The Tigers had huge expectations for themselves last year, and I think it’s safe to say that they didn’t really live up to them. At the end of the 2010 season, they were playing really good doubles, and appeared capable of sweeping any team in the country. They probably thought that would continue, as they returned their four-time all-American doubles team of Cocanougher/Kowal along with pretty much the rest of their lineup, but things didn’t pan out. They got swept in their quad at home with Wash U, CMS, and Cruz, and I know they were expecting to take at least two of those matches. Perhaps even more telling was their result in the Stag-Hen, where they went in as the #3 seed and ended up finishing 6th. Regardless, they pulled it together at the end of the season enough to beat Chicago and advance to the Elite Eight yet again, but they failed to make the next step to the Final Four. Trinity has an advantage when it comes to NCAAs in that they don’t have to compete in either the brutal California regional or one of the comparably competitive New England regionals, so they typically only have to beat a team like Chicago or Gustavus to make it to the Elite Eight. (I don’t say that to diminish their accomplishment or to put down Chicago. It’s just a little easier to beat Chicago once than it is to beat Cruz and CMS on back to back days). Trinity lost two singles starters and a third doubles starter to graduation last year, though they brought in a solid recruiting class. Nonetheless, I think the only way they improve on last year is if they somehow perform better without the burden of expectations. I don’t think that’s how tennis actually works, and I think they’ll have a down year.
Where They’ll Win
As I mentioned before, Trinity is known for playing good doubles. Last year was no different. They took two out of three doubles against Claremont, Wash U, and Pomona, and failed to capitalize. They did, however, ride strong doubles performances to wins against NCW, Mary Washington, Bowdoin, and Depauw. I think the take home message is that their doubles teams can consistently hang with and beat basically anyone in the country, but their singles lineup is that of a team ranked in the 15-20 range. How else can you explain them dropping two singles matches to Gustavus?
Where They’ll Lose
Speaking of singles… Frey is obviously a legitimate #1 singles player–he got to the semis of the NCAA individual tournament, after all–, but the rest of the lineup is going to be relatively weak. They return DelaFuente, and he will probably be a serviceable #2, but they’re going to have a hard time finding players to capably fill the rest of the singles spots. They had trouble remaining competitive at #4-6 against the top teams last year (see matches against P-P, NCW, Bowdoin, Amherst, Claremont, and Wash U), and that should be even more of a problem this year. The only way for these guys to knock off top 10 teams is to follow the 2010 Cal Lu formula: win doubles, win the top two singles spots, and find a W somewhere else in the lineup.
Once again, Trinity is playing Indoors and making a California trip, but instead of playing the Stag-Hen, they just have matches scheduled against P-P, Cal Lu, Redlands, Skidmore, and Bowdoin. Last year, they came up short against Cruz in the first round of indoors, but recovered nicely. If they can do the same this year, it would be even better, because that would mean beating Chicago and either Kenyon or P-P. Instead, I think they will probably go 1-2 at Indoors with a victory over Chicago. For their California trip, I would keep an eye on the Cal Lu match as a possible upset. Cal Lu is strong in the same places as Trinity, and they might be even stronger at the bottom positions, so if they can take one of the top two singles spots, they can win. Trinity’s conference has gotten easier with the departure of Depauw, so they are basically a lock to make NCAAs, and they might sneak into the Elite Eight again, thanks to a relatively easy region. The success of their season will probably be determined by a potential Sweet Sixteen match against Chicago or CMU.
Trinity has been in the top 10 for the past couple years, but it’s hard for any team to recover from losing two key players like Cocanougher and Kowal in the same year. I think that will effect them, and they will fail to make the Elite Eight. Along the way, however, I expect them to get at least one win against a top 8 team by playing hot doubles. Cruz and P-P might be ripe for the upset.