Two previews, one writer, one day. This is how I do it. Thankfully, the Men’s Atlantic South ITA draw is now up, so I can do a potentially in-depth preview for all of y’all before I get on going with my life. Like I ever had one in the first place… Anyways, this is by far my favorite ITA region to cover in all the land, mostly because we have 3-4 teams that have legit players that can all challenge each other. Usually, the tournament ends up being a massive battle between Hopkins and CMU, but we’ve seen guys like Hayden White, John James, Randy Loden, Eric Shulman, and others go the distance and make huge runs in this tournament. There’s a lot of top heavy depth in the ASouth and that makes for a hella good individual tournament. This year’s tournament will feature players from two potential top 5 teams, something that not many other regions can say. As usual, I’ll go through my thoughts, favorites, sleepers, deep sleepers, etc. Remember, this tournament doesn’t start until Saturday, so don’t get on my case too much!
Abhishek Alla, Carnegie Mellon – Last year’s winner and winner of ITA Fall Nationals gains the favorite spot for me despite his #2 seed in the tournament. Which brings me to the question: Why does the draw show the #1, 2, and 4 seeds in the same half right now? That can’t be right so I assume it’s not. Shoutout to Coach Helbing! Anyways, Alla has earned the right to be the favorite in this region after a great fall last year followed by a not stellar, but solid spring. Yes, he did lose to Buxbaum last year in a dual match, but it’s a new year. I’m just here to report that Alla’s 100% flat ground strokes and weird game are back for some fall tennis.
Mike Buxbaum, Hopkins – The man I just mentioned in the previous paragraph has earned the #1 seed with what was one of the best freshman seasons in DIII history last year. Yes, I just said history. Buxbaum is a force in both singles and doubles and he has exceeded all expectations anyone had for him. He’s an extremely smart player who can not only stay consistent but can also attack you in a lot of different ways. With a full year under his belt, Buxbaum may be a force to be reckoned with in his second year.
Ben Hwang, Hopkins – Hwang comes in as the #4 seed and has historically played very well at ITAs. He has made the semifinals or better in I believe all three of his opportunities in the fall circuit and I doubt there is any reason to believe he’ll slow down in his senior year. Blessed with great strokes off the ground and a knack for handling power, Hwang can grind any of the ASouth players into the dust on the right day.
Tier 2 Favorites
Tanner Brown, Hopkins – I would like to note that Christian Heaney-Secord seems to be absent from the draw for CMU, so that makes Tanner Brown the #1 player in my Tier 2 favorites. Brown bowed out last year after spraining his ankle in the early rounds and really wasn’t the same player until the end of the year. He’s by far the most consistent of the top players in the region, and the way to beat him is to attack him from the baseline and get him on his heels. Not many players are able to do that, which makes him a tough out every time.
Tyler Carey, Mary Washington – Our first non CMU/Hop player enters with the #3 seed, Tyler Carey. Last year, Carey notched an impressive win over Abhishek Alla in a dual match to propel his regional ranking to the top of the ASouth standings. Carey is a guy that doesn’t really wow you, but is consistent enough and solid everywhere to give anyone trouble. Not only that, but he’ll be playing on his home courts which we all know is a pretty nice advantage.
Kiril Kirkov, Carnegie Mellon – The sophomore player Kirkov from CMU is one of my potential upset picks in this year’s draw. I was looking at some match play and he’s had a good fall where it looks like he’s slotted above Will Duncan in the CMU lineup. Kirkov was a stellar #4 player last year who really projected as a #3, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he steps his game up this fall in the ITA. Watch out for his heavy ground strokes and ability to finish points off at the net. I like Kirkov as a potential sleeper pick in the region.
Sleeper Picks/Dark Horses
Will Duncan, Carnegie – It’s hard to call Will Duncan a sleeper pick anymore, but let’s be honest. The kid has not made a deep run in the ITA tournament in singles, and is yet to find his groove in the early going. Duncan is one of the more unique players in the region with his one-handed backhand and ability to finish points decisively at net. Last year, an opposing player described Duncan’s serve as a “cannon” and I can’t really say I disagree. Watch for Duncan to make a mark given this may be his last year of tennis.
Taylor Shamshiri, Washington and Lee – Shamshiri is a player that really needs to find his next level. He’s got an all-around game without too many weaknesses, but it’s hard to say what his strengths are. His net play is very comfortable but I wouldn’t call it a weapon at this stage in the game. He’s set up to play Tyler Carey (unless the draws change) in their annual rivalry, so things can always get tight considering those two have played a billion times before.
Michael Holt, Washington and Lee – Personally, I think Holt is the true player to watch from W&L. Holt ended the year very strong in 2014, and with a strong summer he could be a guy that surprises everyone. He’s well known for his doubles play, but his singles almost gets overlooked when we talk about the best players in the ASouth. This is a guy that has played very close matches with Heaney-Secord, Halpern, and others. Holt could catch fire and take out a few top seeds along the way.
Jeremy Dubin, Hopkins – The tall, powerful Dubin is another sophomore on Hopkins team that made a big impact on last year’s squad. He’s beaten Kirkov before in a tight match and was one of Hopkins most consistent performers last year. The kid can straight play, with a big serve and explosive ground strokes from behind the baseline. Sophomores are tough to gauge as I’ve seen tons of sophomores excel while others fade into the distance, but I don’t think that Dubin is one of those players.
Jack Kasbeer, Carnegie – Remember him? Probably not, so let me refresh your memory. Kasbeer played for CMU in the fall last year before mysteriously disappearing from the roster, presumably to take a semester off. Well, he’s back now and playing for the team yet again. In last year’s ITA, he took out Erik Lim and ended up losing in a close match to one of his teammates, I believe. Or it might have been Ben Hwang. Who knows, either way this is a kid that could make a big difference if he’s up to par with his old style of play.
Evan Charles, Mary Washington – Charles is a fantastic player and a beauty to watch, but the knock on him is that he hasn’t won the big matches. Whether that be in regionals or in team play, Charles routinely goes to 3 sets in tons of matches to fizzle out at just the wrong moment. Now, he’s won his fair share of matches so it’s not like he’s bad out there, but Charles needs to be able to hold his steady game throughout an entire match. Until then, he won’t be able to make an impact in the draw.
Kenny Zheng, Carnegie – Zheng lost 2 matches all year last year at #5 singles. They happened to be huge matches, but it looks like Zheng was just gassed at the end of the year. He’s a steady player with not many weapons but definitely an intelligent mind. With such a stacked region, Zheng probably won’t make a dent, but he may be able to take out a Hopkins seed or two.
Erik Lim, Hopkins – Ah, will Mr. Lim bring back his Jekyll and Hyde season in 2013-14? Lim was demoted all the way down to the #6 singles spot in a season where I thought he’d be a really strong #3 player. Now, I don’t know what the kid is doing with his time but I’m looking for some improvement from this loud and energetic player so he can get back to what he does best.
Freshmen – I know nothing about the CMU or Hopkins freshmen at this time but I’m absolutely looking forward to thjis tournament to get a better gauge of what’s going on. Last year, Buxbaum, Kasbeer, Walsh, and others made their marks on the tournament when no one saw it coming. Can anyone in this year’s class notch a few upsets? I gut says yes, but unfortunately my gut isn’t always right and may be overworked right about now.
Winner – Ben Hwang, Hopkins – I believe this is the year for Hwang as he has always just fallen short of his ultimate goal. Do I think he is the best player in this tournament? Absolutely not. But I think he can make a run and I didn’t want this thing to be boring.
Runner Up – Abhishek Alla, CMU – self-explanatory. Alla is the defending champ and I’m sure he wants to defend his national title in the Fall Nationals as well. We all know that that’s hard to get to, so good luck Abhishek.
Upset Specialist – Kiril Kirkov, CMU and Tanner Brown, Hopkins – Both of these guys are going to make deep runs. I can see them both going to the semifinals and at least the quarterfinals. If they don’t, it’s a disappointment in my book.
General Thoughts – This is by far the most stacked ASouth region we’ve had in years. Unfortunately, it is driven mostly by the powerhouses fo Hopkins and Carnegie, so that makes things a little less exciting. But both of those teams have freshmen coming in that are looking to make a name for themselves in the first fall tournament. Good luck getting up at 6AM, freshmen. Welcome to college, bitchezzz. This tournament will be a preview of who is better between Hopkins and CMU, expect CMU has the Heaney-Secord absence to contend with. I’m pumped and I’m sorry I didn’t get this out in time, my wifi doesn’t seem to be working right now. But, it’s 3:30 AM here on the east coast so I’m off to sleep. ASouth… OUT.