#4 Wash U

WashUCoach: Roger Follmer, 12th Season

Location: St. Louis, MO

2009 Ranking: 4

2010 Ranking: 6

2011 Ranking: 3

2012 Ranking: 4

2013 Projected Ranking: 7

Overview:

Predictions of Wash U’s demise early in 2012 turned out to be severely overstated. After their losses to Cruz and Bowdoin, many (myself included) wondered whether they even deserved to be in the tournament. By the end of the year, it was clear that they had lost close matches to very good teams, and they finally capitalized on a close one when they beat Amherst. At the same time, don’t let the ranking fool you. Wash U did not have the 4th best season among DIII teams last year. Their top 5 ranking is a product of timely winning and nothing else.  To illustrate both of my points, let’s play a little game of Team A vs. Team B.

Team A

Wins: #5, #18, #19. #22, #25, #28, #30 (x2)

Losses: #1, #2 (x2), #3, #7, #8, #9

Team B

Wins: #2, #14, #18, #21, #30

Losses: #1, #8, #19

Team C

Wins: #3 (x2), #6, #7, #11, #12, #15 (x2), #16, #22, #24, #26, #30

Losses: #4

Team D

Wins: #2, #10, #11, #17 (x3), #26

Losses: #1, #3, #5, #6 (x2), #9, #11

Looking at that, it’s pretty obvious that Team C had the best season of the four. Teams A, B, and D had comparable seasons. Team A is Wash U (note that they had zero losses outside the top 10). Team B is North Carolina Wesleyan. Team D is Cal Lutheran. Wash U is ranked 4th, NCW is ranked 13th and Cal Lu is ranked 11th. Team A is Wash U, ranked 4th. Team B is NCW, ranked 13th. Team C is Amherst, ranked 5th (at the end of the season). Team D is Cal Lu, ranked 12th. Cal Lu and NCW both had “better” wins, but they weren’t rewarded as much in the rankings because they happened at the beginning of the year. I just wasted a lot of page space, but the point is that Wash U has been rewarded for timely winning. Last season was not up to their usual standard. This season should be better.

They have a reliable #1 singles player, and a motivated core of seniors, two ingredients that have proven to be important in recent years. They also have a youthful push at the bottom of the lineup, a great schedule, and a vulnerable rival they’ll be eager to beat. They have all the elements of a championship tennis team, but it might not be enough.

Lineup Analysis

Like any other top 5 team, Wash U has an embarrassment of tennis player riches. They return their whole starting lineup from last year along with some other players who used to start, and they brought in a couple talented recruits. Really, anything could happen with their lineup. The only think I’m absolutely sure of is Adam Putterman at #1 singles. Parizher and Ross Putterman traded off at #2 and 3 last season, and they probably will slide in those two spots again this year. Farah seems to be playing some good ball, and he should round out the top 4. After that, there will be a war for the last two singles spots.

Chang had a rough fall, but he was hot at the end of last year. Then there’s Noak, one of the most underrated 2-stars of all time, who absolutely destroyed the #6 singles players from CMU and Case before playing an incredible match against Amherst.  Senior Bryan Haywood will be looking to get back in the lineup after losing his #6 singles spot at the end of last season, while Kevin Chu will be eager to bounce back from a tough freshman year.  A pair of juniors, Hirsh and Franklin, had prominent roles in the doubles lineup last year, and I’m sure they will be vying for singles spots.  To top it all off, the Bears brought in two four-star freshmen who had underwhelming falls. Basically, whatever lineup they end up with, I’m sure it will be good.

Doubles is more of the same. They have Putt-Putt at the top of the lineup, and a bunch of choices after that. Parizher and Hirsh got just as far as Putt-Putt at regionals, so they would be a logical choice for one of the starting spots. Chang and Farah were decent at #2 doubles last year, so I’m sure they will get some pretty serious consideration, but I would be pretty surprised if Wash U rolled out the exact same doubles teams as last year. Regardless, I’m excited to see who ends up where.

Schedule Analysis

DIII tennis-wise, Wash U is geographically challenged, but they always manage to put together a solid schedule. As usual, they’re starting off their year with a couple matches against some good DII schools. Surprisingly, they’ve elected to skip Indoors this year, instead choosing to travel to Indiana for matches against Depauw and Case Western. Depauw is improved, but not nearly good enough to threaten Wash U. Wash U and Case had a thrilling match last year, when the Bears came back from a doubles sweep to win and turn around their season. This match has huge Pool C implications, but Wash U should be the heavy favorite.

A week later, they fly to San Diego to compete in the Pacific Coast Doubles tournament and play CMS on a neutral court. I’ve already guessed that CMS should win that match, and I think they will, but that remains a massive opportunity for Wash U to solidify their tournament position. Shortly thereafter, they fly to Honolulu for a very interesting Hawaii swing. It seems like they’ll have several days to acclimate themselves to the conditions. I have to commend Coach Follmer on his schedule making here, because, the way this is set up, there’s basically no way the Bears will get caught napping by Whitman. They have a couple days in Hawaii to prepare, and they play BYU-Hawaii first before facing off with Whitman and Hawaii Pacific two days later. The day after that, they play Whittier. Obviously, I think Wash U will win those two DIII matches easily, but the match against HPU should be a great test, and going to Hawaii is always fun, I guess.

After their Spring Break, they have a series of home matches against non-DIII schools, before hosting Chicago and GAC the weekend of April 13th. Chicago always seems to play its best tennis against Wash U, so they will have to be on guard for that one. GAC will also be very dangerous, but I have a hard time seeing them losing either of those matches on their home court. Last but not least, they have the UAA Championships in Orlando. That’s the only time they would play Emory, but, as long as they beat Case and Chicago in the regular season, the Bears would be set up for a semifinal date with CMU, which brings me to the main problem I have with this schedule:

Last year, most people assumed at the beginning of the year that Wash U would make the tournament, but they barely made it. The same could happen this year. If they don’t beat CMS, wins over Case, Whitman, Whittier, Depauw, GAC, and Chicago might not be good enough to get them in. Sure, Case should be a top 15 team this year, but if they lose their key matches and end up in the 20′s, they will have zero wins over top 15 teams heading into the UAA. If they lost to CMU there, they would have an incredibly unimpressive resume. Those wins would probably be enough to get them in the tournament, but it would be better if they had more matches against higher-ranked DIII competition, which is why I’m surprised they skipped out on Indoors.

Regardless of their result against CMU, I’m very confident they will make the tournament. (I really hope they beat CMU, though, because it would suck to have a season in which Wash U didn’t play Emory once). Wins over Case, Whitman, Whitter, Depauw, GAC, and Chicago are the very least I expect out of them, and that would be enough to get them in. From there, they will be rewarded with an easy region (as always) and cruise into the Elite Eight. There, I think they will be the #6 overall seed and lose their Elite Eight match. Their season will be more impressive, but they will end up with a lower ranking.

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