I’m trying to think if there have been any big, catalytic changes for the Santa Cruz tennis team between last year and this year, but for some reason I can’t think of any… Oh wait, there’s that whole thing where their legendary coach, Bob Hansen, left for Middlebury. That might have an effect on the program. In all seriousness, however, I don’t think the effect of Hansen leaving will be felt by Santa Cruz this year. The team is still made up of players who were recruited by Hansen, and, for the most part, have experience in his system. Additionally, new coach Bryce Parmelly has a decade of experience as some part of the Santa Cruz team, and you might have heard of their two assistant coaches, Seeburger and Pybas. I think there is plenty of Hansen left behind on this team to make them very successful this year. They return 5 of their singles starters, two more doubles starters, and they brought in a talented transfer from UCSB in Devin Nurenberg, but it’s difficult to recover from losing someone like Pybas. The results from the Fall also suggest that the Slugs will have a hard time keeping up with Claremont this year, but Santa Cruz practices harder than anybody, and it’s hard guess how much they will have improved from a semester’s worth of practicing. Not sure what else to say about the Slugs. They’ve always won by using their 2 and 3-stars to beat everyone else’s 4 and 5-stars, and if they’re going to have a good year this year, they’re going to have to do it again.
Where They’ll Win
Doubles has always been a strength for Santa Cruz, and I think that will continue this year. Two years ago, they won Indoors by sweeping doubles in every match, and finding two wins somewhere in the singles lineup. If they’re going to beat any top 5 teams this year, that’s the formula they’re going to have to follow. (Though last year they beat CMS by taking the top 4 singles spots, I don’t think that will happen again). In singles, while the Slugs certainly have good players at the top in Koenig, Nurenberg, and Larsen, I think they are definitely stronger at the bottom. They always have hungry, hard working players that overachieve filling out their roster, and they can definitely surprise some of the top teams at these spots.
Where They’ll Lose
It looks like the Slugs are going to be weak at the top this year. It’s not a good sign when your star transfer loses to your rival’s third best freshman, nor is it a good sign when your best returning player loses to your rival’s #6 singles player. Also, where is Larsen? He played in the Fall, but he’s not on their roster right now. If they lose him, they will be even weaker at the #3 spot, and their doubles will suffer significantly. On paper, Santa Cruz doesn’t really look like an elite team, but they’ve always been able to beat teams that look better than them on paper in the past. Hopefully, they can do it this year too, but they’re going to have a hard time if they can’t win at the top 3 positions. To have a good season, the Slugs desperately need either Nurenberg or Koenig to fill the massive hole left by Pybas’ graduation.
Cruz has an early season match against Whitman, which shouldn’t be much of a problem, but it will give them more indoor experience heading into their first round match against Trinity at Indoors. The Trinity match will be massive in terms of establishing momentum for the whole season, and quelling lingering questions about the coaching switch. They could win that match and then lose to the next two and consider Indoors a success. After that, they have home matches against Kenyon and Claremont. I know they really want to beat Claremont, but I just don’t know if that can happen this year. Nevertheless, the CMS match will likely determine who hosts the brutal California regional for nationals this year, which might be Santa Cruz’ only chance to make it to the Elite Eight, even though I think home court advantage is overrated. After that, they road trip to So Cal to play Redlands and Williams. The match against Redlands is huge because all Redlands really needs is one big win to get into pool C, and Cruz might be ripe for an upset this year, but the Williams match isn’t all that important in the big picture of nationals. The Slugs have plenty of good matches on their schedule, but in the grand scheme of things, Cruz will need to beat CMS at the end of the year to get back to the Elite Eight, and all of their other matches are just preparation for that one.
Despite the intangibles, I think Cruz will have a down year this year. They will find a way to beat a weakened Trinity team, and maybe even end up finishing 3rd at Indoors. They might beat Kenyon, but I don’t see them beating CMS or Williams, and they will eventually get knocked out in the Sweet Sixteen, though they will probably give Claremont a run for their money as they always do. The Slugs have always succeeded by developing their players, but if they’re going to succeed in the new D3 environment, they’re going to have to find a way to start getting some 4 or 5-star recruits.