Surprise! You all know I love covering the smaller conferences that don’t get as much recognition, but there’s only so much I can do as one person. Thankfully, we have a passionate guest writer who offered to preview the Landmark conference this year. So thanks to D3Landmark, we’re happy to bring to you his 2018 Conference Preview. I’ll be back later this week with a joint preview, looking at both the IIAC and MIAC. (Bonus points if you know what those letters stand for). Anyway, please enjoy the following and feel free to comment below for D3Landmark. -D3RegionalNEC
D3Landmark here, back with the conference preview you didn’t know you needed! The 2018 Landmark Conference season looks to be an intriguing one. Goucher has won the conference two years in a row and looks to be stronger than ever this year, but they’ve always had very worthy challengers and this year seems like it will be no different. The Landmark Conference features a four-team bracket playoff for the conference championship, which works out conveniently since there are four teams that are clearly a tier above the rest. With Goucher, Juniata, Scranton, and Drew all having real shots to take home the crown, there’s no way to tell how things will shake out. Here we go!
Location: New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Maryland, Virginia (this is a very spread out conference)
2017 Order of Finish: 1. Goucher 2. Juniata 3. Scranton 4. Drew 5. Elizabethtown 6. Catholic 7. Susquehanna 8. Moravian
2018 Team to Beat: Goucher
Odds of Winning the Conference: Goucher 39.9%, Scranton 20%, Juniata 20%, Drew 20%, Anyone else 0.1%
The Story So Far: Goucher is the two-time defending conference champion. They won the conference last year by taking down Scranton (who had beaten them 6-3 in the regular season!) and Juniata. They graduated just one senior in 2017: Midori Fujitani, doubles stalwart and probably the best #6 in the history of the universe. In exchange, though, they got Tetsuya Ota, their new #1. Ota comes in with a UTR of 12 and a lot of hype. For reference, he split sets with Josepher of Emory before losing in a super breaker at an ITA tournament this summer, showing that he can hang with the big dogs. This also had the effect of pushing their top guys from last year down a spot. For example, Jack Hodges, a very good #1 last year, will now be unleashed on the poor unsuspecting #2s of the conference. As they are wont to do, Goucher played a fairly soft fall schedule, breaking up a string of easy matches with the Southeast ITA at Mary Washington. They started off their fall with pretty unremarkable wins over York PA (8-1) and Dickinson (7-2). Their ITA results were pretty standard; Ota won two singles rounds before falling to the always-strong David Reed of CNU and everyone else put up pretty good fights in the first two rounds and did pretty well in their consolation brackets. Then for some reason they played a triple-header (no, seriously) on October 7, getting 9-0 wins on Stevenson, Penn St.-Harrisburg, and Messiah.
Season Outlook: I mean, it looks pretty good. Goucher has won the conference two years running, lost one player from the bottom of their lineup, and brought in the best recruit in the conference. So why don’t I have them with a higher likelihood of winning the championship? Well, their success hasn’t exactly come easy. They lost to both Scranton and Juniata during the regular season last year, and although they won both rematches during the conference tournament neither was terribly easy. Picking an actual weakness out of their lineup borders on impossible, but it’s always possible that their doubles could have some holes. As you’ve probably seen in every preview article on this blog predicting doubles is impossible, but Goucher’s doubles have historically been kind of inconsistent (read: pretty bad in the regular season, pretty good in the conference tournament). There’s no real reason to pick against Goucher this year, but given a choice between them and the field I think I’d go with the field.
Key Player: Tetsuya Ota. I know I’ve said a lot about him already, but having a freshman at #1 is one of the most volatile situations in college tennis. He came in with a lot of hype and had a solid fall season, but many a highly touted recruit has hit the wall of the spring season before. Many freshmen are unprepared for the lengthy grind of the full college tennis experience, and we’ve all seen first years who crack physically or mentally when they get into the full swing of the conference season. Whether Ota can keep it together and rise to the challenge will probably be the difference between a hat-trick of conference championships and a quick exit in the conference tournament.
The Story So Far: Juniata was the conference runner-up last year, beating Drew in the semifinals before dropping to Goucher in the finals. They graduated their best player, Dean Poselina, and brought in one recruit, Andre Johnson, who has yet to be seen in any fall matches. Speaking of fall matches, Juniata didn’t play many. The only match they played where they dropped a point was against Penn State Harrisburg, which they won 7-2 anyways. They didn’t play a very consistent lineup either. Roy Liberman, their #2 last year, will definitely be playing #1, but everything past that is a little confusing. Matyas Kohout, who played a great #3 last year, will probably play #2, and Dan Ansel and Jason Gerber will probably be in there somewhere, but nobody really knows at this point. And don’t even get me started on doubles. Juniata has a history of bringing their team together when it really matters though, so I don’t think that is any cause for concern.
Season Outlook: Juniata graduated their best player and doesn’t seem to have brought in anyone particularly noteworthy. Logic dictates that this should be pretty bad for the Eagles, but something tells me they’ll be fine. They’re a deep team, and are very physically tough; I would expect them to be able to play up to their competition when all the chips are on the table. I do think they will be very strong in doubles, as they play good physical tennis and are usually excellent at serving and attacking the net. I think they’ll take a loss or two in regular season play and scrape into the playoffs as the 3 or 4 seed, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they come out firing and somehow win the whole thing.
Player to Watch: It’s kind of hard to pick out one player to watch with Juniata, since they’re going to need a real team effort to make a deep run this season. That said, I’m going to go with Matyas Kohout. The Czech international held down the #3 spot very well last year, and played some solid #2 doubles with Owen Grafe (who has not been seen in action in the fall, not that that really means much). This year, though, he’s going to be asked to take on a lot more responsibility. It seems likely he’ll move up to #2 singles, and with doubles master Dean Poselina gone he might have to partner with Liberman at #1 doubles. If Kohout can step up in a big way this year, Juniata’s ceiling rises dramatically. If he doesn’t, they will probably lack the firepower to make it past the conference semifinals.
The Story So Far: Scranton had a really impressive regular season last year, taking down Goucher off the back of a 3-0 doubles sweep. Unfortunately, they hit playoffs Goucher™ in the conference semifinals and were summarily taken out. Like Goucher, they look to have upgraded in the offseason. The loss of Matt Prendergast to graduation is obviously going to hurt; he was the best #3 in the conference last season and an excellent doubles contributor. To make up for it, they brought in Tarquin McGurrin, younger brother of #1 singles and doubles player Keller McGurrin. Tarquin has played #2 for Scranton throughout the fall, and assuming that’s not just blatant stacking Scranton has gotten a lot more dangerous. Speaking of the fall, Scranton continues our pattern of teams giving me less and less information to work with as I work through them. They played a grand total of two matches against weak competition, dropping a total of one point between them. So…uh…yeah. I guess they’re probably doing fine.
Season Outlook: Things are looking pretty solid for Scranton. Their lineup has received a pretty clear upgrade with Tarquin coming on board, and coming off their fantastic regular season last year they just have to learn to convert that into playoff success. Don’t look now, but these guys might just match up pretty decently against Goucher. Ota will probably take down Keller McGurrin pretty easily at #1, but Scranton’s lower lineup is really dangerous and if Tarquin can find it in him to match up with Jack Hodges at #2 I could see Scranton pulling something off.
Player to Watch: I feel like I’m going to repeat a lot of what I just said about Ota, but Tarquin McGurrin is going to be really important to Scranton this season. He’s going to be under a lot of pressure to take on some really strong #2s like Jack Hodges and maybe play at #1 doubles, and it’s going to be interesting to see if his older brother Keller can help him adapt to the rigors of college tennis. We still don’t really have much information about how good this guy actually is, considering he has no listed UTR and played no real competition in the fall. But there’s nowhere to hide in the spring season; Tarquin is going to have to step up to the challenge and take on some really tough competition. If he does, the sky is the limit for Scranton.
The Story So Far: There are a lot of questions surrounding Drew as they head into the 2018 season. The first is how they will cope with the loss of Salikh Gilmudintov, by far the best player in the conference last season and generally one of the best players the Landmark has seen in recent memory. The second is how their freshmen will contribute. They brought in two freshmen, Bryce Kennedy and Eric Gomez, who both got some playing time in Drew’s one fall match (more on that later), but their real level is anyone’s guess. The third is how they will be affected by their coaching situation. Matt Brisotti has left to go to Hamilton and try to turn them into a real competitor in the NESCAC, and Drew has brought in Scott Veith of neighboring Fairleigh Dickinson-Florham. Changing coaches at the beginning of spring season can be hard for even the best teams, and with a home tournament coming up in mid-February they will have to hit the ground running. Fourth, and more importantly…how good are they, exactly? If you thought Scranton and Juniata didn’t play enough matches to get some decent data, you ain’t seen nothing yet. Drew played ONE match this fall, a routine 7-2 win against Farmingdale State. One single match is…not a whole lot of data to base any sort of preview off of. I’m going to put in a petition for all the Landmark teams to at least play an ITA or something in the fall.
Season Outlook: Even with all of these questions, there’s no real reason to be too concerned about Drew’s prospects this season. Vineet Vemulapally went undefeated at #2 and played some excellent #1 doubles last season, and he’s certainly capable of holding it down at #1 for the Rangers. Will Morrison and Geoffrey Diehl will form the rest of Drew’s core, and will definitely be a match for anyone in the top half of the lineup. Beyond that is more or less totally unknown; there are something like eight guys who could end up filling in the three remaining singles and doubles spots. This leads me to…
Player to Watch: Depth, depth, depth. I’m going to cheat here, but to go far this season Drew needs their lower-lineup guys to step up, and that could be anybody. Drew’s big weakness last season was in their bottom positions; they didn’t take a single point at #5, #6, or #3 doubles against any of the other top four teams in the conference. Whether Kevin Shulca or Bryce Weizer steps up their game from last season, Parker Diamond comes back with a vengeance, one of the freshman break through, or an upperclassman we haven’t seen much from yet emerges, Drew has to find points at the bottom of the lineup.
Everyone Else: Unless Catholic somehow un-graduates Juan Lorido, it isn’t happening. Sorry.
Overall Outlook and Predictions: At the end of the day, anything could happen in the Landmark Conference this year. But if you ask me straight who’s going to win the whole thing, picking against Goucher just doesn’t seem like a reasonable thing to do. Here are my way-too-early predictions for the conference tournament. If I do preview the playoffs these will probably look really silly, but here goes nothing.
Semifinal 1: Drew d. Scranton 5-4
Semifinal 2: Goucher d. Juniata 5-3
Final: Goucher d. Drew 5-3