If Emory and Kenyon had a week off and then played the National Championship, Emory wins comfortably. I think everyone knows that too including the Lords. Emory has crushed Kenyon twice this season, once in the Indoors semifinal and the other time in the Stag-Hen semifinal. Neither match was even remotely close. But the Championship isn’t being played in a week, it’s being played tomorrow. Emory is drained after 2 grueling matches and Kenyon is relatively fresh after 2 comfortable wins. The big story of tomorrow is how effective will Pottish and Goodwin be? They both lost in the same match for the first time in 2 years, and frankly both seem to not have much legs left after the past 2 days. Chris Goodwin has looked like an incredibly ordinary player in Emory’s last 3 matches, dropping 3 singles matches in a row and only winning 1 set. Everyone should note he’s only lost 5 D3 matches in his 4-year career and they’ve all been in NCAAs. Dillon Pottish was up up a set and 5-3 today with Emory leading 4-1 in the overall match. If he closes that right there, Goodwin, Wagner and Halpern all don’t have to play 3rd sets and they are off the court an hour earlier. But Pottish didn’t close it out and his team spent an extra hour on the court. While they got the win, that extra hour of tennis has turned tomorrow into a potentially competitive match, and if Emory ends up losing tomorrow, that hour will be the reason why. I don’t mean to call out Pottish because he’s a great competitor and one of the best players in D3 history, but him not finishing that match has given Kenyon life that they really shouldn’t have. The longer the match goes tomorrow and the closer it gets, the more likely Kenyon is to win. The best way to preview tomorrow’s match is to say that Emory’s huge advantage at the top of the lineup has been neutralized, and what would normally be automatic wins in this match for the Eagles are now spots that could go either way. Although Burgin and Razumovsky didn’t win today in singles, they are both great players who can absolutely win tomorrow. How fresh is Emory going to be, and I’d be shocked if John Browning hasn’t at least thought about pulling some of his players in singles. Pottish and Goodwin both looked dead at the end of their matches, Wagner played 2.5 hours today and is gassed, and Halpern has played 2 3-setters in a row. You’ve got your 4 and 5 from last year’s 2nd place team on your bench with fresh legs. Despite the fact that they haven’t played much this year in singles, you have to at least consider putting them in tomorrow. Today could have been a routine match and tomorrow could have been a routine match, but it wasn’t and it won’t be, and the level of Emory’s fitness will determine the outcome tomorrow. Lack of conditioning did in the Eagles in 2010, and that problem was supposed to be fixed. I know it’s hot in North Carolina but with the way this Final 8 has played out, if the Eagles lose tomorrow it’s really going to sting, especially given who their seniors are.
But enough about Emory, let’s talk about the other team playing tomorrow. While they aren’t dealing with quite the uphill battle that Emory is, Kenyon has their own demons to conquer tomorrow. During the past 5 seasons, Kenyon is 0-7 against Emory and even heading into this Final 8, most didn’t view them as an “elite program.” They were always sort of an afterthought when talking about the top teams, but the draw broke their way and they have played great tennis to earn their spot in the final. But what we do know is that the Lords will need an incredible effort to topple Emory tomorrow. Since 2008, let’s look at Emory’s losses in D3.
2008: Gustavus, Wash U (2)
2009: Wash U, UC Santa Cruz
2010: Wash U, Amherst
The point of that is that Emory does not typically lose to non-elite teams. I don’t mean to disrespect Kenyon with that statement, I’m just saying the Lords are typically not a team that is mentioned along with the annual D3 powerhouses. After this tournament that will change, and if they win tomorrow it will definitely change, but when you’re up against a team that has completely owned you, it’s tough to get over that. But Kenyon is playing the best tennis they’ve ever played right now. This year’s team on paper may not be better than the Greenberg era Kenyon teams, but they are certainly more of a team and they know how to win top to bottom. I think Kenyon is probably in trouble at 6 tomorrow, but other than that there’s no spot they can’t win in this match. Their 1 doubles team has played back-to-back outstanding matches, they have the best 2 doubles team in the country, and Burgin continues to play like a top 10 player in D3. CJ Williams, despite having a shaky season in singles, came up with a huge unexpected win today that swung the match in Kenyon’s favor and allowed them to be off the court in 2 hours and 45 minutes while Emory sweated it out for 4 hours. They are playing very well right now at every spot, and if they don’t let the nerves get to them and aren’t intimidated by the guys on the other side of the net, they can definitely win their first ever national title. These are unchartered waters for Kenyon whereas Emory is playing their 5th national final in the last 7 years. Granted they are 1-3 in those finals, but coaches draw from that experience and learn how to prepare their teams. The fitness factor has evened this matchup and whoever wants it more is going to win.
I still like Emory tomorrow. I think they typically find a way to win and they will have enough left in the tank to get the win tomorrow. I don’t want to say Kenyon needs a lead after doubles because we don’t know what kind of shape Emory is in, but the Lords could use that lead a lot more than Emory because the Eagles are just the more talented team. I like Kenyon’s chances a lot at 2 doubles, but speaking of 2 doubles, that’s the spot that won Emory today’s match. Williams had a 5-2 lead at 2 doubles and Emory came back to win 8-6. If the Ephs get that it could be a very different match. Either way, Williams/Razumovsky are playing incredible and I like their chances. Kenyon has won both days at 3, but Emory probably has the best 3 doubles team in the country and I really like their chances there. Kowalski seems to never lose and Pottish is just so talented he rarely loses at 3. 1 is a coin flip. As the commentator mentioned several times today, Chris Goodwin looked very flat in doubles. On the flip side, Kenyon’s 1 team has been playing very well the past couple days. However, I like Emory here in a tight one to give them the edge heading into singles. The singles lines are very hard to predict because of unknown fitness intangibles, but I really like Kowalski at 4 and Ruderman at 6 for the Eagles. The key will be finding that 3rd point in singles, and although it sounds weird to say this about Emory, I think Pottish or Goodwin will somehow find a way to win their well deserved national title. I may be very off with this, but I’ll take Emory 5-2 tomorrow to give them their first national title since 2006. All that said, I really want Kenyon to win. Not so Pottish and Goodwin are deprived of a title and not because I dislike Emory, because they’ve definitely grown on me through the years, but because I want someone unexpected to win this thing. Before the tournament, I talked about teams I thought could win the national title. I listed 6 teams and Kenyon was not one of them. I thought they had absolutely no chance to win this thing heading into the Final 8, but if they somehow do win, while it would be well earned, they should send a thank you card to Wash U for taking out Amherst and to Trey Meyer for keeping Emory on the court an extra hour. I want someone new to be the kings in D3 and there’s no one better than Kenyon to take that title. Again, I desperately want Kenyon to win tomorrow because I love upsets, I just don’t think it’s going to happen.