It wasn’t too long ago that Mary Washington was in the top ten, but in the last couple years they fell on hard times. Last year, they hosted Indoors, and got what appeared to be a great win over Cal Lu, and it seemed like they were headed back in the right direction, but then they wasted it by losing to Bates, Whittier, and missing an opportunity against CMU. They ended the year by limping into NCAAs against conference rival Salisbury and falling to Kenyon in the Sweet Sixteen. Still, I would say that this program is on its way back to the promise land. They only lost one starter in singles (and another in doubles), and they brought in a recruiting class that includes a four-star in Charles, who might be able to fill the shoes of Murata right away. Additionally, the Eagles have a stacked schedule this year, so they have plenty of opportunities to improve their ranking.
Where They’ll Win
Mary Washington seems to have gotten about the same number of wins from all of their singles positions last year, which tells me that they were neither especially strong or especially weak anywhere. Sam Wilchin did pick up a number of good wins at #1 singles last year, and Blahkin was a very capable #3. With another year of experience, they should be even stronger. Add in the recruiting class, and I think the Eagles will be very good this year at the top of their singles lineup. The bottom of the singles lineup shouldn’t be much weaker, but they did struggle a little bit at #5 and 6 against the better teams last year. Those positions should be stronger this year, but I still think the top of the singles lineup will be the strength for this team
Where They’ll Lose
The Eagles really struggled in doubles last year. They got swept pretty much every time they played a top 15 team, and they even lost two doubles matches against Salisbury, Denison, Bates, and Whittier. I’m convinced that doubles is the key to an upset (watch NCW and take notes), and I really think Mary Washington has to figure this out if they want to beat some of the good teams on their schedule this year. They have the pieces, it’s just a matter of putting them together. If they can figure out doubles, they could easily move into the top 20 or even higher.
Mary Washington starts their season this weekend at home against Rhodes, Whitman, and Kalamazoo. They should be favorites in all three of these matches, with the new added bonus of a possible indirect win over Santa Cruz. After that, they will make an early-March trip to California, where they will play Cal Lu, Pomona, and Redlands. They have gone 1-2 against these teams each of the past two years, but I think if they can get one win this year, that would have to be considered a victory. Their next big matches are Case, NCW, Bates, and CMU, and their last match against a ranked team is Johns Hopkins. Based on this weekend, I would say they have a pretty good shot against Case, and virtually no chance against NCW. I’m sure they will be hungry for revenge against Bates, and I think they will get it at home. CMU probably has a slight edge over the Eagles, and Johns Hopkins is probably out of reach. Overall, it’s a great schedule, and if they can take care of business against Salisbury in conference, they will be extremely well-prepared going into NCAAs.
I think they will sweep this weekend then get swept in California. I now believe they can beat Case, but it will be tough, and I think they will manage to move into the top 20 by beating CMU and Bates on their home courts again. Indoors last year showed that they are pretty tough on their home courts, and I think those same home courts will help them get the wins to climb back into the top 20 this year. I still don’t think it will be enough to get them into the Elite Eight though, because they still aren’t good enough to beat one of the big dogs, even on their best day.