April 10, 2014
By Lauren Chval
Two weeks ago, the Notre Dame men’s tennis team played its first home outdoor match of the season, facing No. 8 North Carolina. Headlining the bout was the duel between Irish senior captain Greg Andrews, ranked 29th in the country, and 10th-ranked Brayden Schnur at No. 1 singles.
Andrews went down early but battled back before dropping a hard-fought first set, 7-5. As Andrews prepared to play the second set, Irish head coach Ryan Sachire delivered a familiar message.
“During that match, Coach Sachire said, `Stick to the plan. We know that what we do will be successful and we can’t worry about a few points here and there. You’ve lost that set, but just stick to the plan, and that’s what’s going to get it done in the end.'”
Andrews took a minute to collect himself between sets, and when he got back on the court, it was clear he had no doubts that the next two sets were his. Not only did Andrews win the match, he only dropped two more games in denying Schnur a continuing perfect record at No. 1 singles, 5-7, 6-1, 6-1.
Despite the fact that the Irish would fall to North Carolina, 5-2, Andrews’ comeback victory presents a perfect microcosm of Notre Dame’s gritty 2014 season. Completing his second season as Irish captain, Andrews says the most rewarding thing for him to see as a leader is his team fight back after something does not go their way.
“I think the way we have responded to not our best matches has been the most gratifying for me,” he explains. “We took some tough losses throughout the year, but we’ve almost always followed up with really good performances. I think that shows that we’re great competitors. And that’s something that I know everyone with Notre Dame tennis has tried to instill from day one of this year.”
For Sachire, a former Irish star who is in his first year as head coach after seven years on the staff of retired Notre Dame coach Bobby Bayliss , Andrews has proved to be invaluable to the program. The coach describes his captain as something of a triple threat in terms of contribution–bringing together strong leadership, unmatched athletic talent and serious commitment to academics.
Andrews admits it was the academic side of the University that led him to choose Notre Dame in the first place.
“I knew that I wanted to go to a great academic institution,” he says. “I had a feeling that I wanted to study business, and this being the best business school in the country combined with unbelievable athletics…it kind of seemed like a no-brainer.”
Andrews has demonstrated that he’s anything but a “no-brainer.” He was one of only two tennis players in the country last year to make first team Academic All-American. A member of the Dean’s List every semester at Notre Dame, he’ll graduate with honors this May before going on to complete his Masters of Science in Accounting at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business next year.
Andrews’ on-the-court resume is every bit as impressive. He didn’t waste any time, earning the honor of BIG EAST Freshman of the Year in 2011 before being named BIG EAST Player of the Year during both his sophomore and junior years. He’s the only Notre Dame player in history to receive that thee-year progression. In his final season competing at Notre Dame, he will qualifiy for the NCAA singles championship tournament for the third consecutive year.
“It starts with the fact that he’s really talented,” Sachire says. “He’s always had a huge weapon in his forehand, he’s always been able to move really well, and then you go into more of the intangible things: he’s always had a tremendous work ethic and desire to get better. When you have that recipe, you’re going to have success. We were pretty confident that he was going to have a great career at Notre Dame.”
But it was the third piece of the puzzle–the ability to lead a team–that came last and least naturally to Andrews. During his junior year, he shared the captaincy with then-senior Blas Moros (`13). Both athletes say that Moros was the vocal leader and Andrews was more of a leader by example.
“I thought Greg and I synced really well together as co-captains,” Moros says. “We were always on the same page about where we wanted to take the program and what it would take to get there. Greg is exactly the type of guy you want as your captain. He has always given absolutely everything he has and was the guy you would want to be last match on with everything on the line.”
From the No. 1 singles position, Andrews had the on-court credibility to be the driving force of his team’s performance, but he still had room to grow in terms of guiding a team through communication. Now, as this season’s only captain, Andrews credits his former partner with a lot of his development.
“Our dynamic last year really gave me an opportunity to observe Blas and learn a lot from Blas,” Andrews reflects. “He did a great job, and being a co-captain with him made me able to be a lot better of a solo captain this year.”
Sachire, too, admits that the area in which Andrews has grown the most this year is in communication.
“He’s improved in that area quite a bit,” Sachire explains. “I think when Greg first came to Notre Dame, he internalized a great deal. He wasn’t the most vocal person. He always led by example, he always worked really hard, but I think he’s learned through being in that position how to communicate better with teammates in terms of addressing problems.
“If anything Greg beats himself up too much and he expects himself to be perfect all the time, and that’s not realistic. I think accepting that and learning that he can only do the best job that he can and to not put too much on his own shoulders has been important for Greg this year.”
Andrews himself does not dispute that he has a tendency toward perfectionism, recognizing both its problems and its benefits. While the desire for perfection motivates him to get on the court to improve, it also makes him impossibly hard on himself, as Sachire explains.
His quest for perfection notably emerges in a desire that Andrews has had since he first arrived at Notre Dame–to be named an All-American. By the time Andrews was a freshman, his brother Rob had already been named an All-American swimmer at Stanford, and since then, it has been a very clear goal for the younger of the two brothers.
College tennis players can earn All-American honors in several ways–reaching the round of 16 of the NCAA Singles Championship or being seeded as highly or finishing the season in the top 20 of the ITA rankings, and then there is the doubles route. All of these possibilities are on the table for Andrews, but nothing is a guarantee in tennis, and the senior knows this.
“I haven’t been named an All-American yet, but through talks with Sach and as I’ve matured a little bit, I’ve come to realize that just the title of All-American isn’t going to define my college career,” Andrews says. “My goal that I have left now is just to play as well as I can, and maybe I will be an All-American and maybe I won’t. I know that I’m playing at the level of an All-American player, and now I just want to see what happens with the rest of the season.”
And once again, Andrews recognizes that it is all about the process. As Sachire tells him and as he in turn both tells and models for his teammates, as long as he focuses on the plan and the process, he knows he will be successful.