It’s always interesting to see how a prominent team responds to losing a couple star players. Wash U won’t be any different this year. They lost their top two players in Stein and Woods, and conventional wisdom suggests that this should be a down year for the Bears. I’m not convinced. Adam Putterman performed remakably in the Fall tournament, beating Joey Fritz and Alex Lane on his way to a second place finish, so it doesn’t seem like Wash U will be lacking a star at the top. They also have a talented coach, a deep roster, and a particularly good recruiting class, so I don’t think this will be a down year at all. Getting back to the final four will be a challenge because they will likely have to get past an improved Kenyon team to do it, but I think it’s possible, if not likely.
Where They’ll Win
Looking at their results from last year, it’s really difficult to say where these guys are the strongest. Sometimes, their stars pulled them through, but in their wins over Santa Cruz and Trinity in the quad, however, it was the middle of the singles lineup that pulled them back from doubles deficits. Will the middle of the lineup remain a strength as the 3-6 singles players shift up? Will their 5 and 6 spots take a hit? I think some of the new freshmen will step in capably at the bottom of the lineup, and the middle will still be the strength of this team as the 4, 5, and 6 players from last year will be playing with an extra year of experience. Overall, this team is equally strong from top to bottom, but opponents will be particularly hard-pressed to win in the middle.
Where They’ll Lose
Wash U’s one big loss last year to Chicago came courtesy of a doubles sweep. They also fell behind in doubles against Trinity, Kenyon, and Santa Cruz (the second time), so doubles has to be this team’s weakness. Interestingly, they managed to take two out of three doubles against Emory at Indoors, and they swept Williams, so they are clearly capable of playing good doubles, which, by ranking, was their best win of the year. Accordingly, I think the Bears’ success this season will be determined by how well they play doubles. They can probably win three singles matches against anyone in the country, so the best way to beat them is to jump on them in dubs. Finally, I wonder how Adam Putterman will respond to the pressures of playing #1 over the course of the whole season. It can be a grind playing against the other team’s best player every single match, especially if you start to lose some close matches.
Once again, the Bears will start of their D3 schedule with Indoors, and I’ve already said that I predict a finals for them in that tournament. Things will get really interesting when they play Chicago the next week. I’m sure they will be looking to avenge last season’s regular season loss (even though they beat Chicago handily in UAAs), but they will probably be playing a very different Chicago team under the new coach. After that, they travel to California for Spring Break, where they have an interesting match against Bowdoin. They also have a measuring-stick match against Case Western, where we’ll get to see how that team has progressed, and they finish up with UAA’s and NCAA’s.
For the Bears: a second place finish at Indoors and UAAs, a cakewalk to the Elite Eight, and a surprising Elite Eight loss to an emerging team like Middlebury or JHU (that team has to make a run eventually, right?). I hate to go against proven winners, but I think this is the year they finally fail to make the Final Four.