Oct. 17, 2014
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The fall tennis season has all the trappings and conditions of monotony and indifference, though the University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team certainly doesn’t view it that way.
After compiling what was arguably the program’s best season in the past decade last school year, the Irish aren’t content with resting on their laurels. In fact, the initial portion of the fall tournament schedule hasn’t allowed them to do that.
Thus far, head coach Ryan Sachire’s team has competed against some of the nation’s elite players and teams in prestigious events such as the Farnsworth Ivy Plus (Princeton), Crimson Tide Four In The Fall (Alabama) and the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA) All-American Championships (Tulsa, Oklahoma).
Competing in those types of high-profile events right out of the gate does have its advantages, though.
“It allows us to get a little bit more practice and experience against larger scale opponents,” senior Billy Pecor says. “We know it’s never going to be an easy match. It’s never going to be a rollover. You want to be playing these really good opponents from larger schools on a national level because it definitely helps.”
Pecor pairs up with junior Alex Lawson to comprise Notre Dame’s most lethal doubles team, a duo that earned a national preseason ranking of 27th from the ITA and could easily move up when the new rankings are released in January after an impressive fall campaign thus far.
That prognostication was validated after the duo defeated the USF’s 12th-ranked team of Roberto Cid and Sasha Gozun, 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-5), in the round of 16 of the doubles main draw at the ITA All-American Championships.
“Billy (Pecor) and I know that’s how good we are,” Lawson says. “We know we’re a top 10 doubles team. It shows you that the hard work is paying off. We know we’re going to need a lot more matches like that one.”
Adds Pecor: “Playing in Oklahoma (at the ITA All-American Championships) two weeks ago opened my eyes up to where we feel like we stand among national competition.”
While Lawson and Pecor were advancing through the doubles main draw, junior Quentin Monaghan had his sights set on making a run of his own through the singles tournament.
The Chatham, New Jersey, native made quick work of his opponents in the qualifying round, defeating Chris Kipouras of Georgia, Alexandru Ghilea of Oklahoma and 89th-ranked Nick Wood of Georgia to advance to the main draw.
It was in that round that Monaghan flexed his muscle in a proverbial sense, defeating 33rd-ranked Roberto Quiroz of Southern California, 6-0, 7-5, before dropping a hard fought match to No. 12 Austin Smith of Georgia, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4.
“It was a really good tournament,” Monaghan says. “I went in there with the goal of qualifying for the main draw and I did that, which was tough. I played some tough matches against some good players. I went right into the main draw with some good matches under my belt and caught the first guy a little bit off guard.
“I played a good first match and had some opportunities in the second. Overall, I’d say it was a really good experience.”
That striking performance shouldn’t have been a surprise to anyone, though.
The weekend prior to the ITA All-American Championships, Monaghan earned the signature win of his career, defeating sixth-ranked Jared Hiltzik from Illinois in straight sets, 6-1, 6-1, at the Fighting Illini Invitational.
“That match was pretty cool,” Monaghan says. “Every match was building toward doing the right things. In that last match, everything clicked. It was really nice to see the work I’ve been putting in pay off.
“To see it all come together in that match was pretty cool. It was huge for confidence, just knowing I can compete with anyone in the country if I’m playing well.”
The accomplishments of Lawson, Pecor and Monaghan thus far underscore the grand mission of this team going forward.
While it’s still seven months away, advancing through the NCAA Tournament is already on the minds of Irish players.
However, to reach those heights, the team must stick to what they’ve dubbed as “the process.”
“The teams that do well are the ones that are working hard every day,” Monaghan says. “You really can’t take days off. The fall really shouldn’t be looked at as the off-season. We still have to work hard if we want to do well in NCAAs.”
According to Pecor, attention to detail applies not only on the court, but off it as well.
No matter where Sachire’s players are or what they’re doing, “the process” is active at all times.
“Even before we’re on the court, they stay on us about things off the court like eating, sleeping, training and getting our work done,” Pecor says. “So, it’s not just an on the court process. It’s all your daily activities.”
Ultimately, it’s up to the players to be consistent in doing the little things correctly day in and day out.
While it’s not difficult to lose focus in a college setting, Sachire’s players have been accountable, and that’s partly due to the success they envision for themselves once the spring season rolls around.
“You can lose sight of what you’re really working for, but I think everyone, for the most part, we do a really god job of staying focused on the process,” Lawson says. “Every day in practice, we’re coming out with purpose and knowing what it’s about. By springtime, we want to be as good as we can be.
As the team has locked in on a consistent routine, the confidence has set in.
There’s certainly no fear in the group, with success at the NCAA Tournament and exceeding last season’s results being the unrelenting, driving force behind the dedication the team has displayed since the summer matches.
“I’ve seen ups and downs on this team during the last four years, but we’ve definitely set a very high standard for ourselves,” Pecor says. “We’re going to hold that standard every day in practice and in every match we play.”
–Connor Killoren, Media Relations Student Assistant