NORTON, MA- Unlike in years past, 21st-year Wheaton College head men's tennis coach Lynn Miller enters the spring of 2010 having yet to determine her singles lineup, a result of the team's parity. "My starters are all playing better than last year," said Miller. "We had a clear number-one singles player last year, but now three guys could play there."
The Lyons went 11-7 overall in 2009 despite current sophomore Neall Oliver (Portland, ME/Deering) making 30 combined appearances at top singles and doubles. Miller acknowledges that Oliver returns as one of a handful of players fighting for the top singles slot. "It's not like Neall has gotten worse, I think the experience factor has kicked in for some other players," said the coach. "A lot of what you see now is a reflection of what players did in the offseason."
Wheaton also was 3-2 in the New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) last spring before falling in the league tournament semifinals, advancing that far for the seventh straight season and 10th time in the NEWMAC's initial 11 years.
Miller, who earned a special recognition award in January from the New England chapter of the United States Professional Tennis Association (USPTA) due to her contributions to the coaching profession, is joined on her staff by assistant coaches Brian Dalrymple, Betty Ann Giles and Bill Sadlowski, now in their seventh, fifth and fourth years, respectively. Seniors Kyle Hudgins (Uxbridge, MA/Uxbridge) and James Little (Mount Desert, ME/Mount Desert Island) will both serve as captains and compete with Oliver for the top singles slot.
"I like players having clear-cut positions, but there's no clear-cut number one at this point," said Miller, who noted that each of the three battling for the top position brings a different skill set to the table. The remaining two players will hold down the second and third positions.
As for the rest of her lineup, Miller sees healthy competition for the final three slots. "We have the same scenario in the middle of the lineup as we do at the top, where a couple guys are close to one another," she said. "There are also a couple guys in very close contention at six." While Miller expects to primarily use seven players, three more could appear at some point.
Among four seniors are Hudgins and Little. Hudgins has posted a 30-17 career singles mark, twice earning all-league honors, and was all-conference in doubles following the 2009 campaign. Little went 10-6 at second singles as a junior while turning in 10 doubles victories.
Senior Chapman Beekman (South Kingstown, RI/South Kingstown), who earned five decisions during his first three years, will have an opportunity to crack the singles and doubles lineups, while classmate Eric Pelletier (Bangor, ME/Bangor) returns to the squad for his first season since spring 2008. Miller has been particularly pleased with Beekman's improvement. "He has stepped up the way you expect a senior to," said the coach. "It's obvious that he put in serious work, and it's made a huge difference."
Nearly half of the team's roster is comprised of juniors, as three of the six have previously earned NEWMAC honors. Harry Altman (Riverdale, NY/The Dwight School) was an all-conference honoree last spring for both singles and doubles, recording a 13-5 mark in singles play, including 8-1 from the fourth slot. He also went 9-2 at third doubles. He and Beekman are in competition for the sixth singles slot.
An all-league singles player in 2009, junior Cullen Garrity (Middletown, MD/Saint James School) turned in a 5-2 ledger in the sixth position and is one of the Lyons' top 10 players, while classmate Brian Krantz (Milford, CT/Joseph A. Foran) drew an all-conference citation in going 9-4 at third doubles. Krantz also notched a 10-7 singles mark. Gregory Poulin (Boxboro, MA/Home Schooled) appeared in seven matches at third singles while playing 10 doubles matches in 2009. Entering the spring, Krantz and Poulin are both in contention to start at fourth or fifth singles. Trent Faltin (Durham, NH/Oyster River) and Josh Fisher (Ridgefield, CT/Wooster School) will see exhibition action.
As the lone representative of the Class of 2012, Oliver was an all-conference singles player last spring, posting seven of his 10 victories from the top position. He also had 10 doubles triumphs, including six at number one. Freshmen Kyle Kiernan (Topsfield, MA/Masconomet Regional) and Dennis Scarpa (Cheshire, CT/Xavier) join the squad for the 2010 season. Miller expects Scarpa to join the top-10 mix, while exhibition play will provide Kiernan seasoning.
When it comes to doubles pairings, Miller finds herself in the enviable position of having a large group of players from which to choose. "We would like to find five doubles teams among our top 10 players," said Miller. "We have so many options, and each combination has its pros and cons." The most likely top pairing will be Hudgins and Oliver, while Little and Poulin could start in the second spot. A third-position twosome will likely be comprised of some combination of Altman, Beekman and Krantz.
The Lyons took part in a pair of tournaments back in September, including when Altman and Poulin won the top-flight doubles title during the Wheaton Invitational. Beekman and Krantz combined to win the second doubles consolation bracket, while Oliver won the singles consolation bracket title. Hudgins and Little later paired at the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) Regional Tournament, where they won a match in the doubles consolation bracket.
The spring campaign begins when Wheaton hosts New York University on Saturday before playing four matches in Hilton Head, South Carolina, from March 14-17, including against 2009 NCAA Tournament qualifier Ithaca College. Wheaton's NEWMAC schedule begins March 27 at Springfield College, and the postseason kicks off with first-round matches on April 22. During its 17 regular season matches, the Blue and White is set to face five squads that advanced to 2009 league tournament championship matches and three that are regionally ranked.
Miller, who has put emphasis on her players competing hard on the tennis court while simultaneously displaying good sportsmanship, said she has provided the team with a stronger non-league slate than in the past during a year when the NEWMAC squads themselves have also improved. However, she hesitates to predict the Lyons' conference fate. "I'm not thinking about how we'll do in the NEWMAC until I see what we can do in Hilton Head," she said.