Great post on Stanford. A few points:
KH is essential. Having her play to her potential is critical......but only to get Stanford around the elite 8. Asking your 1,2,3 to essentially go undefeated against elite teams is just impossible, unless you have a top 3 of Zhao, Robin Anderson and Jamie Loeb. Then maybe you do that 95% of the time. This top 3 ---while elite-- is not unbeatable against great teams. Gibbs/Ahn at 3/4 is much deeper than this squad at 3/4. You're talking about a future world top 100 player and a player who won a $10k at 14 with US Open experience. No disrespect to the current group, but comparing that depth with this depth is a disservice to that older team. Gibbs and Ahn at 3/4 is nearly unbeatable and I'd venture to guess they never went 0-2 in a dual, without looking it up.
Second, I don't think the depth is there yet. It has potential, but it's young and not developed. This is why KH is essential, because they need to get wins from her somewhere, because my eyes tell me that all 3 freshman aren't good enough to carry the bottom of the lineup. I also think one of those freshmen is good enough to play 4, potentially, because of the upside to her game and her athleticism. However, as it stands, I'm not so sure this was the #1 class in the country. It's very good, but there were some really good classes out there that are in the conversation and perhaps better. Needless to say, "dominating" at the bottom of the lineup against elite teams won't happen.
Again, three freshmen is all potential. Rarely does everything break as it should, but for this team to believe it has a real shot, they will need to get a handful of positive breaks in their favor. God forbid someone gets injured..........then it breaks the other way, in a hurry.
I thought the earlier reference was about 2 or 3 losses before Zhao comes back. I think 2 or 3 total losses this whole season is not remotely possible. The more likely scenario is that the team runs the gauntlet, takes a few more losses, but is battle-tested for the NCAA tournament. I am agnostic and like seeing good tennis -- so not a Stanford hater or supporter -- and from where I sit, I believe this is going to be a challenging year by Stanford expectations. They will need to grow their games in a hurry. Not unheard of, but also not likely at the NCAA Champion level.
My reference to the depth is not comparing to that team, but addressing that its the first time the team had depth since then. Remember Kostas and Dillon at #6 and Stanford giving a game away and having to battle back to get a 4-3 victory. That is where the reference is. This year's team at least has a blue chip top 6, where previous line-ups did not.
With Zhao out of the line-up its kind of like when Gibbsy was out of the line-up playing pro tournaments, but that helped the team step up and play one slot higher. Sure they were rank outside the top 10, but they came back and beat 4 of the top 5 teams to win NCAA's.
USC did the same thing, last year when Sabs was out and that helped elevate their game to climb to #2. USC still has the monkey on their shoulder. Yeah they can trot around the stadium after beating Stanford, but until they are wearing the ring and their coach can talk about it like a champion, then its tough for that winning attitude to rub off players.
We can talk talent all we want, compare the talent of the past, but let's not forget the mental aspect of tennis, winning attitude, and team success from the past. That has a big role, unless a team can find some motivating factor to have that mental edge, like what Vanderbilt did last year.
If that mental aspect ignites Stanford's Trio Freshman then its not absurd to consider them a Top 4 team, not just a Top 8 team. We will see if it does or not, but history is on their side.
I could be wrong, but it's hard to overlook that Stanford usually is able to win every so often and now is that time.