April 8, 2016
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The seniors of the University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team can be forgiven if they didn’t set out to make history on Friday night.
Go out on a winning note in their final home match at the Eck Tennis Pavilion? Sure. Enjoy a night surrounded by their friends and families as they celebrated their four years at Notre Dame on Senior Night? Almost certainly.
It’s unlikely that any of the Irish were thinking about the implications of their 55th-ranked team beating North Carolina’s No. 1 squad. Or about the last time Notre Dame defeated a No. 1-ranked team. Indeed, the last time that happened, none of them had yet been born (May 18, 1992 against top-ranked USC).
All of those things were just bright, shiny side-effects to Notre Dame’s 5-2 victory over North Carolina (21-3, 6-3 Atlantic Coast Conference), but all of those things will in the future serve to enhance a memory that will surely stick with Alex Lawson, Quentin Monaghan, Nicolas Montoya, Kenneth Sabacinski and Eric Schnurrenberger for a lifetime.
“This is as special as it is because [North Carolina is] so good,” the Callaghan Family Men’s Head Tennis Coach Ryan Sachire said. “They have done so well this year ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ and we couldn’t have more respect for their program and their team, coaches and players. That’s what set the table for something magical for our guys tonight.”
All four of Notre Dame’s healthy seniors notched a win Friday night, whether in doubles or singles. In fact, each Irish player in the lineup picked up a win on the night.
The stage was set with a spirited doubles competition that ended in three 6-4 matches, with the Irish scoring upset victories on Courts 2 and 3 to snare the point. After UNC’s top-ranked Brett Clark and Robert Kelly edged 12th-ranked Lawson and Monaghan at the No. 1 slot, the Irish evened the score with Montoya and freshman Grayson Broadus defeating Anudeep Kodali and Ronnie Schneider on Court 3. For the second week in a row, juniors Eddy Covalschi and Josh Hagar – who re-entered the Oracle/ITA doubles rankings at No. 79 this week – defeated a top-20 opponent in their win over No. 17 Brayden Schnur and Jack Murray, clinching a 1-0 lead for Notre Dame.
The momentum stayed with the Irish as singles began, with Notre Dame (13-12, 5-6 ACC) winning the first set on four of six courts. But the Tar Heels did not go down easily, and made runs that looked as though they might threaten Notre Dame’s momentum.
Friday, the Irish found ways to answer those runs each time. They started at the top of the lineup with No. 31 Monaghan, who went up a set over No. 29 Schnur, but dropped the second set to force a third. There, the Irish captain broke Schnur to go up 5-3, then served home the 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win to put the Irish up 2-0.
“Brayden’s a good player and has a lot of firepower, and he just kind of got off to a slow start, so I knew if I competed well early in the set and gave myself a chance, I was going to be able to pull it out,” Monaghan said.
The Irish got the next point from Broadus, who also needed three sets, but defeated Blaine Boyden 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.
The Irish and Tar Heels were locked in tight battles on the remaining four courts. On Court 2, UNC’s No. 27 Schneider needed two tiebreakers to defeat Hagar, 7-6(6), 7-6(5), to give the Tar Heels their first point.
Then, the Irish found themselves in two third-set tiebreakers on neighboring Courts 4 and 5, each with the chance to give the Irish a victory. The honor went to Lawson, who was met by charging teammates after gutting out a 6-4, 6-7(5), 6-7(6) win over the 80th-ranked Kelly at the No. 4 slot.
“I had a sense that we were up in the match because I heard some screaming from the other side and a lot of cheering and saw [Broadus] get the job done, so I thought we might have been at three [points],” Lawson said. “It’s tough to keep your focus on each point and I think I did a really good job of that. I got down early [at 2-4] and got it back and got a match point at 6-5 and stayed calm after I didn’t get that one and got the job done right after that.”
Fellow senior Sabacinski added the the flourish to the victory, upending Kodali after a drawn-out tiebreaker at No. 5, 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(10).
“This is the best Notre Dame memory I’ve had,” Sabacinski said. “I was just trying to do what [Sachire] was telling me to the best of my ability – not thinking too much about winning or losing, but thinking about what I’m trying to do every point and trusting the process.”
The Tar Heels etched a final point when No. 50 Clark defeated Covalschi 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-2 on Court 3.
The Irish will get plenty of time to relish the victory, with nine days until they close out the season on the road at NC State next Sunday in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“As a team this was probably the biggest win [of our careers],” said Monaghan of the senior class. “Obviously in the moment it feels like there’s nothing better. ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢’Â¬Â¦ To beat the No. 1 team in the country is pretty special and on our senior night we probably couldn’t ask for a better ending.”
Notre Dame 5, No. 1 North Carolina 2
1. No. 31 Quentin Monaghan (ND) def. No. 29 Brayden Schnur (UNC) 6-4, 3-6, 6-3
2. No. 27 Ronnie Schneider (UNC) def. Josh Hagar (ND) 7-6(6), 7-6(5)
3. No. 50 Brett Clark (UNC) def. Eddy Covalschi (ND) 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-2
4. Alex Lawson (ND) def. No. 80 Robert Kelly (UNC) 6-4, 6-7(5), 7-6(6)
5. Kenneth Sabacinski (ND) def. Anudeep Kodali (UNC) 6-2, 4-6, 7-6(10)
6. Grayson Broadus (ND) def. Blaine Boyden (UNC) 3-6, 6-2, 6-3
1. No. 1 Brett Clark / Robert Kelly (UNC) def. No. 12 Quentin Monaghan / Alex Lawson (ND) 6-4
2. No. 79 Eddy Covalschi / Josh Hagar (ND) def. No. 17 Jack Murray / Bradyen Schnur (UNC) 6-4
3. Grayson Broadus / Nicolas Montoya (ND) def. Ronnie Schneider / Anudeep Kodali (UNC) 6-4
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director 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.