Virginia will again be the heavy favorite to win their 7th consecutive ACC Championship and 9th in the last 10 years. All signs point towards a Virginia/Duke rematch for the 4th consecutive year in the ACC Tournament Finals in Cary, NC in late April. North Carolina, Florida State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech are in the 2nd tier trying to make a push upwards. Clemson, North Carolina State, and Georgia Tech are in the 3rd tier while Miami and Boston College will be trying to do their best to pick up a few more wins this year. I think Wake Forest will be the most improved team while NC State will likely take the biggest step backward. I expect to see several 4-3 matches in the middle of the pack since several teams are pretty evenly matched. There are just 11 teams in the conference this year since Maryland dropped tennis though in the next few years we’ll see Notre Dame and Louisville get in the mix as new members.
1. #1 Virginia – Brian Boland’s Cavs are riding a 92 match (regular & postseason) ACC winning streak but will get their biggest test in their conference opener on March 22nd when Duke comes to Charlottesville. UVA returns 5 starters with Drew Courtney departing but has added several top notch freshmen with Mac Styslinger, Harrison Richmond, and Ryan Shane expecting to see some playing time. Styslinger should start somewhere between 4 & 6. Jarmere Jenkins, Alex Domijan, Mitchell Frank, Justin Shane, and Julen Uriguen are the returning starters from last year’s ACC Champions that went 11-0 in conference and 29-2 overall.. UVA’s post National Indoors out of conference schedule has the Hoos matching up against #8 Oklahoma at Snyder and includes a 4 match road trip with stops in Waco (#15 Baylor), College Station (#26 Texas A&M), Austin (#23 Texas), and Champaign (#16 Illinois). The Oklahoma and Baylor matches should be the toughest of the 5.
2. #5 Duke – Ramsey Smith’s Blue Devils are going to do their best to challenge Virginia for the top spot in the ACC. Duke returns 5 starters with Torsten Wietoska departing and welcomes in several freshmen with Michael Redlicki and Bruno Semenzato expecting to see significant playing time. Redlicki had a solid fall going 11-3 while Semenzato wasn’t eligible to compete until January. Henrique Cunha, Chris Mengel, Fred Saba, Raphael Hemmeler, and Jason Tahir are the returning starters from a team that finished 9-2 in conference and 25-6 overall. Duke’s out of conference schedule includes visits to Durham by #19 Tennessee, #20 Michigan, and #31 VCU as well as visits to #16 Illinois, #30 Notre Dame, and #14 California.
3. #18 North Carolina – Sam Paul’s Tar Heels will attempt to reload, instead of rebuild, after losing 3 of their top 4 from a team that went 9-2 in conference and 15-8 overall. Jose Hernandez, Brennan Boyajian and Joey Burkhardt have departed while UNC welcomes in Ohio State transfer Nelson Vick and a pair of freshmen that should see plenty of action in Brett Clark and Charles Depaolo. Esben Hess-Olesen, William Parker, and Oystein Steiro are the 3 returning starters. UNC’s out of conference schedule includes visits to Chapel Hill by #34 Louisville, #4 Ohio State, and #31 VCU as well as a visit to #23 Texas.
4. #32 Florida State - Dwayne Hultquist’s Seminoles will be dueling with UNC for the 3rd spot in the ACC with 5 returning starters from a team that finished 7-4 in conference and 19-10 overall. Jordan Kelly-Houston, Blake Davis, Andreas Bucaro, Cristian Mendez, Benjamin Lock, Dominic Cotrone, and Anderson Reed return from last year. Jason Zafiros, who played at 5 last year, is the only departure from a year ago. FSU’s out of conference schedule includes visits to Tallahassee by #12 Florida and #23 Texas and a trip to Norman to face #8 Oklahoma. The Seminoles also face #7 Pepperdine in Bradenton, FL on February 24th which could be the second matchup between the two if FSU can get by Drake in the 1st round of the ITA Kick-Off in Malibu.
5. #66 Wake Forest – Tony Bresky’s Demon Deacons should be the most improved team in the conference this year with 6 returning and 6 freshmen coming in from a team that went 3-8 in conference and 13-15 overall. The #5 and #6 singles spots were Wake’s biggest weaknesses in 2012 posting a subpar 20-38 record along with #3 doubles going just 10-19. The influx of new talent in a Blue Chip recruit (Jonathan Ho), four 5-star recruits (Nolan Bauer, Sam Bloom, Anthony DeClore, Morgan Mays), and one 4-star recruit (Brendan Henry) should provide the talent /depth upgrade needed to turn some of those 4-3 loses from last year (6 of them) to some 4-3 wins. Wake’s out of conference schedule includes visits to Winston Salem by #34 Louisville, #19 Tennessee, and #8 Oklahoma and trips to Ann Arbor to face #20 Michigan and Richmond to face #31 VCU.
6. #43 Virginia Tech – Jim Thompson’s Hokies have to replace 3 of their top 4 with Luka Somen, Patrick Daciek, and Corrado Degl’Incerti Tocci graduating from a team that went 7-4 in conference and 11-12 overall. The 5 returning Hokies are Lucas Oliveria, Mauricio Antun, Trpimir Kujundzic, Hunter Koontz, and Marko Lovrinovic. They have been joined by 4 freshmen in Andreas Bjerrehus, Amerigo Contini, Aaron Gomez, and Rafael Ribas. Both Bjerrehus and Contini should play in the top 3 after posting a 14-4 and 12-4 record respectively in the fall against some pretty tough competition. Ribas joined the team after the fall season and therefore has not yet seen any collegiate action. Va Tech does not have the most daunting out of conference schedule with only 2 top 50 opponents in #34 Louisville and #31 VCU.
7. #60 Clemson – Chuck McCuen’s Tigers return all 6 starters and have added 1 newcomer from a team that went 5-6 in conference and 9-14 overall. Yannick Maden, Gerardo Meza, Ayrton Wibowo, Dominique Maden, Hunter Harrington, and Zack Rigsby are the returning starters and the newcomer is Blue Chip freshmen Austin Ansari. The #1 position (13-9) was the only singles spot where Clemson had a winning record last year so several players will have to step it up or it’ll be tough to improve on the 9-14 record. Clemson’s out of conference schedule includes a visit by #34 Louisville along with road trips to #6 Georgia, #21 Auburn, and #39 South Carolina.
8. #40 North Carolina State - Jon Choboy’s Wolfpack will most likely take a step back this year after losing their top 3 from a team that went 5-6 in conference and 20-10 overall. Jaime Pulgar, Dominic Hodgson, and Julian Sullivan were the 3 that departed while the returning starters from a year ago are Austin Powell, Robbie Mudge, and Rafael Paez. Dave Thomson and Sean Weber should also expect to see playing time along with 2 of the incoming freshmen in Thomas Weigel and Simon Norenius. NC State’s out of conference schedule includes a visit to Raleigh by #22 Indiana, #41 Northwestern, #42 UNC Wilmington, and #46 Middle Tennessee State along with road trips to #39 South Carolina and #31 VCU.
9. #59 Georgia Tech – Kenny Thorne’s Yellow Jackets return 3 starters from a team that went 4-7 in conference and 9-12 overall. Kevin King, Dusan Miljevic, and Sebastian Lopez are the 3 departed starters while Juan Spir, Juan Melian, and Eduardo Segura are returning. Vikram Hundal and freshmen Nathan Rakitt, Garrett Gordon, and Anish Sharma will also contribute this year. Georgia Tech opens the Ken Byers Tennis Center in January which will include 10 outdoor courts and 6 indoor courts. Tech’s old indoor facility only had 3 indoor courts so this will definitely be an upgrade. Tech’s out of conference schedule includes a visit to Atlanta by #6 Georgia and #19 Tennessee along with road trips to #39 South Carolina and #21 Auburn.
10. #65 Miami – Mario Rincon’s Hurricanes return all 6 starters from a team that went 1-10 in conference and 8-13 overall. Gabriel Flores, Omar Aly, Wilfredo Gonzalez, Diego Soto, Henrique Tsukamoto, and Victor Mauz are the returning starters and Marco Stancati will also see action as well. The Canes out of conference schedule includes a visit to Coral Gables by #35 Minnesota and a visit to #12 Florida and #29 Texas Tech.
11. Boston College – Scott Wilkins’s Eagles return 4 starters from a team that went 1-10 in conference and 5-15 overall. The 2 departed seniors, Akash Muppidi and Alex Skinner, were BC’s #1 and #2 players from a year ago so things aren’t going to get any easier this year. Billy Grokenberger, Philip Nelson, Jonathan Raude, Klaus Puestow, Michael McGinnis, Matt Wagner, Kyle Childree, Christian McKean, and Spencer Canny will contribute this year.
8 of the 11 teams will participate in the ITA Kick-Off weekend on January 25th -27th in hopes of qualifying for the 2013 National Indoors which get started in Seattle on February 15th. Virginia and Duke are hosting regionals and should qualify easily while everyone else will need to pull off at least 1 upset to qualify. Florida State travels to Malibu and will need to get past #45 Drake and #7 Pepperdine, North Carolina goes to Champaign and will have to beat #17 Tulsa and #16 Illinois or #19 Tennessee, Virginia Tech heads to Durham and will have to beat #41 Northwestern and #5 Duke, NC State goes to Oxford and will have to beat #34 Louisville and #13 Ole Miss, Georgia Tech goes to Los Angeles and will have to beat #50 Fresno State and #2 USC, and Miami heads to Columbus and will have to beat #70 Louisiana Lafayette and #4 Ohio State. Of the 6 I would say that Florida State and North Carolina have the best chance to qualify though I’d put those chances at less than 25%.
CTO Correspondent, Bobby Knight.
Follow him on Twitter @B_Knight77