the opportunity to get some big match experience as they prepare for their conference tournament, which they will most likely win. I’ve split the schedule analysis into three parts. First, Wash starts off with a couple of big matches in the Mary Washington Invitational, against Case Western and NC Wesleyan. Playing against Case will be extremely tough for the Eagles, as Case brings great doubles and a lot of intensity, and I don’t see them winning this unless they get pissed off enough to win. NCW, however, presents a great opportunity. I haven’t seen the Bishops schedule yet, but if this is one of their first matches, the Eagles could notch a “top 20” win here. NCW is unknown, and the Eagles strengths match up with the Bishop’s weaknesses.
Next, the Eagles head out to Cali on their annual Spring Break, as they battle Cal Lu, Redlands, and Pomona-Pitzer. All three of these teams are better than the Eagles right now. However, we’ve seen crazier things happen in Cali and if the Eagles can come out with one win here, I’ll be pretty impressed. It’s totally possible they come out and surprise Cal Lu once again in their first match out there.
Lastly, the Eagles finish with their out-of-conference east coast play, against W&Lx2, Carnegie, Emory, Hopkins, and Kenyon. Unfortunately for UMW, these 5 teams are looking pretty good moving into the season, and I see the Eagles losing to CMU, Emory, Hopkins, and Kenyon for sure. The battles against the Generals are interesting – a home and home set within 2 weeks. Eagles vs. Generals has produced some crazy results, and I think this set is going to be a split, which would be a feel-good boost going into the conference tournament (editor’s note: the second match actually takes place after the conference tournament. if they split, they’ll either get the boost before the conference tournament or going into NCAAs. The team that wins the second match will probably get the edge rankings-wise). They’ll move on to win their conference, and enter NCAAs in what will most likely be an unwinnable region for them. Expect this team to bow out to Emory/Kenyon in NCAAs in the third round, a result we’ve seen all too often for them.