From here on out, I will be writing a “Best of the Rest” column to cover the activity of the other regionally ranked tennis teams that never get any attention from this blog. I’m sure UT-Tyler will soon be joining the national ranking, but the rest of these guys are deserving of attention too. This column will provide an abbreviated look at some of the other regionally ranked teams on the brink of national relevancy
Overview: Early last year, it appeared UT-Tyler would fade into obscurity, but by adding the Ryans Spencer and Ybarra, the Patriots have found a recruiting niche that should have them back into the national rankings in no time. Of the teams in this column, Tyler is the only one with a significant national ranking history, so here it is.
Tyler is in prime position this year. They return 1,2, 4, 5, 6, but you can expect those bottom guys not to see much playing time. With Ybarra coming in from Texas Tech, Spencer and Singer will move down to 2 and 3. Ramon Martinez, another new transfer from Foothill CC, will probably slot in at 4 or higher, and they have a wealth of options for depth.
We get our first look at Tyler in a couple days, as they look to score an upset against GAC. I’m in the minority, but I actually think they have a decent chance. If they can avoid a doubles sweep, it should come down to the wire. The Pats could also conceivably upset UC Santa Cruz or Whitman, but they have to look out for UT-Dallas. They finish the year against Trinity, but I don’t think they’ve gained enough ground to upset their rivals. Ybarra leaves next year, however, so they need to capitalize on his presence this year. I would be stunned if they didn’t finish in the top 25.
#10 UT Dallas
The Comets have been a fringe team in the West region, but they’re continually getting better. They lost a 5-4 match to Tyler in the middle of the season last year when they took a lead in doubles and nearly stole three doubles matches, but took a step back in a 5-0 loss at the end of the season. This fall, they had the most national success in recent history when their doubles team of Dustin Foster and Casey Clark made the regional doubles final. They could potentially sneak a doubles team into the national championships this year the same way Tyler did last year, but with Tyler improving, 10th in the region is about the best they can do this year.
Like Tyler, UT-Dallas also feeds of transfers. Clark and Byron Cole are both transfers from Collin College, and will provide more depth than the Comets have ever had. Senior Matt Davis is the returning #1 singles player. They also return a #2 in Bryan Leib and a #6 in Portela. Unfortunately, they lost their most consistent winner in Kaasjager, but we never know who they’ll bring in to replace him.
The Comets have created a very appropriate schedule here. The big matches to look out for are against Mississippi College, Ozarks, Hardin-Simmons, Salisbury, and Kalamazoo. Mississippi will probably be the best early-season barometer of their improvement. I think they repeat victories over Ozarks and Hardin-Simmons to maintain their regional ranking, and get the upset over Kalamazoo. Salisbury has fallen on some hard times, but they’re still a hard-working team with several good players. A good match between middling regionally ranked teams. Unfortunately, I don’t think the Comets are even close to Tyler this year, so they won’t be getting to the NCAA tournament.
#11 George Fox
George Fox is a team that was absolutely terrible just three years ago. Since then, they’ve built a roster on mediocre CC transfers. Their development is apparently very good, as they were able to win individual matches against the likes of Whitman and UC Santa Cruz last year. They don’t appear ready to challenge Whitman for the conference championship, but they’re definitely on the way up. Their season will basically be defined by whether or not they can beat Pacific and keep moving forward.
George Fox returns their top 5, and adds a freshman in Chris Lilley who will almost certainly start. Despite playing #3 last year, their best player is Justin McClain, who won singles matches against both Whitman and UCSC last year. Shawn Aldrich and Preston Mann, both transfers, are probably their next two guys. After that, they have another transfer in Andrew Milton, and a couple more guys with some starting experience.
The Bruins have actually already started their season with a loss to UC Davis in which McClain took a set off Davis’ #1. Their biggest matches are against Whitman, Pacific, Sewanee, and Vassar. There’s basically no chance they beat Whitman, and I really think Sewanee is going to be good this year. If the Bruins can beat Pacific and Vassar, however, they season will be a great success.
#12 Pacific University
Pacific and George Fox have a lot in common. They’re both NWC teams that have come out of nowhere in recent years. The Boxers have this ranking based almost entirely on regular season matches against Grinnel and George Fox. They did, however, lose 8-1 to Colby, illustrating how thin the West region gets after the top 10. Similarly, the success of their season will basically be judged on whether or not they can beat the Bruins and not much else.
Pacific returns 1, 3, and 4. Like Fox, it appears their former #3 singles player is their best. Giancarlo Battaglia got to the semifinals of the regional tournament this year, picking up a pair of victories over a couple of Whitman’s non-starters on the way and pushing Malesovas to 3 sets. Troy Zuroske, a two-year #1 singles player, will probably slide down to 2 this year, and Brandon Schlack, Pacific’s only player to win a singles match off Whitman last year, will probably move up to #3. After those three, it’s really impossible for me to predict who will fill out the singles line up, which makes me think George Fox will be a little better this year.
Pacific has matches against Whitman and Middlebury, but their big ones are really against George Fox and Occidental. They split 5-4 decisions with Fox last year, but, like I said, it appears the Bruins are slightly stronger, as they weren’t hit as hard by graduation. The Boxers are currently ranked ahead of Oxy, but I think the Tigers will win that one and bump Pacific down around 15th in the region.
Occidental is a team that really should be much better than they are. Their school has all the attributes of other successful teams. They’re stronger academically than either Whittier or Cal Lu. They’re located in So Cal. The only thing missing are decent tennis courts and coaching stability. Sure, they sniffed the national rankings last year when they beat a depleted Brandeis team. That won’t happen this year.
Oxy returns 1, 3, 4, and 6. It’s really too bad that former #2 Jeremy Shapiro is no longer on the roster, because with him, they would really be well positioned to make some moves in the region. Instead, they probably won’t be much better. Kevin Siebs, their #1 singles player, had some good matches last year, but isn’t really a threat to make individual nationals. Brown and Perkins were solid for them in the heart of the lineup last year, and they will be fine at 2 and 3 this year. Still, that won’t make them better than they were last year.
That being said, the Tigers have put together the perfect schedule. They can move up in the regional rankings with wins over Pacific and Chapman, and they can improve their national reputation by beating the likes of Brandeis, Sewanee, Connecticut College, and Carleton. The Tigers also play Mary Washington, Trinity (CT), Depauw, P-P, Cal Lu, Redlands, and Whittier. They will almost certainly take losses in all of those matches, but that will be great experience. This is a team that could definitely build some momentum moving forward with this season. With some new tennis courts, they’re just one good recruiting class from moving into the national rankings in a couple years.
The teams below 13 are completely incapable of challenging any of the top 10. Chapman is on the fringe region. They nearly beat Oxy last year, and return almost everyone. They also are recruiting better than the others in the 11-13 range, and have the advantage of being a Pool B team. The Panthers really only need to get a little bit better to make the post season, and I think the national bloggers would agree that would be good for everybody. Chapman in the post season=never shipping a good team to the already deadly California region=deeper regions elsewhere. Finally, Chapman’s #1, Justin Thompson, is actually a very good player. He’s a bit streaky, but he absolutely destroyed Siebs, beat Lipscomb and Spencer, and went 3 with Chafetz and McCook. If he can be more consistent this year, he might just earn a singles bid to NCAAs.