Sept. 12, 2003

by Eileen Carroll

Ability and energy are two things the Notre Dame men’s tennis class of 2007 has to offer on the courts. The group includes an Indiana state champion, an Irish national champion, a national clay court finalist, a Florida State Open 18s finalist and a Vienna team champion. They may be five new faces, but they are hoping to be recognized soon enough by making immediate contributions.

Entering his 17th season at Notre Dame, head coach Bobby Bayliss knows talent when he sees it and says the group “brings a sense of urgency and an enthusiasm that reminds me of two or three previously outstanding classes, such as the class of ’93, which reached the NCAA final as juniors. When this group becomes seniors I expect us to be prominent nationally.”

While Bayliss notes that a lot can change in four years, the rookies share his high aspirations. South Bend native Ryan Keckley believes “we are going to have a great team this year and in years to come, I think the five freshmen can really contribute.” Keckley is excited for the higher level of competition at Notre Dame and got a preview this summer playing with senior Matt Scott in the ITA Collegiate Summer Circuit event at Notre Dame, where the pair won the doubles tournament, defeating a number of current college players on the way.

The freshmen are a diverse group, but despite coming from different geographic areas, Bayliss notes that “they have bonded and become friendly with each other in a short period of time.”

Barry King of Dublin, Ireland says, “It is different to be on a team playing together with 14 guys since tennis in Ireland consists more of individual tournaments. It’s fun to be on a team with everyone pulling together.” King was undefeated at the junior level in Ireland since January 2001, and won the national indoor title in every age category at the junior level. He is looking forward to the higher level of competition at the collegiate level.

Stephen Bass of Bronxville, N.Y. agrees with King noting, “It is different to play in the team atmosphere. It is an adjustment, but I love playing on a team.” Bass brings a good deal of experience to the team, as a finalist in the USTA Boys’ 18 Super National Clay Court Championship in July. He is ranked 11th in the USTA national junior rankings and holds an ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) world ranking in both singles and doubles.

Irackli Akhvlediani of Vienna, Austria hopes “to use Notre Dame as a stepping stone to other achievements in both tennis and academics”. His classmates agree, all citing the excellence in both academics and athletics as the reason they chose Notre Dame. Akhvlediani is a Vienna team champion and thinks the talent of the freshmen combined with the experience of the older players gives the Irish a lot of potential.

Bobby McNally, a walk-on from Miami, Fla., says, “The older guys on the team have really helped us along. They have been through it all before, and we all benefit from their experience.”

Bayliss believes the freshmen are helping the returning players just as much because “the sense of urgency they bring to the group makes everyone work harder.”

While their experience, their ability and their sense of urgency all make this young group unique, their drive may be captured best by McNally’s simple statement: “I can’t wait to win for Notre Dame.”