This is literally the most anticipated weekend in February concerning DIII Tennis, and D3Tennis and I have combined to preview each and every one of the first round matches for you, with some of our thoughts on the rest of the tournament afterwards. Lets get started!
#1 Emory vs. #8 Gustavus Adolphus
Again, glad to have Indoor Nationals back in Minnesota. The overall feel of the tournament just changes, and I’m sure we’re all happy to see that Gustavus can actually throw some punches again in Indoors. Just like last year, Gustavus will be a very tricky team for these young Eagles to face, and they won’t have Pottish with an automatic win at #1 anymore. This past weekend, we got to take a look at the doubles lineup for Emory, and (surprise!) the ITA Regional Champion team does not even play in the lineup. Doubles has always been an afterthought on the Eagles team, and here is where Gustavus can get on the board and give Emory a scare. The Donkena/Smith-Dennis team at #1 (GAC) is one of the best in the country, and I definitely don’t see them losing there. However, unlike last year, I don’t think the rest of the GAC doubles teams are talented enough to take out a deep Emory team, and EU will come out with #2 and #3 in close matches. That’s pretty much where the match will end.
Overall in singles, Emory will just be too deep. They should get wins at #4,5, and 6 purely based on the depth on their team. Also, I’m not going to go against Wagner at 3, where he had a stellar year last year. That already locks it up for the Eagles, but what will be interesting is the competition at #1 and #2. Halpern, who played 1 last week, got dominated by Hayden White of Washington and Lee. Smith-Dennis has been on a tear lately, and this match may not even be close based on recent trends. I’ll take GAC at 1. #2 is a different story. Donkena has #1 talent, but has struggled a bit lately. He’ll go against Ruderman in what’s sure to be a battle. In the end, I’ll take Ruderman considering his success throughout his career. 7-2 Eagles.
#2 Kenyon Lords vs. #7 North Carolina Wesleyan Battling Bishops
This match is going to be the most lopsided match of the tournament by a long shot. Kenyon is way too deep for the Bishops, and they’ll easily take 2 and 3 doubles. If not, then that will say more about Kenyon’s doubles than it does about the Bishops. The only match that NCW has the chance at winning in doubles is #1, because of Kjellberg. He’s come up huge in dual matches so far this spring, and although they’ve come against weaker opponents, it’s really hard to bet against him. However, I love the Raz/Williams team, they work very well together and have a great team chemistry along with great talent. I’m taking Kenyon in a sweep at doubles. Moving to singles, Kjellberg will be the only player to give his opponent a run. I’m not sure if he’ll go up against Raz or Burgin, but I’m not going to bet against him in singles this time around. Kjellberg gets his team the only point in this match, as the rest of the Bishops lose in straights. 8-1 Kenyon.
#3 Johns Hopkins Blue Jays vs. #6 California Lutheran Kingsmen
This is a match that I’ve been looking forward to as the A-South writer the whole winter. This will be Hopkins first chance to stake their claim to being an elite team. Biased opinion would say that Hop should win this match routinely, but when you look at strengths and weaknesses of each of these teams, it could get hairy for the Jays pretty quickly. Cal Lu is going to come out firing, and #1 doubles is going to be a HUGE match. Ballou/Worley are a top 5 team in the nation, but Brown/Lim have been off to a torrid start. If Cal Lu loses at #1 doubles, I see this match being a routine win for Hop. I’ll take Cal Lu at 1 – Ballou and Worley have tons of experience and should be able to win this one. Hop throws out a very solid #2 in Hersh/Camei, and I don’t believe in the Treacy/Nichols combo after they barely beat Brandeis’s 2. Hop takes this one. #3 doubles will be a tossup, especially if Hopkins has Weissler/Garcia out there. Both of these teams are unknowns to me, and I think this one will come down to the wire and potentially determine the match. I’ll take Cal Lu at 3 to make this thing close.
Singles is why I think this is a trap match for the Jays. Ballou is most likely going to win at #1, I don’t remember the last time he’s come up short in a bigtime match. Plus, Hersh’s game style is the last thing you want to do against Ballou – he’ll have ground strokes in his wheelhouse all day long, and indoors too. The key to the singles lineup has to be Ray Worley here. Hopkins strengths are #2-5, and they’ll take 3,4,5 pretty handily with the Hwang/Lim/Reiter combo. You can see why Worley is the key, because if he can pull the upset against Brown, it may come down to Schwartz, playing the last match on (only 3 courts per match). Schwartz vs. Belcher to determine the match is a great spot for Cal Lu, being the underdogs. In the end, I don’t think Worley beats Brown, but watch out if he does. Overall, I’m going to go with 6-3 Hopkins.
#4 UC Santa Cruz vs. #5 Trinity TX Tigers
Can anyone get enough of this out-of-state rivalry? These teams meet each other at Indoors every year, and boy do they put on a show. My colleague D3TG seems to think the Tigers are going to roll through the Banana Slugs. I’m not too sure about that. The notion that these two teams are doubles specialist teams should be thrown out the window soon. Cruz was down 2-1 to Bates in doubles, and I don’t see Trinity’s doubles as much of a strength as it was maybe two years ago. To start off, the Cruz #1 of Koenig/Scandallis took a great team in Crampton/Bettles to the distance, and they seem like a good #1 moving forward. Meanwhile, the DelaFuente/Mayer team for Trinity strikes me as a weaker 1, so I’ll take Cruz here. With Skinner playing 2 doubles, the Trinity team should get the W at #2. #3 doubles again becomes a big match. I think Haugen/Dunn for Trinity are a very fundamentally sound #3 team versus the Cruz #3 of Halabi/Goetz. Halabi is a pure singles player in my eyes, and Trinity has that confidence in their doubles that points me in their favor, up 2-1 after dubs.
Singles is where this match gets tricky. Koenig had a great result, beating Crampton of Bates at #1, and if he gets hot and beats the less experienced Skinner, the Tigers may be in trouble. But, I’m not going to go against the national #1 in Indoors, so Trinity takes it. #2 is my match to watch. Halabi has been playing lights out since I can remember, and Haugen of Trinity recently dominated Donkena of GAC. One of them has to lose. I’ll take Halabi in a gritty match, he just seems to pull these out when he needs to. Moving forward, I think Cruz has the upper hand in the rest of the singles matches, especially after the amazing performance against Bates. Bettwy is playing great, and Rodgers has always been a hard-working tough out for any opponent. Cruz takes these. This leaves it up to Scandalis and Littlejohn (UCSC) vs Mayer and Curtis of Trinity. Mayer and Curtis have an experience advantage here but Cruz has the talent advantage. With all four of these players lacking big singles match experience, I take the talent. 6-3 Cruz, and maybe 5-4 depending on #2 singles.
That’s all for first round predictions, but we’ll be back later after the results for more previews. If I don’t happen to get to it, D3Tennis and I are in agreement that Emory is the favorite this time out. You just don’t bet against a great coach and a well-rounded team like the Eagles. However, expect Kenyon/Hop to have revenge on their minds. Oh, and by the way, Kenyon Hopkins in the potential semis could be the best match we see in the next two months, so pay attention.