This year the very successful Northwestern University women’s tennis program looked to do little and started the season unranked. Head coach Claire Pollard and her Wildcats had won Big Ten titles from 1999-2014 without interruption, 16 consecutive seasons, 16 consecutive Big Ten conference or tournament titles. With three highly-ranked Big Ten rivals this might have been Pollard's first class to leave NU without a conference trophy. Unranked at the start of the season they proceeded to knock off three top seven teams (Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, Illinois) in a two-week window and then finished the regular season by winning 16 of their final 17, which also included road wins over Michigan and Ohio State, to win the Big Ten regular season title outright.
The Wildcats came within a whisker of also winning the Big Ten Tournament Championship before falling in a 4-3 heartbreaker to Michigan. The Cats were selected as the No. 14 seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament and will host a regional with a first-round match against MAC Champion Buffalo. What follows are some questions and answers that head coach Claire Pollard generously provided for College Tennis Today.
Q: Claire, first of all congratulations on an outstanding 2018 season. Your team started this season unranked before beating SEC champions Vanderbilt, Georgia Tech, and three ranked Big Ten teams to become outright Big Ten champions. What do you think of polls and how did you engineer your team’s mindset to reach up and get those big wins?
CP: I'm not concerned with opinion and that's all the rankings are at the start of the year. It’s an impossible task at the start of the year except for a few no brainer teams. I've always concerned myself with what we can control which is development and getting the most out of ourselves at all times. If we do that, results and rankings will take care of themselves when it really matters (the end of the season).
The NCAA released the singles and doubles selections for the upcoming NCAA Championships and as expected the field was full of players from the Power 5 Conferences. 11 of the 64 men's singles selections came from outside of the Power 5 but only 1 of those came via an at-large with the rest being automatic qualifiers. Out of the 64 women's singles selections there were 15 from outside of the Power 5 with 4 from the West Coast Conference picking up at-large bids. You can see the full list of selections down below plus the NCAA's releases are linked here (men/women).
The men's top singles seed is UCLA's Martin Redlicki while Mississippi State's Nuno Borges and Strahinja Rakic are the top seed in the doubles draw. Texas's Bianca Turati is the top seed in the women's singles draw while Georgia Tech's Kenya Jones and Paige Hourigan are the top seed in the doubles draw.
The NCAA released the men's and women's team brackets on Tuesday and while many selections and top 16 seeds went as planned there were some adjustments made elsewhere in the bracket that at first seemed quite puzzling. The men's bracket had three teams (Utah, Utah State, and UC Santa Barbara) with rankings strong enough to make them a No. 3 seed but in the end they were placed in the traditional No. 4 spot. There were three teams (North Florida, South Alabama, and VCU) with rankings that would normally have put them as a No. 4 seed but they were bumped up to the No. 3 slot. Plus there were other teams that normally would have been No. 2s (Harvard & Old Dominion) but ended up as No. 3s while there were teams (Virginia & Miami) that would have been No. 3s that ended up as No. 2s.
The women's bracket didn't have any of the same craziness with all the teams ranked No. 17 to 32 ending up in the normal No. 2 slot, the teams ranked No. 33 to No. 48ish ending up as No. 3s, and the rest as No. 4s. The biggest omission from the bracket was Arkansas with the now coachless Razorbacks turned away after the six-match fiasco against Tennessee State (which was challenged) while Kansas State (the challenger) was put in as the last at-large. I have reached out to John Bugner (NCAA Assistant Director, Championships and Alliances) for comment on Arkansas not getting in and will update this post if I get a response. (Quote from the NCAA's Gail Dent: The NCAA Division I Tennis Committee reviewed a protest filed with the Intercollegiate Tennis Association regarding the University of Arkansas’ violation of ITA Rule I.E.4 (lineup changes in back-to-back dual matches) on three separate occasions during competition against Tennessee State University on April 22. The committee determined that the first violation warranted a warning and the two subsequent violations resulted in defaulting those two matches. For selection purposes, those two matches did not count, and Arkansas is 14-16.)
Up until this year the NCAA has filled each of the 16 regionals with a top 16 nationally ranked team, a No. 2 seed that was ranked No. 17-32, a No. 3 seed that was ranked No. 33-48, and a No. 4 seed that was ranked 49-64 (though typically the No. 4 seed was probably closer to 150). However late in 2016 a change was made by the NCAA Division I Tennis Committee, which went into effect this year, that permitted them to place unseeded teams (teams 17-64) geographically in the bracket instead of assigning them in pods (1 v 4; 2 v 3) as had been done in the past. If you look at each of the brackets you'll notice that it just lists a seed by the host team but it does not show a designation for any of the other three, i.e. 17-32, 33-48, 49-64.
I remember reading this when it came out in 2016 but I had since forgotten about it and that's why I was caught off guard as was everybody else. Hat tip to Slam.Tennis for bringing this up earlier today. Also make sure you fill out your bracket on Slam Tennis's May Madness Bracket Challenge.
The brackets down below also have the final ITA rankings as projected by CollegeTennisRanks.
It's NCAA selection time with the committee's choices set to be revealed at 5 p.m. ET (women) and 5:30 p.m. ET (men). The women's selections will be made first at this link and then the men follow 30 minutes later at this link.
If the selection committee goes off ITA rankings as its primary criteria, which they always do, then we pretty much know who is going to make it based off the projections on CollegeTennisRanks. I'll list those teams down below by projected seed.
If you want to get an idea on where each team will be placed you can check out the bracket projections on Slam Tennis (toggle between men/women). Slam Tennis also has a nice feature called You Be The Judge where you look at two resumes without seeing the school and you pick which one you think is more deserving of the higher seed.
Conference tournaments are done and now it's time for the NCAA Tournament. The five schools to win both men's and women's championships were Alabama State (SWAC), Idaho (Big Sky), North Florida (Atlantic Sun), VCU (Atlantic 10), and Texas (Big XII).
There were 29 men's conference tournaments with 18 (62%) won by the No. 1 seed, 7 won by the No. 2 seed, 3 won by the No. 3 seed, and 1 won by a No. 4 seed. There were 30 women's conference tournaments with 17 (56%) won by the No. 1 seed, 10 won by the No. 2 seed, 1 won by a No. 3 seed, and 2 won by a No. 4 seed.
There were three men's schools (Lamar/North Florida/Texas) that won the conference tournament as the host team while there were seven women's schools (Army/Denver/Georgia State/Missouri State/North Florida/Texas/Winthrop) to pull off the same feat.
The 16 women's schools that repeated as conference champions were Alabama State, Buffalo, Denver (5X), Furman, Idaho (5X), LIU Brooklyn, North Carolina (3X), North Florida (4X), Pepperdine (6X), Quinnipiac (5X), Stanford, UMKC, Vanderbilt, William & Mary (4), Winthrop (3X), and Youngstown State (5X). As you can see there were a lot of schools that have won it more than two years in a row with Pepperdine leading the charge with six straight WCC Championships.
The 13 men's schools that repeated as conference champions were Alabama State, Bryant (5X), East Tennessee State (12X), Idaho, Lamar (3X), Monmouth (3X), Ohio State (3X), San Diego (5X), Tennessee Tech (3X), UC Santa Barbara (4X), UNC Wilmington, Utah State, and VCU. East Tennessee State has won 12 straight conference tournament titles with the last four coming in the Southern Conference.