We aren't being paid to come up with the rankings
The ITA rankings are pretty worthless; I've stopped putting any stock in them. For those of you who aren't familiar with College Tennis Today and Bobby Knight who runs the site, he has some incredible coverage of college tennis primarily covering men's tennis. He has been doing 2016 season previews for all of the top teams and they are impressively thorough. I won't go in to that much detail but thought it would be fun to share some of my thoughts/questions/predictions on this year's top teams
- After a historic run to the title last year as the underdog, how will Vandy transition from being the hunter to being the hunted? Thankfully for the Commodores, they return their top 4 from last year's winning lineup. Vandy's strength last year was their depth - they were solid at all 6 positions. Of the 4 returning starters, #3 Altick actually had the most impressive fall winning the Ohio Valley Regional beating teammates Campbell and Sharma in straight sets in the SF and F. She had two good wins in New York over Yurovsky and Perez before falling to Woolcock. I expect to see those 3 (Campbell, Sharma, Altick) rotating among the top 3 and don't expect the order to be solidified until late in the season. A few questions for the Dores as they begin the 2016 season: Will we see Sellyn back in the line up? She redshirted last year but the year before was playing #1. She didn't play any fall matches so it remains to be seen but if she's healthy that will be a very solid addition to Vandy's line up. Lastly, who will step up to play #6? (Or #5 and #6 if Sellyn doesn't play). If Sellyn doesn't play then the Dores will struggle to be competitive at #5 and #6 with their only plausible options being Yates, Conteras, and Dvorak. I expect we'll see Yates followed by Conteras in the depth chart. Overall:
If Sellyn is healthy and in the lineup, I think Vandy will remain one of the top teams this year but I don't think they will repeat as NCAA champions. Without Sellyn I see a NCAA SF finish at best.
- Many picked USC to win it all last year but they fell short losing to Vanderbilt in the SFs. This year's USC squad loses two key players to graduation: Santamaria and Scandalis, both played at the top of the lineup while at USC and provided strong leadership to an otherwise young USC squad last year. The good news for USC, however, is that one of their biggest strengths last year was their bottom of the lineup where they had 3 freshman (Westby, Smith, Xepoleas) who had stellar debuts.The three freshman combined for a 43-13 dual match record. None of the three had a breakout sophomore fall so a big question for the Trojans will be how these three fair if they have to move up in the lineup. The other player returning from last year's lineup is Gugu Olmos who played mostly at #2 last year with great success (11-1). I expect Olmost to anchor the Trojans at #1 this year even though she didn't have a great fall season. She went 1-5 with her only win coming in her first match of the year against #9 Wagner. It should be noted that her 5 losses all came to top 20 players including Collins, Carter, and Elbaba. I expect Failla (FR), Katz (JR), and Valdes (FR) to compete for the remaining 2 spots. These 3 don't come close to replacing Santamaria or Scandalis. They'll be able to plug the holes in the lineup but after Olmos (who is no where near a lock at #1) the level drops off and so far it looks like #2-#6 are all pretty even which is great for depth but those players would all be suited at #4-#6 better. Against top teams I expect USC to struggle in the middle of the lineup. Overall:
A solid team that will contend for the pac-12 title and whose depth will probably take them far. Based on the teams this year, I could see USC possibly making the final but as it stands right now I'd be surprised if they bested last year's NCAA SF result.
- Watch out, the gators return all 6 of their starters from last year plus Danilina from Russia who had decent fall results. The big story on the Florida roster is the stellar fall season Woolcock had. She had wins over #1 Eidukonyte, #9 Wagner, teammate #11 Austin, #10 Fabikova, and reached the QFs of Riviera and the SFs of NIIC. She's currently in Australia playing WTA qualifying (thanks to WC's). Based on her fall form I expect to see her at #2 behind Austin as the season begins. The gators are extremely strong top to bottom with Austin one of the best players in the country despite not having the fall she probably hoped. In the middle of the lineup will be Kuhlman (who went 16-5 at #2 last year), Morgan (17-4 at #3 last year) and Keegan (6-2 at #4, 8-1 at #5). That leaves the Gators will 3 decent options for #6: Liang who had a solid fall, Porter, or Danilina. Overall:
On paper right now I think this is the strongest team and they are my early favorite to win the NCAA title. Even if you gift their opponents the doubles point, you'd be hard pressed to find another team that would be favored to take 3 singles points against this squad.
#T-4 Georgia -
Georgia enters the season facing the big loss of Lauren Herring who has held down the #1 spot for the Dawgs since Chelsey Gullickson. The remaining 5 players all return with the majority of UGA's roster being sophomores. Taking Herring's spot will most likely be last year's #2, the hard-hitting lefty from down under Ellen Perez. Perez has the biggest forehand in college and great hands at net and when she's on her game she can reach unplayable levels but...that doesn't happen often. Perez's freshman season was solid but sometimes plagued with errors and occasional lethargy. It appeared in the fall that Perez had begun to harness her power and get in better shape and it led to solid results beating #9 Wagner, and #2 Di Lorenzo. Georgia needs Perez firing on all cylinders for a chance to win it all. Georgia did have one player with a breakout fall: Caroline Brinson who was a solid #6 for the dawgs last year going 15-3 at that position.. Brinson won the Southeast Regional beating Kuhlman, teammate Shaffer, Keegan, and Wagner. Expect to see her higher in the line up this year. The remainder of UGA's lineup will be made up of 3 sophomores and senior Garcia. Garcia has played at the top of the line up for much of her time at UGA. She struggled last season, going through quite a losing streak, but seemed to regain form towards the end of the season. Her fall results were okay, nothing too encouraging or discouraging, so I expect we'll still see her in a similar position this year. Shaffer played #3 and #4 last year (switching with Garcia) and was 8-4 and 8-2 at those respective positions. Her fall results were okay but the main concern should be injuries. She's quite injury prone and it's important she stay healthy throughout the season. The last of the sophomore trio who started in the top 6 is Hannah King. King struggled with injuries towards the end of her junior career but really seemed to round into form towards the end of the season. She played primarily at #5 last year and went 14-2. She didn't have a great fall (went 4-5) but I expect for her to continue to be a solid bottom half of the lineup contributor. Lastly, another sophomore, Gould or Patterson will play #6. Gould saw some action early on last year and went 5-1 in dual matches but quickly dropped out of the top 6; Patterson didn't play in a dual match last year. Based on fall results I expect Gould to play primarily #6. Overall
UGA is similar to USC for me. A decent #1 and then 5 strong, not too unequal players, all of whom would be best suited playing #4 - #6 on a championship winning team. I expect UGA to have competitive matches with Vanderbilt and Florida in the SEC but see them probably finishing their season in the QFs.
#T-4 North Carolina -
UNC loses reigning NCAA singles champion Jamie Loeb and their #3 Caroline Price. Combined with Hayley Carter, the heels went an astonishing 70-11 at the top 3 spots last year. Arguably the strongest top 3 in the country. Needless to say the loss of Loeb and Price hurt. Their achilles heel last year was the lower half of the lineup so the big question this season is how UNC makes up for two huge losses at the top of the lineup. Currently ranked #6, Hayley Carter will take over at #1 for the Tar Heels. Carter has had an incredible collegiate career so far and continued her success this past fall with only 3 losses (Yurovsky, Elbaba, and Di Lorenzo). There's no question Carter will hold down the #1 position, the bigger question is who fills the other top of the lineup spots? Now a senior, it seems Kay has perennially played #3 or #4 for the heels (she went 16-8 at #4 last year). Could she step up in her senior year to play #2? Maybe but she only went 3-3 in the fall season and didn't have any wins to suggest she's ready to play #2 at a top 5 school. Perhaps the more likely option is freshman from Minnesota, Jessie Aney. The highly touted blue chip recruit had a solid fall season going 9-3. However 8 of those wins came against unranked players, the only ranked win was over #55 Mai El Kamash from Ole Miss. Rounding out the UNC top 6 will most likely be seniors Dai, Vialle, and Baylor Transfer James-Baker. Dai went 8-4 at #5 last year and 4-2 at #6 while Vialle went 6-1 at #5 and 6-4 at #6. Both Dai and Vialle will have to step it up in their senior seasons and perform better than last year to strength UNC's lower line up since their top 3 won't be as strong as last year. James-Baker didn't see much action last season at Baylor but did go 5-3 at #4 and had a clutch win over Skylar Morton to beat UVA in the round of 16 of last years NCAAs. Other lineup options for UNC include Vazquez and freshman Ouellet-Pizer. Both had some decent results in the fall so I wouldn't be too surprised to see them rotated into the lineup especially over James-Baker. Overall:
I don't think this UNC team is a top 5 team. They just don't have the necessary firepower. I expect them to drop to around 8-12 by the time the season is over. I predict they'll make the R16 and maybe squeak into the QFs with a good draw.
I'll preview the remaining top 10 teams this weekend and feature some dark horses as well. Let me know your thoughts! Excited to start the season!
(Forgive any typos please)
#12 OK State