College Tennis Buys and Sells: Spring 2015
Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
The college tennis season is in full swing and conference play is heating up as the weather gets hotter all around the country. Here is a look at whose stock you should buy and whose stock you should sell as we go deeper into conference play.
UNC-Wilmington: UNCW has been a strong mid-major program, for years now but early this season the Seahawks looked to be a much weaker version of previous years teams. A loss to UNC-Greensboro seemed to seal UNCW’s fate as 2015 being a rebuilding year. But the Seahawks had other ideas. They fought back and got big wins over Drake and Penn State, both top 45 teams to launch themselves into the rankings at 49 and cement their place as a strong mid-major team once again in 2015.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies have surprised a lot of people early in the ACC season. They started ACC play by upsetting Notre Dame which was a very positive start to the conference season but the real eye-opener was the 6-1 domination of Duke, without #1 player Amerigo Contini. Since then VT survived a tough test from NC State, who was all set to take an important upset win, but the Hokies dug in and denied the Wolfpack the win. A huge part of the Hokies success and their rise to #16 in the nation has been the play of Hunter Koontz, who has only 1 loss this season at the number 4 and 3 positions.
Eric Johnson: The USC Trojan senior has become a rock for his team in the midpoint of the lineup this season. He has only one loss on the dual season and has been beating his opponents by lopsided scores, including ranked players Ralf Steinbach and Maxime Tchoutakian.
Quentin Monaghan: The Notre Dame leader at #1 has been one of the top players in the nation all season. However what he lacked was a signature win, but he got that Friday with a straight set win over Virginia’s Ryan Shane, improving to 6-1 vs ranked opponents in the past month with his only loss coming to the #1 ranked player in the country, Sebastian Stiefelmeyer of Louisville. He is leading the charge on what has been a big of a rebuilding year for the Irish.
Matches on TV: College tennis fans have been able to enjoy college tennis on TV this year more than ever. Just in the past few weeks, matches have been shown on ESPN3, the Pac 12 network and the Longhorn Network. The broadcasts have been well done and have been exciting for every involved. Hopefully we see even more of this in the future.
Cameron Norrie: The TCU freshman burst onto the scene in the fall with several huge wins and skyrocketed to the ITA top 20 immediately. He was widely expected to be a stalwart at #1 for the Horned Frogs all season. However the Kiwi has come on hard times recently. After losing 5 of 8 at the #1 position he was moved down to #2 and is now playing at #3 for TCU. In the past two weeks he has had two lopsided losses to unranked players (6-1 6-3 to Ettore Zito of MTSU and 6-1 6-1 to Chris Kipouras of Dartmouth). He still has time to regain his fall form, but TCU will need him as the season gets to the business end.
SEC veterans: This year has seen 3 SEC players have unexpectedly horrendous seasons, players that had been very solid in previous years. Andrew Adams of South Carolina, Hunter Reese of Tennessee and Harrison Adams of Texas A&M. All 3 of these SEC veterans have piled up the losses in the spring of 2015. Adams and Reese are leaving their schools on low notes, as the senior leaders combine for 2 wins on the season vs teams with a pulse (Andrew Adams has wins over A&M and Stanford while Reese has zero wins of significance). Harrison Adams likewise has had dreadful results. The junior Aggie currently has ZERO wins vs any team since the dual season began. The struggle of these 3 once very good SEC players is baffling and goes to show that any slip in game can cost you dearly in stout college tennis competition.
Naoki Takeda making the NCAA individual field: Arizona men’s tennis has been in bad shape for a while now, but despite the horrible season they are having this year the one bright spot has been Takeda who was as highly ranked as #29 in the nation this year. However in the past few matches he has had two troubling losses to unranked players, which has put his chances of representing Arizona in the NCAA individual tournament in May in jeopardy. The blow of his loss to Peter Nagy of Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has softened with Nagy going into the rankings at 73 but his loss to Garrett Patton of Boise State is still very damaging. His high ranking is tenuously based off the strength of a lone win over Dominik Koepfer of Tulane. He will need one more big scalp in Pac 12 play if he wants to play in the 64 player draw in May in Waco.
The Pac 12: While usually a tennis powerhouse, the Pac 12 has been one of the weaker major conferences this season. Southern Cal is a smidge weaker than they have been in the previous championship winning seasons and UCLA is a top 15 now rather than a top 5 team like in the past few years. The top of the conference has gone down a bit but the real struggle has been in the lower parts of the conference. Oregon, Arizona, Washington and Utah would all miss the tournament if the tournament started today and while Oregon and Washington have a chance to make the tournament if they can get some wins coming up, Utah and Arizona both have no chance. Cal is also ranked much lower (low 20s) than they have been recently and Stanford is right around the NCAA tournament bubble. If the Pac 12 wants to be regarded as a top tennis conference again, they must have multiple top 30 teams. Teams like the bottom 4 must improve and strengthen the depth that the other major conferences currently have.
Match abandonment: This controversial practice is the norm in conference play for the Pac 12 and the SEC. It creates a ton of unfinished singles matches, many of which are very close to finish anyway. Recently Xander Veys of UNC-Wilmington was up 4 match points on #38 Ben Lott of Drake when a match on an adjacent court finished clinching the match for UNCW. Ben Lott just stopped playing and walked away, robbing Veys of a big ranked win. Match abandonment makes for uneven records, as some players in the SEC have more unfinished matches than finished ones and it messes up individual rankings for the whole nation. Teams and players would benefit from every match being finished (within reason) as they do in the Big Ten and in the ACC.