One of the most underrated stories from the 2011 season was the emergence of Case as a top 20 team. They went from giving some good teams a hard time in 2010 to actually beating three teams that are currently in the top 30 in 2011, including a more-impressive-than-it-looked-at-the-time 5-4 victory over Wisconsin-Whitewater. I think Case has the potential to continue its upward trend this year, as they bring in their very first 4-star recruit this year. The future definitely looks bright for the Spartans. They return all of their starters from last year, and their development has been great over the past three years. If their players have improved at the same rate as they have been, these guys could be a dark horse contender for a Pool C bid. To get one, however, they will have to leapfrog a number of teams, most notably Chicago and CMU.
Where They’ll Win
Looking at the Spartans’ result from last year, it looks like they either have a lot of players that are about the same in ability level, or they stacked their lineup. I’m inclined to believe the former, and with their two new recruits, that means they will be especially deep this year. One impressive aspect of their lineup, is that they managed to take #2 and #3 doubles pretty consistently against strong competition. A lot of second tier D3 teams have trouble fielding three strong doubles teams, but this tells me that the Case coach is particularly good at coaching doubles. If they can shore up the top end of their lineup, look for them to upset some teams this year, because it will be hard to come back against them if they take two out of three doubles.
Where They’ll Lose
Even though they return all of their players from last year, the top of their lineup is probably their relative weakness. It just doesn’t seem like they have the talent to compete with the best players from the teams that are consistently in the top 15. Accordingly, the onus for the Spartans’ success this season might fall squarely on the shoulders of Sean Carr and William Drougas. Carr was solid against lesser competition, but the story of his season came down to him falling just short against the better #1′s in the country like Stein and Nemerov. If he can make the jump this year, or if Drougas can step in and lead right away like Austin Chafetz did for Amherst a couple years ago, Case will definitely make the nation take notice. If not, they will probably lose a lot of close matches because of their inability to find wins at the top of their lineup
If Case is ready to compete for a Pool C bid, we will know by the end of this weekend. They play Kenyon and NCW, and if they can beat either, they will make a huge jump in the rankings, and put Chicago on notice. Their next big match is against Depauw the following weekend, and that loser of that one might be out of NCAAs contention. Even if they lose that one, Case might be able to sneak into the tournament with a victory over Chicago, but that’s a lot to ask for. Along the way they will have to avoid an upset, especially in the UAA tournament, where they almost lost to NYU last year, and the could come up against a hungry CMU or even have a rematch with Chicago.
In case you couldn’t tell from the whole rhetoric of this preview, I definitely think Case is a program on the rise. I love it when teams can get a lot out of lower-ranked recruits, and it’s exciting to think what they might be able to do now that they’re getting a few players with more stars next to their names. Additionally, the Spartans’ lineup is loaded with juniors and seniors, and they will definitely be extremely hungry. However, new to the scene as they are, they might not be able to handle the pressure that comes with competing for a Pool C bid. To get a Pool C bid, you literally cannot afford to lose to a team ranked below you,– something Case came close to doing several times last year. I think this year will mark more progress for the Spartans, but not enough to get them into the tournament.