Pre-Tournament Men’s College Tennis Grades: Big 12 and Pac 12
Jeff McMillan, Tennis Atlantic
Best Win: 4-3 at Baylor – The frenzy that was this titanic match between #1 and #2 ended in favor of the Sooners on enemy turf. In a season full of impressive wins and fending off challengers, this win stands alone as the most impressive of the season for John Roddick’s boys.
Worst Loss: 4-3 loss at Texas Tech- Following the massive win in Waco, the Sooners fell in Lubbock to the upstart Red Raiders who had been playing better and better as the season progressed. This loss was disappointing but overall did not affect the Sooner’s ranking and therefore is not a detrimental loss.
Team MVP: Axel Alvarez – Andrew Harris and Dane Webb also strong contenders for this award, especially considering the clutch nature of Webb all season. But it is hard to argue against undefeated in dual play. Alvarez’s amazing season has anchored the Sooners all spring and he has been the key to their rise to #1.
A great season all around for Oklahoma, with huge wins all over the place. They have defied the doubters time and time again. The true value of their season will be determined in the NCAA tournament. If they can take home the title it will be one of the best seasons of any team in recent memory.
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Virginia – The first win over Virginia indoors in Chicago gets the nod as the Bears best win of the season because it set the tone. By beating the prohibitive indoor favorites, the Bears showed that they meant business in 2015 and were one of the teams to be reckoned with nationally
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Oklahoma – The Bears have lost to the Sooners 3 times this year and it is the 3rd loss that is the worst of the bunch. Yes it was very close but it was the most disheartening because of the raucous crowd and how very nearly Baylor came to winning. This loss could be a confidence bruiser if the Bears are to face Oklahoma again in the Big 12 tournament or the NCAA tournament.
Team MVP: Julian Lenz – Lenz is the #1 ranked individual player in the nation right now and his results back that ranking up. He has been amazing all season. Maxime Tchoutakian’s insertion into the team in January has been critical as well but he does not get this award based on his poor record vs. the elite teams this season.
The season that Baylor was hoping for as they entered 2015. They have exceeded expectations to a degree and been even better than people were expecting thanks to the overall strength of the lineup where no weak spots can be found. Losing 3 times vs. a conference rival is not ideal, however they still have chances to remedy that as postseason begins.
Best Win: 4-0 vs. Texas A&M – The sheer domination of this win was impressive and gets the nod as the best win for the Horned Frogs in 2015. A 4-0 blanking with the 3 finished singles courts ending in lopsided scores. A&M has since gone on to win the SEC title which makes this dominating win ever more impressive.
Worst Loss: 4-1 vs. UCLA – At the time this loss did not seem to be that bad, but now that the Bruins have shown that they are a shadow at best of previous UCLA teams, this loss stands out as the lone bad blemish on TCU’s resume.
Team MVP: Guillermo Nunez – Going from starting the season at #6 and rising to winning matches vs. highly ranked opponents at #2 is just about the most impressive advancement any player can show in one season. The freshman from Chile lost 1 dual match all season and has been TCU’s rock all year long.
After a heartbreaking 2014 season where the Horned Frogs found any and every way possible to lose 4-3 matches vs. highly ranked teams, 2015 was cathartic is so many ways. All the talent came together for a special season that will likely not end until deep into NCAA tournament play.
Best Win: 4-1 vs. Ohio State – A straightforward defense of their home city (even if it is not their true home courts at Caswell) earns the title of best win for the Longhorns. Ohio State never truly threatened in this match, which is what made this win so impressive.
Worst Loss: 4-1 at TCU – This loss was disappointing for the Longhorns because of how one-sided it was. TCU won 3 straight set matches in singles play to get the win. This convincing loss plus two other one-sided losses vs. Baylor and Oklahoma showed that there is a gap between the top 3 of the Big 12 and Texas.
Team MVP: Soren Hess-Olesen – Was the best player in the country for much of the dual season. And while he picked up a couple of losses late in the year, Soren still remained an almost sure point for Texas all year and because of that gave Texas a chance in each match they competed in.
The regular season started out stronger than it ended. They are still a top 10 team nationally, but the lopsided losses to the 3 teams above them in the Big 12 shows that there is a gap there. It is a bit disappointing for the Horns that TCU has been able to surpass them in one season, especially with it being the senior year for the top 3 of Soren Hess Olesen, Lloyd Glasspool and Adrien Berkowicz.
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Oklahoma – Without this win the season was very good, but nothing special. But with this win the Red Raiders turned their season into something potentially special. This huge upset over the previously bulletproof Sooners gives Texas Tech a chance to host a regional and make a run in the NCAA tournament.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Clemson – A loss to a team that is just barely hanging on in the top 75 is dragging down Texas Tech like an anchor. Without this loss they would be pretty safely assured of a regional host slot, but with this loss it will be a very close call.
Team MVP: Alex Sendegeya – The freshman has posted pivotal wins in many of Texas Tech’s most critical wins. He (along with Jolan Cailleau) has been a key cog at #3 and bridges the teams strong top 2 with their not quite as strong 5 and 6 position players. His dominant 6-2 6-3 win over Dane Webb over Oklahoma set the tone for the massive upset.
The season has turned into a lot more than what anyone was expecting as March rolled into April. This team appears to be peaking at just the right time, getting all of their hiccups (Clemson, New Mexico) out of the way early and now they can focus on tournament play looking dangerous.
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Tulsa – Tulsa is the highest ranked team that Oklahoma State defeated all season and they did so in dramatic 3rd set breaker fashion courtesy of Arjun Kadhe over Alejandro Espejo. Tulsa would go on to prove that they were a pretty formidable team, so this win stands alone for the Cowboys.
Worst Loss: 4-3 at Notre Dame – Another match that came down to the absolute wire, but this time on the wrong end for Oklahoma State. This was a big chance to get a huge early season win on the road, but the loss was a heartbreaker and ended up being damaging the whole season.
Team MVP: Lucas Gerch – Only lost 1 dual match prior to the start of Big 12 play and had a signature win over Lloyd Glasspool of Texas in the Big 12 opener. His strong play at the #3 and then the #2 position was critical for Oklahoma State staying in the NCAAA tournament range all season.
A decent season for Oklahoma State in 2015 and it was one that mirrored the previous season of 2014 perfectly. Maybe a little bit more improvement was expected from the Cowboys considering the returning players and the renaissance that was the 2014 season. Still, the Cowboys will be in the NCAA tournament again and will have a chance to do more.
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Southern Cal – This win was the one announcing Stanford’s ambition to return to the top of the college tennis world. All season there were signs of improvement but this win showed that the improvement was real and that the Cardinal may be headed back to the elite soon.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Cal – All momentum gained from the USC win was lost after losing this match at home on senior day vs. rival Cal. The win over USC should have propelled Stanford to a new level, one above the level of Cal but instead they allowed their bay area rivals to drag them back down again.
Team MVP: Tom Fawcett – Playing all season at #1, the freshman was a stalwart for the Cardinals, immune to some of the ups and downs that the other Stanford players faced throughout the year.
By traditional Stanford standards this season was another poor one but based on very recent seasons 2015 was a year of growth and a positive one overall. A lack of ambition in scheduling prevented Stanford from climbing higher in the rankings. The team is talented and we will see how well they can do in the NCAA tournament coming up and if they can pull anymore big upsets.
Best Win: 4-0 at Georgia – The first of two wins over UGA this year for the Trojans. This one is the more impressive considering it was in Athens and it was a 4-0 sweep. This win showed that the Trojans weren’t going anywhere this year.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Tulsa – An absolute stunner at the time. Tulsa was ranked out of the top 50 and Southern Cal was looking just as dominant as they look every year, so this match was not even on anyone’s radar as interesting let alone as a potential upset. This shocking loss started the downward trend for USC’s season.
Team MVP: Eric Johnson – Was racking up the wins even when Yannick Hanfmann and Roberto Quiroz hit rough patches and it is important to note that he was not in the line-up on the day the Trojans lost to Tulsa at home.
Being in the top 10 is an outstanding season for most programs but when you have won 5 out of the last 6 national titles, simply being in the top 10 is not considered an achievement. The Trojans had a couple of head scratching losses this year (Tulsa, Stanford) and looked less than elite in losses vs. Baylor and Oklahoma. However, there is still time for them to capture that postseason magic that they seem to always have.
Best Win: 4-1 vs. TCU – The Bruins only win against a top 10 team this year and it stands out as the most impressive win on the season by far.
Worst Loss: 4-3 vs. Florida – Losing to a Gator team that is outside the top 20 currently was a bad way to start the season for UCLA. After dropping a tough match vs. UGA, the Bruins were hoping to gain some redemption against another SEC foe but instead the road trip out east turned into an 0-2 letdown.
Team MVP: Mackenzie McDonald – Has elevated his play this season and taken Macros Giron’s void fairly nicely at the #1 spot. One of the top players in the college game.
A pretty poor season overall by UCLA Bruin standards. Their NCAA quarterfinal streak is in serious jeopardy with their current ranking barely even being in the hosting range. It was always going to be tough to replace Giron and Thompson but UCLA tennis is used to reloading every year with new talent and this year it just has not happened to the same degree.
Best Win: 4-3 at Stanford – Sweet revenge for the Cal bears to end the regular season. Having suffered a crushing 4-3 loss to Stanford earlier in the year, they delivered a defeat on the Cardinal themselves as Nolan Paige of Stanford was unable to do what Maciek Romanowicz was able to do in the first meeting (rally to win in the 3rd set in the clinching match).
Worst Loss: 4-2 at San Diego State – This loss set the Bears back quite a bit. It set the Aztecs season in motion but it was nearly just as damaging for Cal. It showed that this year’s team had taken a step back from last year.
Team MVP: Gregory Bayane – Squeaks past Andre Gorannson for this award based on his solid record at #3 singles all year. Even during Cal’s struggles you could count on Bayane to deliver a win and give the team a chance to get the W.
It is hard to grade Cal’s season. They had some ups and some downs following the departure of Ben McLachlan from a season ago. They had a good returning roster however and some good new talent, a little bit more was expected of the Bears this season.
Best Win: 4-1 vs. Washington – Oregon’s season resume is really lacking of quality wins so this one stands alone as the premier win. Convincing score lines on 3 singles courts plus doubles gave the Ducks a fairly straight forward win over their rivals from the state up north.
Worst Loss: 4-3 at Pepperdine – The Waves are a bubble team and Oregon is currently on the outside of the bubble thanks in large part to this match. Had the result been reversed to a 4-3 Ducks win the two teams may be swapped in the rankings and it would be Oregon who would slip into the tournament. Amazing the difference a couple of 3rd sets can make.
Team MVP: Daan Maasland – Following the departure of Robin Cambier after the 2014 season, Oregon appeared to have a real issue on their hands at the #1 position. But Maasland stepped into the role admirably and even got a few big scalps along the way. His signature win being over Tom Fawcett of Stanford.
The Ducks will likely miss the NCAA tournament in 2015 barring an upset of Cal in the Pac 12 quarterfinals. The season was about the same as the last few years for Oregon, no real progress was made but at least there were no steps back either.
Best Win: 4-3 vs. Tulsa – This win is single-handedly keeping Washington in the top 75 as their only other ranked win is over #74 Portland. This win made it appear early that the Huskies may have been ready to do big things in 2015.
Worst Loss: 4-1 at Oregon – This loss was a letdown for Washington. They never really threatened the Ducks and it made the gap between the two teams apparent.
Team MVP: Jake Douglas – The freshman had a hot start to the dual season and was winning matches left and right, he may have tapered off to end the year but was still a big part of any Husky win.
A 2nd straight year of disappointment for Washington. While last year could be chalked up as a rebuilding year, 2015 was supposed to be more of a step forward year but instead it turned into another year of struggle for UW. With the fresh talent 2016 will have to be a much better year or Husky tennis is in trouble.
Best Win: 4-1 vs. New Mexico – The only quality win for Utah all season. This was the only time all year where the Utah team came together and put forth a good effort across the board to get a big win at home.
Worst Loss: 5-2 at Boise State – Boise State was not a good team this year, they had lost a lot of pieces from 2014 and were certainly in a rebuilding phase but that didn’t stop Utah from being beaten by them. This loss was fairly early in the season as well, which put a big damper on the outlook for the rest of the year.
Team MVP: Slim Hamza – Barely played in 2015 and his absence showed big time. With Hamza at #1 Utah is a much better team. There was a time when he had the potential to be a nationally top 40 player, but injury sidetracked this ambition. Without him Utah was a very tepid team.
Very poor season. Utah tennis is not adapting to life in the Pac 12 very well at all despite the conference being relatively down in the last two seasons. In 2015 Utah had no answers and without Hamza any chance of winning competitive matches was lost.
Best Win: 4-1 vs. New Mexico – Like Utah, Arizona was able to beat the Lobos. Something about the crew from the ABQ brought out the best in the Pac 12 bottom feeders.
Worst Loss: 4-2 vs. Southern Miss – Arizona has several bad losses but this one takes the cake as being the one truly ghastly loss on the resume. Southern Miss was a middle of the pack CUSA team who did not threaten anybody worth anything all year but were still able to beat this sorry Pac 12 team.
Team MVP: Naoki Takeda – The only Wildcat who played good tennis is 2015. He had a signature 6-2 6-0 dominating win over #10 Dominik Koepfer of Tulane which vaulted him into the rankings. Unfortunately it looks like Takeda will just miss out on the individual tournament barring a plethora of withdrawals.
Nothing good came from the 2015 season. Truly a program in shambles right now. Tucson should be able to host a pretty good college tennis program especially with Arizona State dumping tennis a few years ago, but instead Arizona is struggling (and failing) to remain even remotely relevant in the Pac 12.
Being the only major conference to have completed their conference tournament already, SEC grades will be coming out later.