Wake Forest Sports Under Ron Wellman: Part XII - Men's Tennis

So this is only like... what... three weeks late? I blame the World Cup for being AWESOME.

Welcome to the latest (and twelfth) portion of this ongoing series evaluating Wake sports under current athletic director Ron Wellman. I am looking at the past 21 seasons - which have come under Wellman's tenure - and comparing them to a baseline of average performance over the prior decade to determine how sports have progressed or regressed during that time. Today: men's tennis.

So yeah, apologies for the tardiness of this. Soccer, particularly at the international level, is pretty much my worst vice. Plus some other non-sports stuff has happened as well that's caused delays and/or procrastination.

***** Index *****

Part I - Football

Part II - Volleyball

Part III - Men's Soccer

Part IV - Women's Soccer

Part V - Men's and Women's Cross Country

Part VI - Field Hockey

Part VII - Men's Basketball

Part VIII - Women's Basketball

Part IX - Men's Golf

Part X - Womens Golf

Part XI - Men's and Women's Track and Field

***** Program Overview *****

Wake Forest has fielded a varsity men's tennis program since the founding of the ACC (1953-54 being the inaugural seasons for both). In the 50+ years since, Wake has won exactly zero conference titles and has only managed to finish second 3 times (1972, 1976, 1981). Wake's best postseason finishes are a pair of Sweet Sixteen trips in 2007 and 2009.

The story of Wake tennis really begins with Jim Leighton, who took over for the 1963 season and coached 22 years. (Wake has actually only had 4 coaches since 1963, with one of those being current coach Tony Bresky, who just finished his third season in the position.) Leighton guided the program through the development from ACC speed bump to regionally competitive, finished with a record of 277-172-2 (.616 winning percentage) overall and 61-83-1 (.424) in conference play, including overseeing all three of the aforementioned ACC runner-up finishes.

After Leighton departed, then-AD Gene Hooks named New Zealand professional Ian Crookenden as his replacement. Crookenden coached for 12 seasons, and while the program as a whole regressed compared to Leighton's numbers (.471 overall winning percentage, .303 conference), Crookenden oversaw the program's first all-American in singles: Gilles Ameline in 1990.

After Crookenden departed, Wellman hired Jeff Zinn as his replacement. Zinn has, quite simply, increased the profile of the program considerably. He has coached two more singles all-Americans (Todd Paul in 2006-07 and Cory Parr in 2009), overseen the most successful postseason runs in team history, and helped the doubles team of Parr and Steven Forman win the ITA National Indoors Championship in 2008. Overall, Zinn led Wake to a .595 overall winning percentage and .557 conference winning percentage, the latter of which is by far the highest mark of any Wake men's tennis coach.

And then Zinn left for Penn State. I suspect that there's a lot more at play here than I know, and if anyone does know I would love to hear about it in the comments, but much like Mike Peterson leaving for North Texas, I find it hard to believe that we are unable to retain a coach who was either the best or second-best in program history. Admittedly, Zinn leaving or Penn State isn't anywhere near as egregious as Peterson leaving for North Texas, but I can't help but wonder if more could've been done to retain him (I honestly don't know).

Anyway, Zinn's departure has cleared the way for current coach Tony Bresky, who has put together a solid, if unspectacular, 3 seasons thus far. Bresky obviously has large shoes to fill, but he definitely deserves the chance to try; early results have been only somewhat promising on that front.

For more detailed analysis on the current state of the program, please read GriffKurz's great review of the team's 2014 season.

***** Note on Methodology *****

It should be common hat by now, but once again I'm bumping up the conference average during the previous 10 years up to .300 for the sake of minimum respectability. In this case, men's tennis won .278 of its conference matches from 1984-1993, so it's not as severe a step as the track programs or women's basketball.



The usual reminders: the horizontal yellow line represents the cumulative average in the previous decade (for men's tennis, a winning percentage of .465) and the vertical silver line represents the demarcation between Ron Wellman's tenure (the right of the line) and the previous 10 seasons (the left of the line).

And immediately, you see one of two things. If you're an optimist, you look at the gradual upward trend from the early 90's through most of the period; the pessimist probably wonders if the performance has leveled off (i.e., has Wake actually peaked in men's tennis) in the past few years.

Either way, the fact that the majority of the data points reside above the previous standard should be a pretty good indication that the men's tennis program has surged under Wellman. (It has.)


Just as a disclaimer: again, I bumped up the average from .278 to .300, because we should be able to at least average that over a prolonged period.

Also again, note the general upward trend for most of the Wellman era. And again, has Wake peaked? We'll examine the past few years in more detail down below, and honestly, I'm not sure I know the answer to that question.


This is a smoothed-out version of the first graph we looked at, and as always I've separated into coaching tenures. We again see the general upward climb during the second half of Crookenden's tenure and then throughout Zinn's.

I said we'd examine the last few years in some detail, and here's where we start. The Deacs underperformed in Bresky's first season, but had a remarkably successful 2013 year (Bresky's second year): 20-9 overall (.690) and 7-3 (.700) in ACC play. And before you ask, the school that didn't field a men's tennis team in 2013 to give a total of 10 conference games? You guessed it, Maryland and their finances being managed by chimps throwing poo.

So that's the real question going forward. Zinn left the program in pretty marvelous shape, even with the downturn in his final season, with 4 year winning percentages close to .600. While obviously we'd all like that to be higher, .600 seems to be a pretty good barometer in terms of what we can realistically hope from Bresky. So far, he's at .563 through three seasons: not bad, but with two "meh" seasons buoyed by that 2013 campaign.

I don't think 2015 counts as "make or break" by any stretch of the imagination, but it will be interesting to see if 2013 is a fluke or whether Bresky has made genuine strides towards Zinn's level.


This though... this is less promising from Bresky. Zinn was posting 4-year averages around .560 for his final few seasons; Bresky is currently at .394. The ACC record, perhaps more than the overall record, is what may deem 2015 a crucial year in determining the current trajectory of the program.

With the preliminaries out of the way, here are the Wellman graphs...



No real surprises with these two graphs, which show the trend mentioned earlier of the overall program winning percentage under Wellman rising, rising, rising and then maaaaaaybe plateauing in the last few seasons. Again, with the coaching change, I still think we need one or two more seasons to assess whether that's actually the case, or whether the coaching shift is a momentary blip of stasis in an otherwise continuing upward trend.

If you're wondering, overall winning percentage under Wellman is a robust .579, and ACC winning percentage is at .505. Not too shabby!



Have I said that Jeff Zinn is a really good coach? Because he is. And I'd still like to know why he left for Penn State and what (if any) efforts were made to retain him.


As you'd expect, men's tennis has done pretty darn okay for itself compared to it's expected wins. A cumulative +63.5 over Wellman's 21 seasons, which I believe puts it as the best program evaluated so far, just edging out men's basketball (+61.0) and field hockey (+58.1). This is a raw score, so you'll have to wait til the end to see if this holds up when the schedule accounts for games played (i.e., turned into a per 1000 games number).


Nope, that's not the same graph. For one, I resized it. For two, its the conference totals: a +40.2 total is third most of any sport thus far (men's basketball had +55.7, and volleyball had +40.8). Still, that's a pretty nice number: almost two wins better than expected per year in ACC play (from 3-7 to 5-5, approximately).


In my women's golf recap, I gave four blind resumes of coaches that I considered to be the best during the Wellman era, and stated that there was a fifth I believe should be in contention for that claim. In all honesty, I was alluding to legendary baseball coach George Greer, but Jeff Zinn probably could enter into that conversation. In 15 seasons, Zinn has posted +50.6 wins against expected, better than +3.0 per season for you math types. And his conference mark...


... is also quite healthy: +36.0. Compare those marks with the other coaches listed:

Averill: +2.769 wins against expected per season (+0.976 conference)

da Luz: +1.64 wins against expected per season (+1.623 conference)

Dailey: +2.56 wins against expected per season (+1.085 conference)

Vidovich: +2.407 wins against expected per season (+1.755 conference)

Zinn: +3.372 wins against expected per season (+2.4 conference)

He didn't win any NCAA team titles (or even any ACC team titles), but Zinn's numbers look pretty good compared to the rest. I plan on looking at these coaches in a game-adjusted way during the final piece, and I guess we'll see if Zinn holds up then.

(For what it's worth, I still vote for Averill tops, not necessarily because of the national titles as much as the degree of difficulty: the ACC overall in field hockey is slightly stronger than in women's soccer, and both of those are pretty far above the other sports in terms of cumulative quality. But mathematically, there's a pretty good case for Zinn.)

***** Summation *****


Proj. Record: 158.1-181.9 (26.7-61.3)

Actual Record: 160-180 (27-62)

Net: +1.9 (+0.3)

Proj. Record under Wellman: 37.7-43.3 (7.2-16.8

Actual Record under Wellman: 42-39 (8-16)

Net: +4.3 (+0.8)


Proj. Record: 180.4-207.6 (42-98)

Actual Record: 231-157 (78-62)

Net: +50.6 (+36.0)


Proj. Record: 40.5-46.5 (9.6-22.4)

Actual Record: 49-38 (13-19)

Net: +8.5 (+3.4)


Proj. Record: 258.5-297.5 (58.8-137.2)

Actual Record: 322-234 (99-97)

Net: +63.5 (+40.2)

***** Analysis *****

So, Bresky's numbers aren't bad. In fact, they look quite good in a vacuum.

The problem is that Bresky's numbers - even the healthy yearly wins against expected numbers - pale in comparison to Zinn's. As a result, the conclusion (whether fair or not) to be drawn is that the program has slipped in recent seasons, although admittedly this is from the best spot that the program has even been in.

Like I said above, this is something worth watching. I'm sure anyone who follows the men's tennis team fairly closely can chime in with his or her opinion in the comments and it would be far more educated than mine. As for me, I think the early signs from Bresky are encouraging, but not "knock-your-socks-off" good.

And I still would like to know why the best coach in program history - and possibly the best coach of any program in recent Wake history - left for Penn State.

***** Running Total *****

Football: -6.4 (+2.9) --> -25.8 (+17.3)

Volleyball: +20.9 (+40.8) --> +36.9 (+124.4)

Men's Soccer: +46.5 (+34.6) --> +109.7 (+233.8)

Women's Soccer: +51.3 (+28.9) --> +119.6 (+169.0)

Men's Cross Country: -9.5 (-9.5) --> -48.4 (-48.4)

Women's Cross Country:+17.3 (+17.3) --> +86.6 (+86.6)

Field Hockey: +58.1 (+20.5) --> +131.0 (+164.0)

Men's Basketball: +61.0 (+55.7) --> +91.3 (+164.0)

Women's Basketball: -61.2 (-18.2) --> -99.4 (-56.2)

Men's Golf: -23.5 (-31.8) --> -37.5 (-169.1)

Women's Golf: +53.8 (+22.8) --> +119.6 (+183.9)

Men's Track and Field: +15.2 (+15.2) --> +38.4 (+38.4)

Women's Track and Field: -37.0 (-37.0) --> -92.5 (-92.5)

Men's Tennis: +63.5 (+40.2) --> +114.2 (+205.1)


Total: +543.7 (+1020.1)


Total: +1029.1 (+2086.0)


Next time: Women's tennis, which should be up shortly after the World Cup ends and my motivation returns. (Sorry again for taking so long between these, but... World Cup!)

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