Coach: Geoff Roche, 14th year
Location: Redlands, CA
2009 Ranking: 10
2010 Ranking: 16
2011 Ranking: 15
2012 Ranking: 17
2013 Projected Ranking: D3West , D3TG 15
Before hitting their recent funk, Redlands placed in the top ten for every year from 1992 to 2006. For the past couple years, they’ve floundered around in the mid-teens, even missing the NCAA tournament altogether in 2010 and 2011. Despite being a non-prestigious academic institution, Redlands athletics thrives by offering “merit scholarships” to its players in all sports. This allows them to maintain a recruiting niche in a DIII landscape increasingly dominated by the academic elite. One would expect their recruiting to drop off with the emergence of geographical rivals like Cal Lu and Whittier within their “less presitigous, cheaper” recruiting niche, but their funk should not be attributed to poor recruiting: Redlands brought in six 3-stars and a highly competitive 2-star in Teddy Jones in the 2011 recruiting class. Instead, the Bulldogs seem to be struggling with overall team happiness, an assertion supported by the myriad of players who have transfered or quit over the past couple years.
Despite all that, the Bulldogs still have a lot going for them. They have a great location for tennis and tout one of the more extreme home-court advantages in DIII tennis. It used to be that Redlands managed to pick up one surprising win on their home courts every year to remain in the top 10. Recently, they’ve been missing those golden opportunities, suffering close losses to the likes of Trinity (TX), Trinity (CT), Middlebury, and Bowdoin. Nevertheless, Redlands can be an absolute nightmare to play on their home courts, and many teams have complained of getting “home towned” by the officials at their matches. The Bulldogs have lost most of their mystique, and they might be down for the count without a drastic change in their team philosophy, but they still have at least six very good players this year, and I would not want to walk onto their red courts on a hot California day this Spring Break.
Redlands is another team that is incredibly reliant on their doubles play. In fact, when they go down in doubles, they’ve been known to be altogether deflated and easy to beat, so let’s start there. They return 5 of their doubles starters from last year, but their performance in the Fall tournament didn’t inspire optimism. Their #1 team of Nic Cummins and Patrick Lipscomb lost to Halabi and Rogers from Cruz in the 2nd round (not exactly a doubles powerhouse); their #2 team for Graham Leahy and Teddy Jones fell to Yeh and Butts from CMS in the first round; and #3 team of Connor Hyde and Anish Nanda lost to Koenig and Scandalis in the 1st round. Cummins apparently then teamed with Parker Glore to win the backdraw over Nanda and Hyde, so there’s at least something. Regardless, I would expect them to mix things up a little bit before the season starts. Cummins and Jones were very good for the Bulldogs at #2 at the end of last year, so expect those two to get a look. Hyde and Cummins also went 4-0 against ranked DIII teams at the beginning of last year before Hyde was taken out of the lineup for I-don’t-know-what reason (probably injury), so his return to the doubles lineup might be another thing to look for.
As far as singles goes, it’s really tough to figure out what Redlands will be throwing out there. Their #5 singles player from last year, Jack Reynolds, who was in his first year at Redlands is no longer on their roster. Would-be senior Darren Dahl, who oscillated between 4 and 6 last year, is no longer on their roster. And #3 singles player Mark Bloom graduated. They do return Lipscomb at #1 singles, who started off last season on a tear before struggling mightily over the past two months of the season. Lipscomb advanced to the round of 16 in the fall tournament before bowing out to Joe Dorn. They return Cummins, who had an up-and-down 2012 season which included wins over Weichert and DelaFuente. He started his 2013 campaign with an impressive win over Mac Cahill from CMS and a mystifying loss to Schommer from Whittier. They return Nanda, who has been ALL over the map during his Redlands career. He has played as high at #1 and as low as #6. His best win last year was at #4 singles against Williams. They will get Hyde back who was solid for them at #2 and 3 in 2011. After that, they have Jones and Taylor Hunt, fellow sophomores who have had some success when sniffing the starting lineup. Hunt even managed to be Alex Johnson in their dual against CMS last year. Sophomores Leahy, Aaron Marvin, and Max Licona will also be in contention for a startin spot. Finally, there’s freshman Jacob Louche, who had a decent fall.
If I had to guess at their lineup, I would say Lipscomb, Cummins, Hyde, Nanda, Hunt, Louche, but I really have no idea. When they play impassioned doubles and compete as a team, they are a top 10 team, but we haven’t seen that from them in quite some time.
As usual, Coach Roche has put together one of the most daunting schedules in DIII tennis. They play 14 matches against teams currently ranked in the top 30, 12 of which will be on their home courts. They start with home matches against non-DIII opponents Vanguard, Concordia, and Pt. Loma Nazarene. If last year is any indication, these matches should not be used to gauge how good they are. Their first significant DIII test is *gasp* on the road against UC Santa Cruz on March 2nd. The Slugs edged the Bulldogs at Redlands last year, but they should be significantly more vulnerable this year. That will be a really interesting match early in the season, which might be a pretty good indicator of where the Bulldogs are at emotionally. The week of the 9th is “Bipolar Week,” in which they play Mary Washington, Case Western, Sewanee, and Swarthmore in five days. With the exception of Sewanee (a rising contender), every team on the court that week is either a mediocre team with fits of brilliance (Mary Washington, Swarthmore), or a good team with fits of mediocrity (Redlands, Case).
Starting on the 16th, the Bulldogs begin their “Pool C week.” I use the term “week” lightly, but between the 16th and the 29th Redlands plays Cal Lu, Bowdoin, Depauw, Williams, Middlebury, and Whittier. All six teams are looking for a Pool C bid with vastly different chances of getting one. Obviously, either Williams, Middlebury or Bowdoin could get a Pool A bid with the other two being favorites for the treasured Pool C spots. Cal Lu is probably a coin flip for a Pool C spot depending on the health of their top 2 players. Depauw and Whittier are Pool C dark horses for which a loss to Redlands would be absolutely devastating. The Bulldogs probably need to win three of these matches to earn a Pool C spot this year unless they clean up during Bipolar week.
It is at this point in the season that I think playing home matches against nationally ranked teams gets stale for the Bulldogs, which is a real shame. Imagine what a geographically isolated team like GAC would do for that sort of schedule. Speaking of lame segues, Redlands plays GAC at home on the 3rd of April. Unlike last year, a win over GAC could actually help their Pool C positioning this year, while a loss would be killer. After that, they finish up their SCIAC schedule with matches against CMS, Oxy, and P-P before ending the season at the SCIAC championships. As I mentioned in Whittier’s preview, this year’s tournament will be played at… you guessed it… Whittier. If Redlands can earn a #3 seed with a victory over Cal Lu, they’re all set and have nothing to worry about. If they don’t, they have to worry about a road match against likely-#5 seed Whittier with a potential trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. The Bulldogs prevailed in an identical situation last year (somehow grabbing the last Pool C spot over a higher-ranked Bates team), but they would certainly like to avoid that this year.
As far as predictions go, it really seems like they are just going to completely fall apart this year, but I’m afraid to predict that. The Bulldogs are kind of like Mark Wahlberg at the beginning of Shooter. They’re hanging by a thread and borderline insane, but with the right catalyst, things could snap into place and they might just go on a rampage and destroy everything in their path. That’s how much potential they have. They have four players with significant experience playing in the top 2, great doubles, and several guys capable of giving them a push at the bottom of the lineup. They could be, would be, should be the second best team in the SCIAC, but I doubt they will be.