Two years ago, CMU broke into the top ten with a great season that included wins over Amherst, Redlands, Kenyon, Hopkins, and Trinity. Last year, they had a somewhat disappointing season, as they got beaten by Chicago, Depauw, Hopkins, and, most damagingly, Denison. If I were to turn this into a tennis analogy, I would say they broke serve in 2009 to get themselves in the top 10, then gave the break right back, and fell to about where they were after 2008. They graduated Nemerov and Mactaggert, probably their two best players, and definitely their #1 doubles team, but I was optimistic for them last spring before they lost their best recruit (and a 5-star no less) to USC. The story for them this year is going to be whether the bevy of recruits and returning players can help fill the void left by Nemerov and Mactaggert. They have plenty of chances to get that Pool C bid back from Chicago, but I’m not sure they have the players to do it.
Where They’ll Win
Looking at their results from last year, there doesn’t seem to be a consistent pattern. If I can say anything, it’s that they are appropriately ranked. When they won, they did it with a team effort up and down the lineup. They took advantage of other teams’ weaknesses, but succumbed to other teams’ strengths. They might not have the same capacity to take advantage of teams that are weaker at the top of their lineup this year with the departure of Mactaggert and Nemerov, so Duke Miller will have to step up. On the up side, they only lost two players and they brought in six, so if three of them are “start ready,” the Tartans could be deeper than they were last year. Basically, I have no idea where they’ll win, but if you tell me who they’re playing, I could refer you to the “where they’ll lose” section of their preview and I would guess that’s where the Tartans will win.
Where They’ll Lose
This is essentially the same as what I said above. The Tartans will lose where their opponent is strong. They don’t appear to have a specific strength that can beat anyone else’s strength. I will add, however, that CMU might be particularly vulnerable in the #2 and #3 singles spots this year, and a lot will depend on whether or not Rao and King can step up. I’d say their nightmare matchup is a team like JHU that’s strong all around, but just a little bit stronger than CMU at every position.
The good news for CMU is that they will play three or four of the teams that they are trying to take a Pool C bid from. They start off right away with a match against Depauw that has huge Pool C implications. The loser will have a really hard time getting one of the six at-large bids because they will have a direct loss to one of their competitors. Their other big matches are against P-P, Bowdoin, and a potential UAA matchup with Chicago. I think they need to win at least two of these four matches to make Pool C. A wins against either NCW or Kenyon could trim that number to one, but they also have to avoid another nightmare loss to Denison (or Mary Washington). Overall, I would say this is probably the best-constructed schedule I’ve seen so far in terms of a team playing the matches that give it the best chance to succeed this season.
Last year, people predicted bad things for Kenyon because of the loss of Greenberg, and look what happened. Other players stepped up, and they had an even better season. CMU is in a similar position, but they probably their two most important players. Any team can recover from losing one important player, but losing two is a lot to ask. The Tartans were poised to fill the void with an excellent recruiting class, but they lost their best recruit, which kind of left them where they were at the end of last season. I think these guys will get the two good wins that they need, but still fail to make Pool C because of a bad loss. That’s probably just wishful thinking, though. I’m a sucker for parity.