Washington and Lee Head Men's Tennis Coach David Detwiler likes the look and feel of his 2012 team and he's ready to test them against some stiff competition as the Generals look to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for a third consecutive season.
"I think that we have a good mix of returning experience and some first-year players who have had some good experience in high school and juniors tennis," he said. "It will be interesting to see how everything falls (in our lineup) by the end of the year because we are going to challenge ourselves with a difficult schedule."
The Generals, who are unranked in the ITA Preseason Poll, will face six teams in the poll, including a California trip where they will face fifth-ranked Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and 15th-ranked University of Redlands.
"It is a difficult schedule, but I'm looking forward to seeing how we do," offered Detwiler. "I gauge our season on whether we've been able to beat the teams that we're not supposed to beat. I'm not satisfied by just beating those teams that we're supposed to beat."
As usual, the Generals will be among the preseason favorites to win the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, something they have accomplished 15 times in the last 16 years. Just as in recent years, the conference champion will receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
"Our goals are always to make it to NCAAs and advance to Nationals," said the 12th-year Head Coach. "I'd also like to have a couple of players qualify for the singles championship and at least one doubles team."
As for doubles, that's one thing that Detwiler is taking a "wait-and-see" approach towards.
"We really need to focus on our doubles play, because it plays such a large factor in matches," he said. "We need those doubles points and it's about finding the right combinations. We have a solid singles team, but we're just not sure who plays the best together and where the best chemistry is. We're working on it."
As for singles, Detwiler is pretty settled on what his top eight will look like, though there is some competition at the bottom of the lineup for a spot in the top six.
Junior Hayden White seems to have a lock on the No. 1 singles position for the third year in a row. White advanced to the quarterfinals of the ITA regional singles tournament in the fall and is coming off a Round of 16 showing at the NCAA Singles Championship last spring. Through two and a half seasons, he has compiled a 49-19 career record, including a 19-5 mark last year. A two-time All-American, he enters the spring ranked fifth in the region and 18th nationally in singles.
"Hayden had a strong showing at Nationals last year and I think he continues to mature as a player," said Detwiler. "You sort of know what you're getting from him on the court and he's proven to be a reliable No. 1."
First-year Michael Goldstein appears to have locked down the No. 2 singles position after a strong fall season saw him also finish as a singles quarterfinalist at the ITA regionals. He'll begin the spring season ranked 11th in the region and 48th nationally in singles.
"Michael played a number of sports growing up and is a tremendous athlete," Detwiler remarked. "He's got a great all-court game and he's probably our best doubles player."
The third and fourth singles positions are up for grabs between senior Jeremy Becht and first-year Taylor Shamshiri. Becht is the team captain and he has been a mainstay with the program since the moment he set foot on campus. For his career, he has logged a 52-28 singles record and a 48-24 doubles mark, while earning All-ODAC honors each year.
"Jeremy is simply one of the smartest players on the team and he is steady and consistent," said Detwiler. "He is a baseline player, but a great thinker on the court, and he's been a big part of our success as a program over the last four years."
Shamshiri was a high-profile recruit who went 3-5 in singles and 3-4 in doubles during the fall season.
"Taylor is a talented player, probably our most talented player," said Detwiler. "He's battled a few injuries and it has been a bit of an adjustment, but when he is on, he could easily be a Top 50 player. He has a good all-around game, but is more of a baseliner at this point."
First-year Christopher Hu will likely hold down the No. 5 singles position after going 2-3 in singles and 2-2 in doubles during the fall.
"Chris is one of our best ball strikers and he played a lot of tennis in his younger years," said Detwiler. "He is serious about his tennis right now and he transitions well to the college game, especially doubles."
The No. 6 singles position could see a number of players throughout the season, but whoever earns the position will bring a wealth of experience to the lineup. Seniors Michael Freeman, Brian Roberts and Ben Fass are among those singled out by Detwiler as contenders for the position. All three have earned All-ODAC honors for singles play during their careers.
Freeman was a First Team All-ODAC choice at No. 4 singles and No. 3 doubles last season after going 13-5 in singles and 15-1 in doubles. For his career, he is 54-23 in singles and 20-7 in doubles play.
"Michael is a clutch player and I have complete trust in him," Detwiler noted. "He has a never-say-die attitude and he has had some big wins over his first three years. I believe we'll see that continue."
Roberts is 31-5 all-time in singles and 18-6 in doubles. Last spring, he earned Honorable Mention All-ODAC honors after going 13-2 in singles play.
"Brian is a level-headed player who can contribute a lot based on his past experiences," said Detwiler. "I think you'll see him move in and out of the lineup a lot because he is a tremendous indoor player and we'll look to take advantage of that."
Fass was a First Team All-ODAC choice last year after going 13-5 in singles play. For his career, he has posted a 37-21 overall record.
"Ben put in a lot of work in the off-season and it shows in his game," said Detwiler. "He didn't have a great fall, but he's come back strong. He's a clutch player and I know if it goes to three sets, I can have confidence in him in that situation."
As noted earlier, all three doubles tandems are out there for the taking, but Detwiler believes that White and Goldstein will be in the mix, possibly playing together. He also sees senior Mac Davis getting plenty of time as part of a doubles team. An All-ODAC choice as a sophomore, he has logged a 19-17 singles record and a 33-16 doubles mark over his four seasons.
"We've worked very hard on our conditioning, both aerobic and physical, over the past two years and we're also working hard on team chemistry, trying to set a standard for the next couple of years," offered Detwiler. "There is a sense of urgency with our seniors as they realize that this is it for them. As a team, we are trying to improve every day and that is very satisfying. Our priorities are in the right place now we just need to go out there and play some great tennis."
The Generals will get the spring season underway on Saturday when they host Christopher Newport, ranked 10th in the Atlantic South Region, for a 2:00 pm contest.