Coach: Todd Wojtkowski, 5th Season
Location: Cleveland, OH
2009 Ranking: NR
2010 Ranking: NR
2011 Ranking: 19
2012 Ranking: 19
2013 Projected Ranking: 11, D3TG 13
Talk about a team that came out of nowhere… Case Western went from utter obscurity, to a major factor in the absolutely loaded UAA in a matter of a few years. To put it into perspective, look at what happened in their recruiting. In 2008, they had a 1-star. In ’09, three 2-stars. In ’10, a 2-star and three 1-stars. Then in ’11 BOOM a 4-star and 2-star. Now this past year they added a 4-star, two 3-stars, three 2-stars and a 1-star. I mean…out of nowhere Coach Wojtkowski put together some well-developed players with some new aged talent, very quickly I might add. It took a few years for impact to be seen, but the result has been a modest back-to-back top 20 finishes. It seems the trend is pointed upwards judging by the new recruits this year.
But, are they poised to make a HUGE splash?? They bring senior leadership, well-developed returners, young talent, and a loaded schedule. They have many of the pieces in place to really burst onto the national scene, but are they ready? There has been buzz about these guys last year or so, and it’s time to find out if they are ready to step up into the spotlight. This team is likely the hardest season preview I’ve done thus far. Honestly, it could go either way with these guys you just don’t know… But, I believe in this hard-working group of guys and think this year will be a giant step forward for this program.
Depth, determination, and solid doubles have been this teams backbone the past couple years. The ‘next man up’ philosophy will have to come forward this year in order to replace the solid singles spots held by Sean Carr (2 S and 2 D) and Rohan Patel (4/5 S). Both guys were very effective and had quite a few wins. That being said, these guys have the talent to replace them this year. But can they reach their potential against the big teams they face? You always worry if you have multiple freshman in the starting lineup and it’s possible they may have a couple in the 4, 5, or 6 slots.
One thing they do have is a proven high caliber #1. Will Drougas played very well as a freshman last year and will likely be a force as he brings added experience to his game. Drougas had a nice run in one of the most loaded, top-to-bottom, Central ITA’s in recent memory. He took out a few players including Bhargava (Chicago) 0 and 0 before falling to a tough Tim Noack of Wash U. It seems Kyle Gerber may be ready to step into the number 2 slot as he performed extremely well at ITA’s reaching the semis where he was rolled by Adam Putterman (not too surprising, Putterman will do it to the best of us). Here is where it will be interesting to see where guys fall in singles. Eric Klawitter has improved tremendously since arriving as 1-star. He had a great run in ITA’s as well where he reached the quarters and lost to the Putterman train. I see Klawitter at 3 where he must continue to improve if he wants to make an impact in the key matches. Nicholas Howe had a decent showing in ITA’s taking Turlinton of Kenyon to 3 sets before falling. Freshman Christopher Krimball had another solid run which bodes well. John Healey is a steady player who played well at 6 last year and will likely be right around there again. It will be interesting to see what Case does with it’s singles lineup. Between Krimball, Smith, Healey, and Howe 3 of these 4 will most likely be in there. Needless to say, the depth is there so if they can perform well at the top…Look out.
Doubles play for Case has been pretty darn consistent the past couple years. Against nearly every team last year they at least jumped out with a 2-1 lead. They took all three points against Wash U last year only to fall 5-3. They must only replace one doubles player from last year and it will be important for the freshman to get acclimated to college doubles quickly. They performed great at ITA’s and had two doubles tandems show very well. Alex Solove and Krimball had a great run getting to the semis and taking out some very tough teams including a very good Depauw team. However, I will assume that Gerber and Healey will give it another go at 1 this year. They played tough last year and were just on the cusp of qualifying. They lost in the quarters to the Earlham team that came out of nowhere (they were also the ones to take out Solove and Krimball in the following round). The other two teams did well enough to be positive and I’m sure as a whole Case was happy with its performance at ITA’s. No matter what Coach Woj will have these guys playing good, disciplined doubles and they will be taking early leads into singles once again this year.
As you can tell from their schedule Case Western is ready for a brawl this season. They put themselves in harms way nearly every weekend. I give them mad props. Nothing worse than having talent but no way to prove it (cough, Denison, cough). Having some much needed experience at the top will be huge for these guys and if other key players can step up into their new roles I really only see these guys moving up in the rankings.
They start with NC Wesleyan, Mary Wash, and Vassar. This is a perfect opening weekend in my opinion. They get some solid competition, but all are matches that are fairly easy wins for the team. No disrespect to these other teams, but Case is improving up and down and NC Wesleyan lost their 2-5 S, Mary Wash has been below these guys the past couple years and Vassar just doesn’t have the depth to compete. I see Case walking away 3-0 on the weekend beating each team 6-3 or better.
Next weekend, I worry they may have overloaded themselves; Depauw, Whitewater, and Wash U. Depauw and Whitewater are gritty, hard-fighting teams that will match the intensity of Case. Wash U simply has the talent stand toe-to-toe and has the “We’ve been here before” thing working for them. This could be a big make-or-break weekend. I see Case beating Depauw in a tough 6-3 match. The next day the Warhawks will be hungry to avenge their loss from 2 years ago, but I’m sure Coach Woj will not let his guys have a let down and they will repeat with a 5-4 win. Finally, after two grueling matches they face Wash U… Ouch. I really want to pick Case here but will they have the mental and physical energy to do so? I’m gonna go on limb and say they pull it off. They jumped out 3-0 last year and got wiped in singles. I think they put together a doubles show and get a couple singles wins to win 5-4 and be on an absolute cloud 9 high.
They finally have some “weaker” teams where I see them rolling through Ohio Northern, Earlham, and Kzoo. Afterwards, it’s off to Cali boyyyyyyyy. Whittier, Trinity, Redlands, Bowdoin, and the Stag-Hen….Are you kidding? Have I mentioned how good this schedule is? I’m going to predict wins over Whittier and Redlands. All in all, they will get some much needed experience and bulletin board material for when UAA’s roll around. The importance of this trip for Case cannot be overstated. If they want to finally qualify for NCAA’s in Pool C bid they need a win over a Redlands, Bowdoin, or Trinity. I think they can do it this year.
They end with Kenyon and a 3 match stint of lesser opponents, before finishing with conference. The Kenyon match could be epic. If Case is hot going in, Kenyon might overlook them as NCAA’s draw near. I for one don’t see that happening and I think Kenyon will win 6-3. Heading into conference Case could be feeling very confident. Unfortunately, this conference is absolutely packed with talent. This might be one of the most competitive UAA’s in a long time. I see them losing in the semis to Wash U team hungry for redemption if my other predictions are correct. They will be on the fence for a Pool C, and I think they finally get in. From there, I have no idea where they may end up but if they get a favorable draw I could see these guys in the final 8. That’s about as far as I see them and for that to happen they need a little help.
Overall, this has to be Case Westerns best shot to make it into the national spotlight and they have all the pieces in place. Can they rise up and beat the big dogs this year? I’m a believer, but only time will tell. I think they finish around 11th in the nation and get some much deserved recognition for their efforts.