Central Region Early Season Thoughts

Division 3 tennis is in full swing, and it looks like the central region has played a bunch of matches. With that, I want to provide my thoughts on how the central region teams I cover have performed. As we always say, it’s a long season, so you can’t predict much from early season results, but at the same time, it’s never a bad thing to see where things stand. Keep in mind that technically D3RegionalNEC covers Denison, DePauw, Coe, and Kalamazoo, so I apologize in advance that I did not write about those teams. This post would have been so long if I did; plus, I have a job that I don’t want to get fired from (been writing this at work).

#4 Wash U

Wash U def. Drury 5-4

The Bears opened up their season this past Saturday with a contest against D-II Drury. While they squeaked by with a 5-4 win, I was more intrigued by the lineup than the result. Coach Follmer’s singles lineup included:

1. Johnny Wu
2. Jason Haugen
3. John Carswell
4. Radha Vishnubhotla
5. Bernando Neves
6. Shaun Berman

I find this lineup interesting for a few reasons. First, John Carswell is at 3. Last year, Carswell started off the season at 4 and quickly moved his way back up to 1. I have no doubt that he will find a lot of success at 3, but you have to wonder if he will quickly climb the ladder again this year. Next, Jason Haugen at 2. Haugen was more than a formidable 5 last year, so he must be playing out of his mind to make the leap. Then, Vishnubhotla at 5. The Bears had a lot of trouble at 6 last season, yet Radha didn’t really get a chance to prove himself even at that spot, so it’s a bit of a surprise that after not playing last year, he is slated at 4. Finally, Jeremy Bush did not crack the lineup. I know he was battling injury in the fall, which is why he only played dubs at ITAs, so I’m curious if he has yet to fully recover.

Doubles was much less of a surprise. Haugen/Konrad Kozlowski are a great 1 team and Wu/Neves had a solid fall. So, that left Jeremy Bush at 3 with surprise starter Vishnubhotla.

I looked at the match results from a UTR perspective, but they were tough to analyze because a good amount of Drury’s players didn’t have UTRs with 100 percent reliability. This Sunday’s match against DI Southern Illinois will be easier to analyze because the team’s UTRs are reliable and high. However, given that it is another non-D3 match, we won’t be able to say much about Wash U until Indoors.

#5 Chicago

Chicago def. Coe 17-1

Chicago def. Hope 9-0

Chicago def. Lewis 7-2

Chicago opened up its season a couple weeks ago against Coe. While the result was 17-1 in favor of the Maroons (8-1 if you only look at top 3 doubles and 6 singles), there were a few rough patches. Chicago took wins at 1 and 2 dubs in tiebreaks and Peter Leung won at #4 singles in a third set tiebreak. On the one hand, it’s not great that those matches went to tiebreaks, but on the other hand, it is promising that Chicago was able to close when it mattered.

Last week, the Maroons faced Hope and D-II Lewis, split squad. They defeated Hope 9-0 and Lewis 7-2.

Lineup wise, a big question heading into January was whether Nick Chua or David Liu would start at 1. To open the season, it’s been Liu, so it will be interesting to see if he and Chua rotate at all throughout the season. Pei has had promising results so far, beating a Lewis player with a 12.5 UTR last week. Peter Leung, Luke Tsai, and Erik Kerrigan have started the season at 4, 5, and 6, respectively.

Chicago has come out with very interesting doubles lineups. Against Coe: 1. DLiu/Kerrigan 2. Leung/Pei 3. Tsai/Hawkins  4. Chua/Kumar 5. Bobby Bethke/Li 6. Sven Kranz/Jaird Meyer. Against Hope: 1. DLiu/Kerrigan 2. Tsai/Bethke 3. Meyer/Kranz. Against Lewis: 1. Hawkins/Tyler Raclin 2. Leung/Pei 3. Chua/Kumar. Of note is that Chua played #1 last year and might not crack the doubles lineup this season.

Chicago plays Denison and DePauw this weekend, so that should give a good sense of the lineup to come at Indoors.

#8 Case

Case def. Rose-Hulman 7-2

Case def. Wabash 7-2

Case def. Monmouth 9-0

Thus far, the Spartans have beaten Rose-Hulman 7-2, Wabash 7-2, and Monmouth 9-0. I will only concentrate on the first two matches because it looks like Case was mainly playing its backups in singles again Monmouth.

We all knew with the losses of CJ Krimbill and Louis Stuerke it would be a process for the Spartans at the top of singles and doubles. Against Rose-Hulman, the #1 doubles team of Freddy Daum and John Benedetto fell in a tiebreak, #1 singles player James Fojtasek won in a super breaker, and #2 singles player Siddharth Rajupet fell in a super. Against Wabash, that same #1 team fell 8-6, Fojtasek lost in three sets, while Rajupet won in three. Otherwise, the Spartans only lost a few games in the other singles and doubles spots.

Here is the lineup that Case has started the season with:

Singles

  1. James Fojtasek
  2. Siddharth Rajupet
  3. Josh Dughi
  4. Rob Stroup
  5. Sam Concannon
  6. Anthony Kanam/Kevin Dong

Doubles

  1. Daum/Benedetto
  2. Phillip Gruber/Fojtasek
  3. Anthony Kanam/Concannon, Rajeev Laungani/David Zakhodin

Out of both singles and doubles, Daum and Benedetto at 1 has been the biggest surprise, given that Gruber and Fojtasek were 12-1 at 3 and then 13-2 and 2 last season. Benedetto was with Zakhodin at 3 for much of 2016, and Daum didn’t see much doubles action.

Singles-wise, I figured Dughi would be in the top half of the singles lineup given his seniority and success last season. I didn’t expect Rajupet to start off the season at 2, but he was a highly-ranked junior. Everything else seems pretty much in line with what I expected.

Case does not play any more matches until indoors.

#11 Kenyon

Northwestern Ohio def. Kenyon 5-4

Kenyon def. Wabash 7-2

Kenyon def. Hope 8-1

Kenyon def. Wheaton 5-4

Kalamazoo def. Kenyon 6-3

Now we get to the fun discussion! The Lords have already played 5 matches, 4 of them against D3 opponents. I’m only going to write about this past weekend’s results, though.

On Saturday, the Lords defeated unranked Wheaton 5-4. The results convey that, just as you’d assume, Kenyon was the deeper team. The Thunder took wins at 1 and 2 doubles, and 1 and 3 singles (shout out to Justin Ancona!). It’s probably a good time to talk about Kenyon’s struggles in doubles. In three of their four D3 matches, the Lords have fallen at #1, and had 2-1 deficits heading into singles against two of those teams. Coach Thielke’s doubles lineup in the first few matches of the season looked like this:

  1. Mike Roberts/Nicholas Paolucci
  2. Weston Noall/Peter Hazlett
  3. Tristan Kaye/Austin Diehl, Jacob Zalenski/Austin Diehl

After their performance against Wheaton, Kenyon’s doubles lineup changed significantly on Sunday against Kalamazoo:

  1. Jacob Zalenski/Weston Noall
  2. Tristan Kaye/Nicholas Paolucci
  3. Mike Roberts/Austin Diehl

Unfortunately, the new lineup did not find added success, with the top two pairs falling. More on the Kalamazoo match in a moment.

Singles-wise, here is the early season lineup:

  1. Nicholas Paolucci
  2. Jacob Zalenski
  3. Michael Liu
  4. Austin Diehl
  5. Weston Noall/Max Smith
  6. Max Smith/Weston Noah

Only two of these guys (Paolucci and Liu) started last year. And the inexperience has hurt the Lords. All four of Zalenski’s D3 matches have gone to third sets and the freshman has fallen in three of them. Noall and Smith both lost to Kalamazoo. So far, the only lock for Ws has been freshman Austin Diehl, dropping a total of 12 games in four matches! Basically, it looks like Zalenski, Liu, and Diehl are pretty even, but there is a significant drop between 4 and 5.

Finally, how crazy was the Kenyon/Kalamazoo match?! In my few years playing/watching D3 tennis, I’ve been disappointed at the lack of parity between the top 10-15 teams and everyone else. Normally, if the #11 team in the country were to play the #36 team, I’d expect the #11 team to win handedly. For Kalamazoo to upset the Lords is truly remarkable.

Now it’s time for Kenyon to get back on track at Indoors.

#17 UW-Whitewater

Cardinal Stritch def. UWW 6-3

Northern Illinois def. UWW 7-0

UWW def. Wooster 9-0

UWW def. Elmhurst 9-0

The biggest story from Wisconsin is that projected #1 and senior Rithwik Raman will miss the season due to health issues. We wish him a speedy recovery.

Otherwise, the Warhawks have yet to play a ranked D3 opponent, but here is the lineup we’ve seen from their first few matches:

  1. Grant Thompson
  2. Zane Navratil
  3. Jimmy Engelhart
  4. Matt Zurowski/Rory Calabria
  5. Rory Calabria/Matt Zurowski/Zach Wood
  6. Lucas Monterroso

Just like Kenyon, only two of these players are returning starters (Thompson and Navratil). I do fear, however, that they may be outmatched at the top two spots, and I would have been more confident if Raman was at 1, Thompson was at 2, and Navratil was at 3.

Grant Hill once said, “Regardless of the obstacles or hurdles that are ahead of you, regardless of the opponent, regardless of the odds, your goal and objective always is to win. I think that’s part of sports.” The Warhawks are dealing with plenty of hurdles this season, but you know Coach Barnes will keep them focused, hungry, and ready to win.

UW-Whitewater plays Ohio Wesleyan, Wheaton, and Grinnell this weekend at the Warhawk Invite.

#20 Gustavus Adolphus

Whitman def GAC 6-3

Pomona def. GAC 7-2

GAC def. Pacific 7-2

GAC def. UW-Eau Claire 7-2

GAC def. Hamline 8-1

GAC def. Northwestern-St. Paul 9-0

D3West wrote a great Spring Break Walla Walla recap, so I encourage you to check that out. The Gusties didn’t have the results they (and I) were hoping for. I thought there was a good chance they would beat Whitman and push Pomona, but they ended up losing 3-6 and 2-7 to them, respectively. Gustavus did come back to beat Pacific 7-2 in their final match of the trip, so it’s nice they ended on a high note.

One big takeaway is that Patrick Whaling has not played, and our favorite non-blogger blogger D3Tree heard a rumor that Whaling has been out with an illness. He has been missed; Whaling was projected to play #1 doubles and #2-3 singles. Hopefully, he recovers quickly and can make a positive impact for the Gusties.

Last weekend, Gustavus coasted to victory against three unranked teams, and none of the Gusties’ lineups were at full strength. Below is the consistent lineup we’ve seen:

  1. Mohanad Alhouni
  2. Zach Ekstein
  3. Tommy Entwistle
  4. Chase Johnson
  5. Yassine Derbani
  6. Gabe Steinwand

In their matches against Whitman and Pomona, Alhouni and Ekstein emerged victorious, while 3-6 suffered losses. Gustavus isn’t the deepest team out there, which is why Whaling’s absence really hurts the lineup.

With depth not in Gustavus’ favor, doubles needs to be squeaky clean. Unfortunately, the Gusties suffered doubles deficits against Whitman and Pomona. They did rebound nicely for the final match, sweeping doubles against Pacific.

Gustavus’ biggest upcoming match will be in two weeks against a storming Kalamazoo Hornet squad.

Final Thoughts

I tried not to be too pessimistic about any single team, but as a whole, the teams that I cover haven’t been off to the greatest starts. We can only hope they rebound quickly.