NCW is kind of an enigma within Division 3 tennis. The school isn’t known for strong academics like pretty much all of the other schools in the top 15. They recruit international players like a D1 school, and they seem not to care too much about doubles (like a D1 school). The only problem with that is that their international players aren’t as good as the ones at Baylor, and D3 uses a 9-point scoring system, so doubles sort of matters. Sorry, that sounds meaner than it was meant to be. I have a ton of respect for NCW for breaking the mold and finding a way to be successful in a D3 environment that would normally doom a school like NCW to obscurity. While the Battling Bishops have had tremendous success, they still aren’t living up to the lofty expectations they set for themselves. Two years ago, I remember some of NCW’s players complaining that they never got the chance to prove how good they were because other schools were ducking them, but when they got the opportunity to play them at Indoors last year, they didn’t exactly deliver. Now, they’ve entrenched themselves in the D3 elite, and they don’t have to worry about scheduling problems anymore. If they don’t live up to their expectations this year, they’ll have nobody to blame but themselves.
Where They’ll Win
NCW lost their #1 singles player from last year, but I’m pretty sure the story on them is the same as it has been. They will be strong in singles, especially in the middle of the lineup. They went 12-3 in the 4-6 spots against top 25 teams last year, and, even though their #4 and #5 (Lemongo and Sonn) will have to play one spot higher, I think that will be offset by a year of practice. It’s hard for me to gauge their recruiting class or whether the players coming off their bench are capable because they are all international, and, therefore, don’t have junior records that are easily accessible or decipherable by me. Nonetheless, I would guess that their roster is a lot like any other D3 team’s roster, and they have some hungry players ready to fill in at the #5 and #6 spots
Where They’ll Lose
This one is pretty easy. The Battling Bishops always struggle in doubles. It was more pronounced two years ago than it was last year, which indicates that they are working on it, but they still didn’t do very well in doubles last year. They lost two out of three against JHU and Trinity, and got swept by Emory and Wash U. But the match against JHU shows what they can do if they can just keep the match close. Still, Hopkins isn’t exactly a notoriously good doubles team, and if the Bishops want to make the next step, they will have to start winning doubles matches. Their #1 team won the ITA regional tournament, so that is a nice little ray of hope for them, but they will need to win two or three doubles matches if they want to upset someone like Emory or Wash U. Right now, it doesn’t look like they can do that.
Because they don’t have Indoors this year, the Battling Bishops’ success will be largely dependent on an important few regular season matches. They start off with Case and Kenyon in early February, as the Lords get ready for Indoors. Around spring break, they have their rematch with Hopkins, and a tough match against Chicago in Hilton Head. They’re also traveling to Fredericksburg to play Mary Washington and CMU. It’s a tough schedule: a lot of teams that could upset them and very few opportunities to improve their ranking. In the end, they might drop a few ranking points, but they will definitely be battle-tested come tourney time.
Since I have no info on their recruiting class, this is particularly difficult. They could completely fall off because they have nobody good enough to play #5 and #6 (Cal Lu from last year rings a bell). Regardless, I see them getting “upset” by JHU because of that massive recruiting class, and, based on their struggles indoors last year, I think they will definitely lose to Kenyon and might actually lose to CMU or Mary Washington. Nevertheless, they will win their conference, and the only thing that really matters is if they can play the match of their life in the Sweet Sixteen against (probably) Emory, or get a good draw and beat Hopkins. Unfortunately, I think the season will end in the Sweet Sixteen for the Battling Bishops.