Coach: Jay Tee, 1st Season
Location: Chicago, IL
2009 Ranking: 17th
2010 Ranking: 21st
2011 Ranking: 11th
2012 Ranking: 30th (Tied)
2013 Projected Ranking: D3C 24th, D3TG 22nd
Seriously, the coach’s name is Jay Tee. Not making that up. This is his first year as head coach, and he comes from Cleveland State University, where he was an assistant for four years. Chicago has endured a bit of a carousel at the coaching position. After losing their head coach to end 2011, assistant Tanaka took over last year, and it was clear she was not able to handle the talent, as they underperformed. I start with this because Jay Tee might be the spark they need at head coach to turn things around. This talented squad needs discipline. They need to learn to win with determination and heart as well as with skill. Talent can only take you so far, and against the best teams it’s not enough. The Maroons have had major attitude issues in the past and it has cost them greatly. They have a tendency to overlook opponents and underestimate. I expect different results and a new attitude this year. I hope these guys are headed in a new direction because it’s tough to watch this team underperform.
Chicago lost Troy Brinker (1S/1D) and Jan Stefanski (3/4 S/1D). Most of the time, it would be rough to lose your #1 doubles team and a couple top singles players, but these guys are replaceable in terms of their performances. What will be difficult to replace is the leadership Stefanski brought to the table last year. Nevertheless, I feel like this team will band around each other, and their efforts will be more team-based as opposed to individual-based. Deepak Sabada will need to be a leader this year, as he steps into the number 1 role. He started off nicely with a win over a solid player Alex Harbert from Elmhurst yesterday. This is a good sign because Brinker really struggled in the #1 spot last year. Ankur Bhargava played #2 last year, and apparently Sabada improved tremendously to surpass him. That’s a good sign for these guys because Bhargava was successful last year and will look to build upon that this year. Next, they have returner Alex Golovin who was a tough out at #4. He is a steady player that does well in the middle of the lineup. Freshman Jake Crawford is a big recruit for the Maroons and was slotted at 3 for their first match. He had a good performance at ITA’s and will fill out a very tough top 4. Fellow Freshman Gordan Zhang played 5 in the first match and is another talented recruit to add to their young roster. Finally, at 6 singles was Senior Harrison Abrams. I see this spot being a question mark for them as it has the past few years. Krishna Ravella is another good player who may end up being the 6. All in all, very tough 1-5 with a relatively weak 6.
Doubles has been this teams achilles heal…and their savior? When Chicago had their huge win over Wash U in 2011, they came out with a doubles sweep. Last year, they lost to Whitewater who jumped out 3-0 on THEM. Basically, the Maroons’ doubles is usually a weakness. Judging by their singles players, I see doubles as a major obstacle. In the first match they had Abrams and Neil Karandikar at 1 doubles (neither played in doubles lineup last year…). Sabada and Bhargava will either be their money spot at 2 or they will move to 1. Finally, Golovin and Ravella at 3 is a solid enough team. If the lineup stays this way it means they don’t think they can win at 1 doubles so they’ll go for 2 and 3. Unfortunately, even those two teams at 2 and 3 won’t make it easy to jump out to doubles leads against strong doubles teams like Depauw and GAC. That’s going to be a lot of pressure on their singles every match. With the question mark at 6 singles it’s going to be a pressure-filled season for the top 5… Better hope the injury bug stays away.
The Maroons have put together a fairly decent schedule this year. They put themselves in a lot of good situations where they have a good chance at winning. They also have a couple of big test matches against Kenyon and Wash U. It’s going to be a tough season, but they will really have a chance to test themselves and grow as a team.
As I mentioned earlier, the Maroons took on Elmhurst this weekend. It went almost exactly how you’d expect… For anyone that knows anything about Elmhurst that is. I spoke briefly about these guys in my Kzoo preview so check it out if you’re interested Elmhurst is a program on the rise and they have some good young talent. They are not on the same level as Chicago, of course, but they are certainly heading in the right direction. A loss at 1 doubles for the Maroons was their only flaw. Everything else seemed fairly routine.
This coming weekend a big match for these guys involves Kenyon coming to their beautiful Bally Total Fitness facility…(Kidding). I’m really excited to see how the Maroons fair at certain spots in this match. Ultimately, Kenyon is going to be too tough for Chicago. I wanna see how 2 doubles and 1-5 singles go for the Maroons because I see the other matches being blowouts. 8-1 Kenyon? Soon after they have an easy match against North Central where they will win 9-0. Following that they play a depleted Kalamazoo team. I mentioned in the Kzoo preview that the Hornets are way down and Chicago is too strong. ‘Roons 7-2.
Fun matches follow against Denison, Depauw and Earlham. The Denison match will be incredibly intriguing. Denison is stronger in doubles and Chicago is stronger in singles. Toss up at a couple of singles spots will be the difference but I see Chicago coming away 5-4. Depauw will bring a similar match to Chicago’s doorstep. Once again, I think the new team attitude along with their singles strength will pull them through 5-4. I would not be surprised if Depauw wins this. It will be a big test for both teams. They end with Earlham who has improved recently. The Maroons are able to skate through with talent in this match if they wish. 8-1?
On their Spring Break trip they face Oberlin and St. Thomas (only notable matches really). They should beat Oberlin handily, but Oberlin does bring a lot of energy to matches so don’t be surprised to see a match or two dropped by Chicago. St. Thomas is another scrappy team that poses some problems at certain positions. They have tough players at the top and might be able to steal a few points in doubles but again singles depth will be too great in ‘Roons favor.
Next up is Whitewater. This matchup pits Whitewater’s doubles strength with their statistically weaker singles and vis-versa of Chicago. If Whitewater sweeps in doubles it’s going to be nearly impossible for Chicago to win this match. The strengths in Whitewater’s singles look to be the 1, 5, and 6 at the moment and those are probably Chicago’s weakest spots. Warhawks 5-4. Next up is Carroll University. I have to mention Carroll had a good win for them over Carthage 6-3. Congrats to them. Having said that… Chicago will roll them. But! Jack Michael could push Sabada at 1 but that’s about it.
Next weekend is Wash U and Gustavus Adolphus. Big matches. Wash U and Chicago is always an interesting matchup because both teams are good at what the other is. This year, however, Wash U is better than Chicago is good. 7-2 Wash U. GAC poses another big matchup problem. They possess the quality doubles play that leaves Chicago vulnerable. I like GAC this year and I see them handling the Maroons a 6-3 loss. Some good matches but GAC will be a little too tough.
They finish with Wheaton and Carthage. Both deserve quick mention. Wheaton has a decent run last year winning some 12 matches in a row to finish the year. The quality of teams weren’t the best but it was a nice thing to see from these guys. They lost nearly their whole team but brought in tough singles player Ryan Kreis. He’s the only one with a chance to win. 8-1 ‘Roons. Finally, they face Carthage. Carthage has had some decent teams in the past few years but it seems they are in the middle of a downfall. Losing to Carroll hurts them morally I’m sure. Jeff Lotz and Alex Boomgarden at 1 doubles and 1 and 2 singles respectively is basically the extent of this team. ‘Roons 9-0.
Last, is the UAA tournament. Wash U, Emory, and Case Western are all far superior this year in my opinion. The Maroons should be happy with a 4th place finish. Ultimately, I see them finishing around 24. But, if they lose to Depauw they might finish unranked.