In the comments section of my other post discussing the Elite 8, someone asked me to discuss what’s on the line for each team reputation-wise this week in Cary. As I’ve stated a couple times, I believe each team has a reputation among the D3 community, and typically that reputation is a hard one to shake. However, along with the National Indoors, this is the best time of year for teams to help their reputation and improve the belief that everyone has in them. D3tennisguy likes to make picks for every match, and a lot of his picking is influenced by what certain programs have done in past years. For example, despite the fact that Bowdoin was a powerhouse this year, he kept picking against them because they have a tendency to lose to every team ranked above them. Whether or not your roster looks brand new, your historical consistency influences your reputation, and that’s what I hope to discuss here.
Wash U – Nothing to lose. The Bears have their weakest team since 2006 and are in completely over their heads. I don’t think their reputation as a clutch annual contender will change. Now, if they follow up this season with another regular season in the 12-18 range in 2013, people may start second guessing them. But for now, they have no seniors, they had some unfortunate occurrences in the bottom of their lineup and they had a decent year that wasn’t up to their standards. This is still an excellent winning program that had made 4 consecutive Final 4s and has won a national title recently. If you talk to the Bears, the thing they will be most upset about is getting crushed by Emory two years in a row in the UAA final because that’s how they measure themselves.
Hopkins – Nothing to lose, a lot to gain. They already got past their most important match this tournament and are now up against a better team. They shook their reputation of not being able to win in the Sweet 16, and their freshmen have the opportunity to start a new era of Hopkins tennis. They’ve done their job this year and if they somehow manage to get past the quarters, we’ll talk about that when it happens. For now, I see them as a team in the bottom half of the first tier who’s not quite ready to win a national title. But they also have to follow up this year with a good Indoors performance and another Final 8 next year. This looks to be the first year ever they may finish single digits in the rankings, so that’s a big step for them.
Bowdoin – Nothing to lose, not much to gain. This reminds me of Carnegie in 2010. It’s a second tier program that has spent a year playing like a first tier program. Carnegie has fallen drastically the past 2 years, and therefore I have my eye on Bowdoin’s next 2-3 seasons rather than their performance next week. If they make the final we will talk about it when it happens, but I don’t know if they gain all that much reputation-wise if they beat Williams. If they lose, it’s no big deal. But we don’t know yet if the stars aligned and everything clicked just for this year or if Conor Smith is going to take this program to the next level. To me, they are still “#4 in NESCAC” until they consistently perform like Herst, Williams and Midd have over the years.
CMS – Little bit to lose, a lot to gain. If they win, lose, win they maintain their reputation as the elite program that can’t come through in the clutch. No one questions CMS is a fantastic team, but people do question if they can win a national title. If they lose to Kenyon, a very good team, they really don’t lose that much in my mind because I’d make the assumption they are just closing on a shaky year. For them to shake their reputation, they have to beat Amherst. It’s a tall task, but Herst beat CMS in the 2010 semis when the Stags were the better team and that win coupled with Emory the previous day put Herst in the “clutch and elite” category. CMS is already in the top tier of teams and the next step is a national title. Yes, Amherst is great this year, but they are going to be great for many more years. If CMS wants to make the jump from a great program to a championship or winning program, they know what they have to do.
Kenyon – Little bit to lose, a lot to gain. This has been a very good program since 2008, and they’ve consistently established themselves in the bottom half of the first tier of teams. They had a slight slip in 2010, but they’ve now qualified for 4 of the last 5 Final 8s, which is pretty impressive if you ask me. The thing haunting Kenyon is their lack of really big wins. If my memory serves me correctly, they’ve only won 2 matches in the past 5 years that they really weren’t expected to win. That would be CMS in the 2008 Stag-Hen semis and Cruz in 2009 Indoors first round. Other than that, they beat who they should and lose to who they should. Beating CMS, a more talented team, and making their first ever Final 4 would surely help them shake that reputation. This has been a consistent quarterfinalist and 5-9 team in the rankings, and while that’s very good, I’d be surprised if they don’t want more.
Williams – Little bit to lose, little bit to gain. In Dan Greenberg’s first year as head coach, the Ephs missed the Elite 8 for the first time in about 15 years. 2 years later, they are ready to contend for a national title. This is the best example of how one match can change a team. In 2010, Williams was a second tier team. In 2011, Williams was a team in the bottom half of the first tier. They went to the Final 8 last year and beat CMS in a match no one expected them to win and they entered 2012 with national title aspirations despite having an identical roster. Although they haven’t won anything in quite some time, people still think of this team as an elite and winning program because of that match. This is the year they have to follow it up. They’ve got the team to win this thing, so I think more than anyone, they have a lot riding on this week. They will have a great core of seniors next year, so if they can turn in a 1st, 2nd or 3rd this week, they will enter 2013 the same way they entered 2012.
Emory – Lot to lose, lot to gain. First, I want to establish that this is an unbelievable program. I believe they’ve come a long way in the past couple years when it comes to shaking off the reputation they are jerks. I don’t see that in the current Emory teams. They are very focused and have raised their level as D3 has improved. All you have to do if you want to know about Emory is look at the fact that they will most likely finish top 5 in the national rankings for the 13th consecutive year. I have the utmost respect for this team and even losing their two stud seniors, they are going to be a serious contender next year. Even if they somehow lose to Hopkins, their reputation as an elite national title contender doesn’t change. However, there is one thing that should scare the Eagles this week. They have a chance to establish a reputation as “Amherst’s Doormat.” While being the 2nd best team in the country is a great accomplishment for most, Emory doesn’t want that. If they get to another final and lose again to Amherst for the 3rd consecutive year, everyone, including the Eagles, will start questioning whether they can beat the Jeffs. If they somehow win, they are the kings of D3 again and it will give 3 years of confidence and match toughness to their already unbelievable freshman class.
Amherst – Not much to lose, a lot to gain. I said at the end of last year that this team can win 5 national titles in a row and I stick to that. As long as they keep recruiting at the level they have been, the sky is the limit. They have a chance to conclude great careers for Chafetz and Waterman, 2 players who probably don’t get as much credit as they deserve. Amherst has already established the reputation as the best team in D3 and the annual national title favorite, and even if they somehow lose this year, with 3 of their top 4 back and with their depth and incoming freshmen, they are definitely the national title favorite heading into 2013. The thing I have my eye on the most is if they maintain the reputation of “these guys raise their game in May.” As I’ve said, it’s unclear whether they were actually that good or just that hungry for the title last year. If Amherst wins again, and with the same ease that they did last year, this is a dynasty in the making. The level of D3 keeps rising each year, and frankly what these guys have done the past 3 years has been the true catalyst for that.
And just for the record…my picks which will end up being perfect.
Amherst d. Wash U 5-0
CMS d. Kenyon 5-2
Williams d. Bowdoin 5-2
Emory d. Hopkins 5-0
Amherst d. CMS 5-2
Emory d. Williams 5-1
Williams d. CMS 5-3
Amherst d. Emory 5-3