Jan. 14, 2016
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — For University of Notre Dame men’s tennis head coach Ryan Sachire, the 2016 season will be one littered with opportunities.
Individual successes marked the 2014-15 year for several members of the Irish, but a 14-12 record and first-round exits at the Atlantic Coast Conference and NCAA Championships left Notre Dame with goals unmet. But with the Irish returning a wealth of experience up and down the lineup — including five players who have been ranked in the top 10 nationally in either singles or doubles at points in their careers — they will look to bridge the gap between good and great.
Sachire hopes that experience will help lift the 37th-ranked Irish in close matches this season. They played 11 matches last spring that ended in 4-3 scores and, while the Irish went 7-4 in those contests, three of those losses were followed by another loss. That reality indicated to Sachire a need to respond better to adversity.
“Ultimately it’s going to be about how we execute in those moments to determine our success rate in those 4-3 matches,” Sachire said. “But more importantly (it’s going to be) how we respond after wins, after losses — how do we continue to progress as a team throughout the course of the season? I felt like last year we let a couple of close losses affect our confidence level too much and ultimately we were not quite as good at the end of the year as we were at the beginning of the year. We need to learn from that that we need to do a great job of having resolve and being the same team the next day that we were going into the match the day before, no matter what the result was.”
The Irish will lean on a strong foundation with a five-member senior class and a talented junior tandem who each return as significant contributors throughout their careers. From that base, Sachire sees a unified squad that is ready to make strides on the court in 2016.
“It’s not one or two guys trying to filter the message down to 12 guys,” Sachire said. “You have a really solid foundation where I can make an argument that every single senior is a tremendous leader in certain aspects. They’re all different and they all feed off of each other and that makes that group really successful and really fun to work with. … There’s a standard being set every day by the five seniors and two juniors and it’s become what’s expected within our program.”
The Irish return five of six primary singles starters from a season ago, while all seven returning upperclassmen started in at least 10 dual matches last season. That bunch will be led by newly minted All-American and 2015 NCAA semifinalist Quentin Monaghan, who will again start atop the lineup.
Now a senior, Monaghan compiled a 20-3 record in dual matches last season en route to his deep run in the NCAA Singles Championship and a No. 7 ranking at the end of the season. He’ll enter the dual season ranked No. 36 in the Oracle/ITA Men’s National Singles Rankings after a fall tournament schedule that included appearances at elite events, including the American Collegiate Invitational, Oracle/ITA Masters, ITA All-American Championships and the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships.
Beyond Monaghan, seniors Alex Lawson, Eric Schnurrenberger, Kenneth Sabacinski and Nicolas Montoya, and juniors Josh Hagar and Eddy Covalschi all return as significant contributors for the Irish from a year ago. Sachire also expects sophomores Drew Dawson and Brendon Kempin to see enhanced roles, while freshmen Nathan Griffin and Daniel Rayl could also find themselves in the lineup this season.
Where they fall in the lineup will likely be determined following the season’s first few weeks as Sachire evaluates their play at different spots in the order.
“I can see certain guys playing as high as two and as low as five or six,” Sachire said. “You think about Eddy and Eric and Josh and Alex — you have a group of guys that can literally play the gamut of the lineup positions.
“A lot of it will be how they’re playing when they come back (for spring practice), the confidence level that they’re demonstrating and also what their personalities are like. Some guys play better when they’re in the top of the lineup, other guys play better when they’re in the bottom of the lineup. I think the flexibility is a good piece of that and I expect it to change a lot throughout the course of the year, too.”
For the second time in as many seasons, the Irish will have a doubles tandem entering the dual season ranked in the top 10 of the Oracle/ITA Men’s National Doubles Rankings. After a phenomenal fall in which they captured the ITA Midwest Regional Doubles Championship, advanced to the semifinals of the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships and posted an 8-2 record, Monaghan and Lawson will occupy the top spot in the lineup with a No. 6 national ranking.
Monaghan and Lawson are Notre Dame’s second consecutive Midwest Regional champions, as teammates Hagar and Covalschi took the title a season ago. Hagar and Covalschi entered the fall ranked at No. 10, but fell out of the rankings after not playing in the fall as Hagar rehabbed an injury. The junior pair will likely occupy the second slot in the lineup.
The Irish once again face one of the nation’s toughest schedules, with 14 of their 23 opponents ranked in the preseason top 75. Seven of those teams reside inside the top 20, and six made the Round of 16 of last year’s NCAA Championship.
The Irish will kick off their dual schedule with a doubleheader against Michigan State and Detroit this Saturday at home, and then will travel to Illinois for the ITA Kickoff Weekend (January 22-23). The Irish will continue their tour of Illinois when they take on No. 26 Northwestern in Evanston (January 29), then return to Champaign to again take on the No. 6 Illini (February 5).
Notre Dame will host six straight home matches, including two double headers to finish out the month of February, welcoming in-state foes No. 47 Indiana and Ball State (February 7); Michigan (February 13); Kentucky and Western Michigan (February 21); and No. 10 Ohio State (February 28).
ACC play will begin at Boston College (March 3) before the Irish return home to face No. 36 Louisville (March 6). Notre Dame will then travel to No. 64 Clemson (March 11) and No. 11 Wake Forest (March 13), then host No. 13 Duke (March 18) and Miami (March 20). The Irish will wrap up March with a trip to reigning national champion and top-ranked Virginia (March 25) before heading south to visit No. 43 Georgia Tech (March 27).
The Irish will get three straight matches at home to start April, hosting No. 31 Florida State (April 1), No. 16 Virginia Tech (April 3) and No. 9 North Carolina (April 8) before wrapping up the regular season at No. 40 NC State (April 17).
The ACC Championship will take place April 21-24 at the Cary Tennis Center in Cary, North Carolina. The first rounds of the NCAA Championship will begin May 8 at campus sites.
“What I look at when I see our schedule is really good, consistent opportunities spread out throughout the entire year,” Sachire said. “There’s no easy matches that we’re going to be playing, and it starts with Michigan State on the 16th. … Our goals are extremely high. We want to win the ACC Championship and we want to compete for a national championship. In order to do that, we’re going to have to beat some great teams, some of the best teams in the country.”
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women’s soccer, men’s tennis, women’s tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University and earned her master’s degree from Georgetown University in 2013.