Senior Ryan Keckley.

#18 Irish Win 4-2 At #19 Texas A&M To Advance To NCAA Round of 16

May 13, 2006

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – After failing to win an NCAA tournament match the last three years, the 18th-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team (19-8) will return to the round of 16 after knocking off the No. 16 national seed, 19th-ranked Texas A&M (16-11), Saturday at its George P. Mitchell Tennis Center in the second round of the NCAA Division I Championship. South Bend native Ryan Keckley (St. Joseph’s H.S.) provided the clinching victory for the Irish, who advance to the final 16 in the national championship for the sixth time. Notre Dame will play next Saturday, May 20, at 6 p.m. (PT) at Stanford University’s Taube Tennis Center against top-seeded and undefeated national #1 Georgia.

The doubles was competitive, but the Aggies prevailed to take a 1-0 advantage. The Irish then got straight-set victories in four of the five singles matches that were completed, while TAMU won in two sets in another. The remaining match saw the Aggies up a set and 5-4 (but on serve) in the second.

“I couldn’t be prouder of our guys,” said Irish head coach Bob Bayliss. “They fought extremely well. It was an energized crowd and a fun environment to compete in. We had been out of competition for three weeks, and I think both teams were a little rusty, but I think we picked it up a level today.”

After four relatively-quick two-set decisions in singles, it became apparent that the No. 4 match would likely be the decisive one (though it was not yet a foregone conclusion that the No. 5 contest would be won by the Aggies). Keckley – one of the team’s co-MVPs and most-consistent winners – eventually gutted out a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win against fellow junior Brett Joelson, who saved three match points before finally succumbing. The Irish junior moved to 21-6 on the season, including 19-5 in dual play. He earned his third match-clinching victory of the season and improved to 11-3 in close contests. Joelson had a six-match winning streak ended and had been victorious in 13 of his last 14 matches.

Notre Dame – making its 15th appearance in the last 16 years – is now 14-14 in the NCAA tournament since it adopted its current dual-match format in 1977. The Irish are 3-1 when playing on the opponent’s home courts, having previously won at Georgia in the 1992 quarterfinals and at Harvard in the 2001 first round (the lone defeat came in the 2000 second round at UCLA). It was the fifth victory against a higher-ranked foe in 14 tries for the Irish in the NCAAs. Notre Dame also was among the final 16 teams in 1991, ’92, ’93, ’94, and 2002, advancing all the way to the title match in ’92 and to the ’93 quarters.

Texas A&M had its streak of six consecutive trips to the round of 16 – a feat matched by just one other Division I team (UCLA) – ended.

“It’s not easy to do what they just did,” said Texas A&M head coach Tim Cass. “We didn’t do a good job of prolonging our matches. For them to get off the court in straight sets really quickly was just something that we couldn’t recover from. I give them credit for coming here and doing that.”

Senior Eric Langenkamp (Scarsdale, N.Y./Scarsdale H.S.), sophomore Sheeva Parbhu (Omaha, Neb./Millard North H.S.), and freshman Brett Helgeson (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley West H.S.) – who was Friday’s hero, coming through in a three-set match against Brown with the score tied 3-3 – all provided straight-set victories in singles, none losing more than six total games. They were instrumental in the Irish coming back to win the match after dropping the doubles point for the second day in a row and seventh time (in 13 opportunities) this season.

“After losing a pretty well-contested doubles point, I am really proud of how we bounced back in singles,” said Bayliss.

Helgeson – who sat out due to injury when A&M posted a 5-1 victory against the Irish on March 26 at the Mitchell Tennis Center – got off the court first in singles, tying the match at 1-1 with a 6-2, 6-0 victory against Matt Bain at No. 3. The Irish rookie has won four in a row and is now 23-10 overall as a collegian, including 16-9 in dual action (11-7 since moving up to No. 3). Bain was TAMU’s most-consistent player in singles this season, finishing with a 25-8 overall record, including 16-5 in dual action. He had won eight of his last nine prior to Saturday.

Next off was Langenkamp – the lone senior in Notre Dame’s lineup – who provided a victory for the second day in a row, as well, defeating John Nallon 6-3, 6-3 at No. 6. It was an impressive victory for the Irish veteran considering that it was the first time that Nallon had played No. 6 all season after playing as high as No. 2 earlier this spring. Langenkamp has won five of his last six and is 16-10 on the season, including 12-5 in dual matches.

Parbhu put the Irish up 3-1 with his second victory over Bryan Wooten at No. 2 this season. After providing Notre Dame’s lone point during the regular season with a 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) win, he was more convincing this time, finishing off a 6-1, 6-3 decision. Parbhu has won eight of his last nine and is unbeaten in three career singles matches in the NCAA tournament. He became just the third player in Notre Dame history to post 30+ singles victories in both his freshman and sophomore campaigns. The others were All-Americans David DiLucia (38-9 in 1988-89; 33-12 in 1989-90) and Ryan Sachire (37-9 in 1996-97; 34-14 in 1997-98). Parbhu was 32-7 as a rookie and is 30-7 this season for a 62-14 (.816) career mark. He is 19-5 in dual play this season, as well as 13-2 outdoors.

Among the challenges for the Irish were dealing with one of the toughest home crowds in college tennis, as the Aggies enjoy outstanding fan support, averaging nearly 400 people per match this season. Additionally, the weather heated up on Saturday, as temperatures were in the 90s (roughly 50 degrees higher than it was at Notre Dame on Saturday) despite the match getting underway at 4 p.m. local time.

“I think our guys deserve a lot of credit for adjusting to the conditions,” said Bayliss. “It was probably 60 degrees when we got here. To hack it out in 90-degree temperatures today was really good. No one is cramping and no one was tired.”

After winning just five total games in doubles in the regular-season matchup, the Irish were competitive this time, but Texas A&M still took a 1-0 lead. First off the court was the No. 3 team of Bain and Nallon, who won 8-6 against Helgeson and junior Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School). Joelson and Jerry Makowski then clinched the point with a win by the same score at No. 1 against the 28th-ranked team of Keckley and Langenkamp. At No. 2, Parbhu and junior Barry King (Dublin, Ireland/Gonzaga College) were tied 7-7 with Wooten and Marcus Lunt.

Makowski, ranked 12th in the nation, provided TAMU’s lone singles win by beating 21st-ranked Bass 6-4, 6-3 at No. 1. Mohamed Dakki was up 6-4, 5-4 at No. 5 against King when that match was abandoned.

Texas A&M was without an injured Conor Pollock, who has played all of the bottom five spots in the singles lineup this season, but has lately filled the No. 2 position.

Notre Dame beat Texas A&M for the second time in five all-time meetings, ending a three-match skid against the Aggies. ND’s other win was a 5-4 decision in the 1991 H.E.B. Championship in Corpus Christi, Texas.

Georgia (27-0) won 4-0 against Georgia Tech in Sunday’s second round to reach the round of 16. The Irish and Bulldogs have met seven times, with Georgia winning all but one meeting. Notre Dame, ranked 10th at the time, pulled off an upset of the third-ranked Bulldogs on their home courts by a 5-4 score in the quarterfinals of the 1992 NCAAs. Georgia returned the favor in the other NCAA meeting, posting a 4-3 victory at Notre Dame in 1994 round of 16. The most-recent matchup between the squads came in the 2002 USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championship, with #1 Georgia prevailing 4-2 over the 10th-ranked Irish.

[No. 17-32 seed] #18 Notre Dame 4, [No. 16 seed] #19 Texas A&M 2SinglesNo. 1:  #12 Jerry Makowski (A&M) def. #21 Stephen Bass (ND) 6-4, 6-3No. 2:  #32 Sheeva Parbhu (ND) def. Bryan Wooten (A&M) 6-1, 6-3No. 3:  Brett Helgeson (ND) def. Matt Bain (A&M) 6-2, 6-0No. 4:  * Ryan Keckley (ND) def. Brett Joelson (A&M) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4No. 5:  Mohamed Dakki (A&M) led Barry King (ND) 6-4, 5-4, abandonedNo. 6:  Eric Langenkamp (ND) def. John Nallon (A&M) 6-3, 6-3Order of Finish: 3, 6, 2, 1, 4*DoublesNo. 1:  * Joelson/Makowski (A&M) def. #28 Keckley/Langenkamp (ND) 8-6No. 2:  King/Parbhu (ND) vs. Marcus Lunt/Wooten (A&M) 7-7, abandonedNo. 3:  Bain/Nallon (A&M) def. Bass/Helgeson (ND) 8-6Order of Finish: 3, 1** - indicates clinching victory