Coach: David Bojalad, 6th Season
Location: Whittier, CA
2009 Ranking: NR
2010 Ranking: NR
2011 Ranking: NR
2012 Ranking: 26
2013 Projected Ranking: D3West 28, D3TG 18
After years of being the SCIAC’s ugly second cousin, Whittier finally broke through last year with a couple victories that propelled them from inadequate to… mediocre. They showed signs of life in 2011 when they beat Mary Washington, but that was more like a flash in the pan than anything substancial. Last year, they recorded wins over Swarthmore, Tyler, Vassar, and Kalamazoo to go with a near-miss against Gustavus. The key to their success? Recruiting. Whittier has been able to attract four 3-stars in the last two years, which was a significant improvement from the bevy of 1-stars they were throwing out until then. Still, Whittier relies heavily on development.
Unlike some of the more academically inclined schools where players sometimes burnout and get worse during their college career, the Poets really seem to get better throughout their four years. Last year, they were lead by a junior 2-star in Seneviratne and a senior 1-star in Carregha. Both had a hard time winning against the top teams, but each had a couple big wins (Donkena and Eddy for Seneviratne, Rattenhuber and Guzick for Carregha). The next step for Whittier is to beat one of the SCIAC’s top four. Until that happens, they will never make the NCAA tournament, and hence, never really be worth talking about all that much. If they can pair their normal development with their recent recruiting boom, however, that might just be in the cards for them.
This season should be another year of improvement. If they continue on this path, they could easily move ahead of Redlands and Cal Lu in the next couple of years. After that, I just don’t see how they could ever move ahead of Pomona or CMS. Both schools have better academics, better facilities, better history, and better coaching. It seems like these Poets are fated for mediocrity:
It is the stars, the stars above, that govern our conditions
Like many up-and-coming teams, Whittier is not blessed with depth. Last year, they had just six good players to put on the court, which really hurt them in doubles. Fortunately, they only lost on player from last year’s starting lineup. Carregha was incredibly important for their success, but they brought in a couple recruits to ease the pain. Seneviratne has played #1 for the past two seasons, but he’ll have some competition this year from the freshman Konstantinov. Just behind those two are junior Chris Schommer and sophomore Matthew Herron. Schommer had a hard time at #3 singles last year, but he advanced to the quarterfinals of the fall regionals when a first round upset of Nick Cummins opened the draw for him. Herron had flashes of brilliance last year with wins over Amherst’s Chamacho and GAC’s Luis Chu, but nothing to indicate he’s ready to win against P-P, CMS, or Cal Lu. Both Schommer and Herron will need to be much better this year if Whittier is going to be for real. Andrew Hansen played #5 singles last year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if he were knocked out of the lineup this year. Shimizu was their most consistent point-getter in singles last year, with wins over CMS, P-P, and Cal Lu. With his game style, I’m sure Bojalad will want to keep him at #6. Possibly taking Hansen’s place in the singles lineup will be freshman Samuel Farmer. He’s been battling injury, but should be a factor for Whittier this year.
Whittier just wasn’t very good at doubles last year. A big part of that was the fact that they only had six good singles players to work with. It’s hard to find three effective combos with so few options, especially when at least one of the players is a singles specialist. They will need to be better this year, but they’re off to a good start. Seneviratne and Konstantinov got to the finals of the ITA regional doubles tourney with wins over Allinson/Sabel, Millet/Sousa, and Rogers/Halabi. Bojalad has the option to keep his #2 and 3 doubles teams from last year together, but, judging from the doubles pairings from the fall tournament, that won’t be the case. Whoever they go with, the Poets must improve their doubles play if they have any hope of upsetting one of the SCIAC’s top 4. When they went 5-4 with Redlands, they were up 2-1 after doubles. Personally, I think they need a doubles sweep to beat any of those teams.
Being a lesser team in southern California affords Whittier some golden opportunities when it comes to scheduling. They can pick up matches with all of the teams traveling down to play CMS/P-P/compete in the Stag-Hen, etc. Since they’re ranked relatively low, basically every match is an opportunity to move up in the rankings. The danger with such a schedule is that if you don’t win any match, you fall out of the rankings altogether. That being said, this schedule is very well set up:
They start off with four good matches against non-DIII competition to get them primed for the spring break push. Their first DIII match is against Case Western on the 9th of March. I don’t think they really have a chance to win that match, but if they have any thoughts of making the post-season, this is a must-have. Three days later, they play Swarthmore at home. Last year, Whittier managed to beat Swarthmore 5-4 thanks to a 2-1 doubles lead and great singles performances from their top two. We know how dangerous Swarthmore is, but it’s really hard to say which team will show up. That should be another 5-4 decision this year. Two days later (on the 14th for those of you not keeping track at home), they play Haverford. The Black Squirrels are much improved this year, and that should be another tough match. If Whittier can win that one, they can will probably remain in the top 30 at the end of the year, even if everything else goes wrong for them.
Here’s where I have a problem with their schedule: two days later, they play Wash U in Hawaii. Are they flying the day of the Haverford match? If so, that will be a late night. Are they flying the day before the Wash U match? If so, they’re going to have a hard time getting a hit in in the different climate. Not that Whittier had a chance to beat Wash U anyways, but that’s not the best way to prepare your team. The Poets play Hawaii Hilo the next day and Whitman the day after that. The match against Whitman is arguably their best chance to get a big win this season. Whitman beat Whitter 8-1 last year, but the match had five 3-setters. Whittier should be better, and Whitman will probably be worse. Whittier will also be perfectly acclimated, and Whitman will still be a little emotionally exhausted from their Santa Cruz swing. So yes, upset alert there.
Four days later on the 22nd, the Poets will be back home for a match against P-P. The Sagehens thoroughly shellacked Whittier last year, so that shouldn’t be all that close. The next day, they play Middlebury in what will be another comfortable loss for Whittier. On the 25th, they play Depauw. This is the other “most important match of the season” for Whittier. Depauw is hungry to return to prominence, and if Whittier loses this one, they could see themselves moving down the DIII totem pole. Shortly thereafter, they move into the heart of their SCIAC schedule. Their first true road match is against Redlands on the 29th. Whittier came close the first time against Redlands last year, but got killed without a 2-1 doubles lead. Redlands’ team chemistry is a disaster, though, so they are by far the most prone to an upset among the SCIAC’s top 4. The Poets go on the road for a match against Cal Lu on the 6th. Without Ballou, this is a close match, but the Kingsmen roll with him in the lineup. They will get killed by the Stags on the 13th, and end up with a 4 or 5 seed in the SCIAC tournament where they will play Redlands again. The SCIAC championships are being played at Whittier this year, so that will be the perfect opportunity for them to end their season on the right now and give them a recruiting boost heading into the offseason.
All in all, I think Whittier is definitely a team on the rise, but they are very definitively in the 3rd tier. They will be a little improved this year, but they still don’t have the doubles or the strength in the middle of the lineup to compete for a Pool C bid. In most of their matches, they are either clear favorites or clear underdogs, so I think their end-of-the-year ranking will depend almost entirely on their matches against Whitman, Depauw, and Redlands. Sure, they could upset Case and they could lose to Haverford, but they should end up somewhere between those two teams. Personally, I think they’ll lose all three of those big matches and end up in the 26-30 range again this year. They’ve come a long way, but they’re not there yet.