Last year, this tournament was like the Hopkins’ freshman class’ coming out party. Most everyone in the DIII community was pretty curious what 6 4-stars would do when they were unleashed on the DIII community. Unfortunately, Hopkins couldn’t get all of them into the draw, but those that got in made an impact. Joachim won two rounds, Lim won three, and Brown and Hwang won four to get to the semis. Hersh topped a Hopkins’ amazing weekend off for the Blue Jays by beating Miller 7-5 in the third to claim the title. Since everybody I mentioned is back for Hopkins, it stands to reason that they will dominate this tournament again. But, while Hopkins will almost certainly win more rounds than any other team, this is an individual tournament, and White and Miller will be looking to win the trip to Mobile.
Hopkins, Carnegie Mellon, Mary Washington, Washington and Lee, (Haverford, Swarthmore)
Oh so many of them… I’m gonna go with the “name almost everybody” strategy.
Tanner Brown, Ben Hwang, Reiter, Lim (Johns Hopkins)
I hate to group these guys together because they have different games and need to do different things to win this tournament, but it all boils down to the same thing. There was very little disparity between the skill levels of Hopkins’ #1 singles player and their #6 singles player last year, so if any of them made a leap, they could win. Brown obviously has the best chance of any of them. Not only did he get to the semis here last year, but he also compiled a very, very good record at #2 singles last year. His loss to Berg calls to question whether or not he has what it takes to shoulder the burden of being the top dog, but that was his freshman self. Hwang didn’t do as great at #3 as Brown did at #2, but he did make a very impressive run at this tournament a year ago. Reiter and Lim are hard to predict. Both of them are obviously very good, but neither of them have very much experience playing against big hitters at the top of the lineup. I’m putting them on here anyways.
Hayden White (Washington and Lee)
White probably had a better 2011 than 2012, but the senior is definitely still one of the best three players in this draw. He’s been one of the steadiest and best performers in DIII since he got to Washington and Lee, and he will definitely be a tough out in this tournament, his last chance to make it to Mobile again. Though he lost to Hersh in the last two fall regional tournaments, he beat him the their dual match, so don’t count him out. Not much else to say about White except to say sorry for thinking you graduated.
Duke Miller (Carnegie Mellon)
With Duncan gone this semester, Miller will certainly be carrying the flag for Carnegie Mellon in this tournament. Miller definitely took his lumps playing #1 last season, but he had a few notable successes: White, Wichlin, and Miles. He hasn’t had the sort of consistent results that would normally be required to win this tournament, but he has to be considered among the top 5 favorites here at the very least.
Taylor Shamshiri and Michael Goldstein (Washington and Lee)
I’m just going to do a complete 180 on Washington and Lee. I think they’re going to have a great season. I forgot how good Goldstein was, and Shamshiri was playing very well at the end of the year and this summer. Also, Goldstein was having a very good tournament here last year until he ran out of gas in his third three-setter. Shamshiri was knocked out early, but that was his first month in college, and I think he was a little distracted. I wouldn’t be surprised if he made a run. I would be surprised, however, if either of them won the tournament because if either of them comes against White, White will win.
Alex Blahkin, Sam Wichlin and Evan Charles (Mary Washington)
Mary Washington has several very good players, many of which could make some deep runs on their home courts, but I don’t truly believe that any of them will win this thing. Blahkin was unseeded and lost in the first round of this tournament last year, but the lefty was playing at an extremely high level at the end of the year. Once he got to the #1 singles spot, he picked up wins over Hersh and Eddy, and had split sets with Burgin before the match was decided. Of anyone on the Mary Washington roster, I would say Blahkin clearly has the best chance to win this tournament. To say Wichlin had a tumultuous year last year would be a massive understatement. He was in and out of the lineup, and, when he played, he lost. Regardless, I believe he has it in him to make a run. Charles made a decent run in this tournament last year, and he picked up nice wins over Wilson and Tolman at the beginning of last year, but he hasn’t won a big match in a while.
Heaney-Seacord and Hasegawa (Carnegie Mellon)
Heaney-Seacord may have played #2 last year, but frankly, he wasn’t that successful. He had some decent wins early in the year, but he got very cold at the end of the year, and lost his last four matches. Hasegawa is a freshman, so he’s very much unknown, but he will be the other Tartan capable of making a deep run.
Don’t forget Haverford 4-star freshmen Luis Acaba (Haverford)
That’s a fair point. Having four stars doesn’t mean as much, however, in a region with at least a dozen 4-stars, some of them with three years of college experience.
Andy Hersh (Hopkins)
As I mentioned before, Hersh struggled quite a bit in big matches in the regular season last year at #1 singles, but he did play #1 singles for one of the best teams in the country. He also won this tournament a year ago, and he has a couple wins over Duke Miller, who is perhaps the second favorite in this one. Being the defending champion, he has to be the favorite, and truly, I think he has the best chance to win this thing out of anybody. But this draw is too deep for the same person to win it twice, and, if he isn’t ousted by one of his teammates, one of the guys he beat on his way to the championship last year will have a good shot at getting a measure of revenge.
No idea how the Hopkins teams will come together this Fall, but you can bet at least one of them will get to the semifinals. The Blue Jays have a bunch of players that don’t possess traditional doubles skills, but many of them have soft hands and precise groundies, capabilities that can make them difficult to deal with when they play two back. Still, I can’t put a team down as a contender that didn’t play together last season.
White/Shamshiri (Washington and Lee)
For some reason, White and Shamshiri didn’t pair up for the doubles tournament last time around, but they played together for the entire regular season. They played well in spurts with wins over Hopkins, Case, and Mary Washington (though UMW didn’t have their top doubles combo in), but they didn’t win consistently enough for me to make them the favorite (as much as that matters). Though they finished last season in unimpressive fashion, I expect them to make the semifinals at least here.
Miller/ Heaney-Seacord or someone else (Carnegie Mellon)
While I have absolutely no idea how the Hopkins doubles combos will shape up, I’m fairly certain the best Carnegie doubles team will involve Duke Miller. He and Duncan were a very successful doubles combo last year until they had the misfortune of running into the eventual champions at the individual championships (that sentence sucked, but I’m tired). If Duncan is really gone like I think he is, Miller will have to look elsewhere for a doubles partner, and he has several good options. He and whoever he pairs with will have a great chance at winning.
Charles/Rizzolo (Mary Washington)
This is a no-brainer. Charles and Rizzolo advanced to the semifinals here last year before falling to the eventual champions in a tiebreaker. Those guys are gone, and these guys finished their season by advancing to the semifinals of the individual championships with a couple three-set victories. Despite a six-match losing streak in the middle of their season, during a stretch in which it seemed the entire Mary Washington team forgot how to play tennis, these two Eagles have played some very, very good doubles, as evidenced by their 8-2 win over Ballou and Worley. If Rizzolo’s return goes cold, they’re in trouble, but they do a great job of mixing up formations, and if they are having a good weekend, they will win.
P.S. I should put something about Swarthmore in here because they do have a bunch of solid players, and the team engineered the single most unbelievable upset I’ve ever heard of, but they just have never really done very well in this tournament. This post script is basically to say that I haven’t forgot them; rather, I’m choosing to ignore their presence.