Courtesy of CTO Correspondent, Bobby Knight - Another season of college tennis is upon us and as always there are numerous questions to be answered. Will Virginia finally get the monkey off its back? Can USC possibly think of a 5-peat after losing Steve Johnson and Daniel Nguyen? Can UCLA return to the top of the Pac 12 and make a run at its 1st National Title since 2005? Can Duke somehow put an end to Virginia’s run of 6 straight ACC Championships? Can John Roddick lead Oklahoma to the final 4 or better? Does Ole Miss have the team to make its 1995 team the 2nd best in school history? Can Ohio State find a way to replace Chase Buchanan and possibly Blaz Rola and still contend for a Big 10 title? Can a group of freshmen lead Mississippi State to their 1st SEC Title since 1996? There is so much to be determined in the next 5 months that it will be great to be along for the ride.
Here is the PRESEASON Top 25 mens rankings:
1. Virginia – The Hoos return 5 starters from last year’s National Runner-Up team and have an incredible batch of freshmen (Styslinger, Richmond, Shane, Polnet) chomping at the bit for some playing time. Several Hoos had individual success in the fall with Jarmere Jenkins winning the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championship in November, Alex Domijan winning the ITA Men’s All America Championship in September, Harrison Richmond winning the USTA/ITA Atlantic Regional Championship, and Mac Styslinger making a run to the Quarterfinals of the Men’s All Americans . Mitchell Frank hasn’t played since last year’s NCAAs sitting out the fall with an injury so getting him back in the swing of things and playing the way he did last year will be vital for a Virginia run to the National Title. It will be interesting to see where Mac Styslinger fits in the line-up because as he proved in Tulsa he is capable of beating just about anyone. I’m thinking he plays behind a healthy Frank at the 4 spot. Harrison Richmond and Ryan Shane will try to unseat senior Julen Uriguen for the 6 spot while Justin Shane should be no worse than 5.
2. USC – The 4 time defending National Champion Trojans return 4 starters but lost 2-time NCAA Singles Champion Steve Johnson and Mr. Clutch Daniel Nguyen. Ray Sarmiento will shoulder the load at the top of the lineup with some stiff competition for the next several spots between Emilio Gomez, Roberto Quiroz, Yannick Hanfmann, and Eric Johnson. The battle for the 6 spot should be between Jonny Wang and Max De Vroome. The 4-6 spots will be the key for USC this year – if they can hold their own against the heavyweights they’ll be there contending for the National Title yet again.
3. Duke – The Blue Devils return 5 starters from last year’s NCAA Quarterfinal team and have added a few top flight recruits in Michael Redlicki and Bruno Semenzato. If those two can pull their weight then Duke will be a legitimate threat this year. Redlicki had a solid fall going 11-3 while Semenzato did not see any action. Henrique Cunha, Chris Mengel, Fred Saba, Raphael Hemmeler, and Jason Tahir all return.
4. UCLA – The Bruins return 5 starters from last year’s NCAA Semifinal team losing Nick Meister who played at both at 1 & 2. Marcos Giron, Dennis Novikov, and Clay Thompson will probably each play 1, 2, & 3 in the lineup at some point throughout the year. Adrian Puget and Dennis Mkrtchian will most likely occupy the 4 & 5 slots. The question mark will be who plays at 6 this year. Redshirt freshmen Karue Sell, who joined the team last March, would be the leading candidate but he saw limited action in the fall so it is unknown at the moment where he’ll fit in.
5. Oklahoma – The Sooners are coming off the best year in program history which unfortunately came to end in the 2nd round of the NCAA Tournament with an upset loss to Tulsa 4-1. OU returns 4 starters with Costin Paval, Guillermo Alcorta, Dane Webb, and Peerakit Siributwong all coming back. The Sooners lost Tsvetan Mihov (transfer to South Carolina) and David Pultr (graduation) but have added 2 top recruits in Leonard Stakhovsky from Ukraine (brother of ATP top 100 Sergiy Stakhovsky) and Axel Alvarex Llamas from Spain. Both were top 70 ITF Juniors. This may be the year the Sooners break through and make a run in the tournament.
6. Ole Miss – The Rebels return 3 of their top 4 with Nik Scholtz, Jonas Lutjen, and William Kallberg coming back along with Johan Backstrom who split time between 5 & 6. The Rebels lost the Thiemann twins, Marcel & Chris, to graduation but have added 3 top recruits in Stefan Lindmark from Sweden, Vinod Gowda from India, and Karim Hossam from Egypt. These 3 hit a high of 40, 159, and 11 respectively in the ITF Junior Rankings so they should be able to add some solid depth to the lineup. The Rebels best showing ever in the NCAAs was their 1995 Runner-Up finish but they are thinking about topping that this year.
7. Ohio State – The Buckeyes return 4 starters in Peter Kobelt, Ille Van Engelen, Connor Smith, and Devin McCarthy but lost their top 2 in Blaz Rola (assuming will go pro) and Chase Buchanan who graduated. The Buckeyes have added Constantin Christ from Germany who peaked at 71 in the ITF Jr. Rankings as well as Chris Diaz who was redshirted last year. Diaz had an impressive run in Tulsa at the All Americans by winning 8 matches in 6 days before falling to Duke’s Henrique Cunha in 3 sets. Peter Kobelt had a great fall going 14-3 and made the finals of the All Americans. If Rola, who has an ATP ranking of 310, were to return I’d jump Ohio State up to #3 and slide everyone else down one slot.
8. Mississippi State – The Bulldogs are coming off a stellar year that saw them reach #9 in the rankings but also saw them get upset in the 2nd round of the NCAAs with an upset loss to Baylor 4-3. MSU returns 3 starters in James Chaudry, Malte Stropp, and Zack White and have added 4 top recruits in Romain Bogaerts from Belgium, Jordan Angus from England, Stefan Vinti from Romania, and Pedro Dumont from Brazil. Those 4 hit a high of 118, 74, 28, and 69 respectively in the ITF Jr. Rankings. Those 4 will help soften the blow of losing Artem Ilyushin, Louis Cant, and George Coupland to graduation. Bogaerts went 13-4 in the fall including a Quarterfinal finish at the National Indoor Intercollegiates and should play at the #1 spot. The Bulldogs are looking for their 1st SEC Title since 1996 which was 2 years after head coach Per Nilsson starred for State as a player.
9. Florida – The Gators are coming off a Round of 16 appearance in the NCAAs and have a new coach in Bryan Shelton. Florida returns 3 starters in Bob Van Overbeek, Florent Diep, and Michael Alford but will have to replace Tripper Carleton, Nassim Sliliam, and Spencer Newman who held the 2, 3, and 4 spots in the lineup last year. The Gators are expected to welcome Diego Hidalgo from Ecuador to the team in January. Hidalgo peaked at #16 in the ITF Jr. Rankings and as Coach Shelton said should make an immediate impact. The Gators should also see contributions from redshirt freshmen Gordon Watson and former #4 ITF Junior Stephane Piro. Piro hit that ranking high back in 2007 and last played an ATP Future in 2009 so what the 23 year old will bring to the team is a bit of a mystery. I suppose he could play as high as 2 or as low as 6. Time will tell.
10. Georgia – The Bulldogs are coming off a Quarterfinal appearance in the NCAAs but will have to replace 3 of their top 4 with Wil Spencer, Sadio Doumbia, and Ignacio Taboada all graduating. KU Singh will take the top spot with Nathan Pasha and Hernus Pieters moving up in the lineup to take the 2 & 3 spots. Georgia has 4 incoming freshmen that will be ready to contribute with Ben Wagland from Australia expected to play at 4. The other incoming freshmen are Marco Nunez from Mexico, Austin Smith from Atlanta, and Nick Wood from Knoxville. They along with Garrett Brasseaux will compete for the 5 & 6 spots. How well these freshmen play will go a long ways to determine Georgia’s success this year.
11. Baylor – The Bears return their top 4 from a year ago in Mate Zsiga, Roberto Maytin, Marko Krickovic, and Diego Galeano and also welcome in freshmen Julian Lenz from Germany. Lenz achieved an ITF Jr. Ranking of 29 and went 11-4 in the fall. Robert Verzaal will likely fill the 6 spot.
12. Pepperdine – The Waves return 3 from last year’s NCAA Semifinal team. All 3 returnees are seniors led by Sebastian Fanselow who will anchor the top of the lineup. Finn Tearney and Mousheg Hovhannisyan are the other 2 coming back and they’ll be joined by Francis Alcantara who transferred in from Fresno State. Alcantara played #2 for Fresno State last year and was ranked as high as 43. David Sofaer will most likely fill the 5 spot with freshmen Damian Gryzelko from London filling the 6 spot. Barring some late enrollees the Waves will be a little short on depth year.
13. Michigan – The Wolverines return everybody from last year’s team that finished 2nd in the Big 10 and made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs before falling to Ole Miss 4-2. Michigan also picked up 2 big transfers in landing Vlad Stefan who played #2 for Maryland and Spencer Newman who played #4 for Florida. That pair will join Evan King, Alex Petrone, Shaun Bernstein, Justin Rossi, Michael Zhu, Barrett Franks, and Alex Buzzi.
14. Kentucky – The defending SEC regular season champion Wildcats will have some big shoes to fill after losing their 2 big guns from last year in Eric Quigley and Alex Musialek but the Cats will return their 4 other starters. Anthony Rossi and Tom Jomby will do their best to fill the top 2 slots after playing at 3 and 4 last year. Alejandro Gomez and Grant Roberts will have the opportunity to play up in the lineup as well but the Cats have 4 new freshmen that are looking to crack the lineup as well in Kai-Wen Lai from Taiwan, Juan Pablo Murra from Mexico, Beck Pennington from Bowling Green, KY, and Michael Binder from Germany. Maks Gold, Brett Johnson, and Ryuji Hirooka will also look to contribute.
15. California – The Golden Bears return 4 starters but did lose 2 of their top 3 in Nick Andrews and Carlos Cueto. Ben McLachlan will fill the top spot with Christoffer Konigsfeldt probably playing at 2. A couple of new additions will see playing time in the top 6 with German freshmen Mads Engsted and Georgia transfer Campbell Johnson joining the team. Riki McLachlan and Greg Bayane will also contribute for the Bears.
16. Illinois – The Illini return 4 starters from last year’s Big 10 Tournament Champions in Bruno Abdelnour, Stephen Hoh, Tim Kopinski, and Ross Guignon but lose their top 2 in Dennis Nevolo and Roy Kalmanovich. The Illini are expecting big things from Blue Chip freshmen Jared Hiltzik and should also have the roster boosted by Vanderbilt transfer Blake Bazarnik who played #3 last year.
17. Stanford – The Cardinal return 4 starters from last year’s NCAA Quarterfinal Team but lost their top 2 players in Bradley Klahn and Ryan Thacher. Replacing those 2 will be extremely tough especially since the Cardinal struggled a bit in the middle of the lineup last year. John Morrissey had a nice fall and will probably play with 1. Incoming freshmen Nolan Paige from Fairfield, CT should play in the top 3 especially since Matt Kandath didn’t have the best fall season. Robert Stineman, Daniel Ho, Denis Lin, & Jamin Ball also return from last year. In addition to Nolan Paige the Cardinal also welcome in Blue Chip freshmen Anthony Tsodikov from San Francisco, Trey Strobel from Bradenton, FL, and Maciek Romanowicz from Poland.
18. Auburn – The Tigers return 5 starters from last year’s team that made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs before losing a nail-bitter to Illinois 4-3. Auburn does lose Alex Stamchev who played at 2 last year and posted a 19-7 record. Andreas Mies will be back at #1 with Daniel Cochrane sliding up to 2 and Lucas Lopasso at 3. Lukas Ollert, Dennis Lengsfeld, Michael Wardell, and Tulsa transfer Lucian Gheorghe will fill the remaining spots.
19. Tennessee – The Vols return everyone from last year’s team that made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs and also welcome Maryland transfer John Collins who should help at the bottom lineup where the Vols struggled last year with the 6 spot posting a 6-19 record. Mikelis Libietis, Hunter Reese, and Brandon Fickey will play at 1, 2, & 3 with Jarryd Chaplin, Ed Jones, and John Collins playing at 4, 5, & 6.
20. Washington – The Huskies return everyone from last year’s team that made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs and also welcome freshmen Rishabh Raman from India who achieved an ITF Jr. Ranking of 62 in 2011. Kyle McMorrow, Emmett Egger, Marton Bots, Max Manthou, Viktor Farkas, and Nicholas Kamisar are the returning starters.
21. Tulsa – The Golden Hurricane return 5 starters from last year’s team that made the Round of 16 losing Ashley Watling who went 18-7 including 13-3 at the 3 spot. Japie De Klerk will play at 1 with Clifford Marsland at 2, Grant Ive at 3, Tristan Jackson at 4, Alejandro Espejo at 5, and freshmen Matthew Kirby from Great Britain at 6. Tulsa currently has just 6 men on the roster so any injuries would be crippling.
22. Texas A&M – The Aggies return 3 starters from last year’s team that made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs with Junior Ore, Jeremy Efferding, and Niall Angus set to return though Ore played Futures in the Fall so I guess we’ll see in a few weeks if he is does return. The Aggies will have to replace departed seniors Alexis Klegou, Colin Hoover, and John Lewis. Two Blue Chip freshmen joined the team in Shane Vinsant and Harrison Adams; both should have the opportunity to see plenty of action this coming year. Alberto Bautista, who missed most of last year with an injury, returns and expects to be in the mix along with Jordan Szabo and Jackson Withrow.
23. Texas – The Longhorns return everyone from last year’s team that was knocked out in the 1st round of the NCAAs by Santa Clara. Soren Hess-Olesen, Daniel Whitehead, Sudanwa Sitaram, David Holiner, Ben Chen, and Lloyd Glasspool are the returning starters from last year and the Horns welcome a pair of freshmen in Blue Chipper Nick Naumann and 5-star Andrew Korinek.
24. North Carolina – The Tar Heels return 3 starters from last year’s team that made the Round of 16 with Jose Hernandez turning pro and Brennan Boyajian and Joey Burkhardt graduating. Esben Hess-Olesen, William Parker, and Oystein Steiro return and the Heels welcome Ohio State transfer Nelson Vick and freshmen Brett Clark and Charles Depaolo.
25. Notre Dame – The Irish returns 3 starters from last year’s team that made it to the 2nd round of the NCAAs with Greg Andrews, Blas Moros, and Billy Pecor coming back. Wyatt McCoy and Michael Moore saw some action at the bottom of the lineup last year so I expect them to move into the starting 6 and they’ll probably be joined by Blue Chip freshmen Quentin Monaghan. The Irish lost Casey Watt, Sam Keeton, and Niall Fitzgerald who filled the 1, 3, and 5 spots.