April 21, 2002
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – The top-seeded and 10th-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team captured the school’s third BIG EAST championship on Sunday afternoon, defeating #43 Miami 4-1 in the final. The Irish won the doubles point and gained victories in three of the first four matches off the court to deny the Hurricanes their third consecutive conference crown. Senior Casey Smith (Leawood, Kan.) won in both singles and doubles for the Irish, while sophomore Matthew Scott (Paris, France) provided the clinching win and Irish head coach Bob Bayliss was honored as the BIG EAST Coach ofthe Year for the third time in the last five years. Notre Dame improved to 21-6 and the Hurricanes fell to 11-9.
“Miami really played well,” said Bayliss after the victory. “They are always a hard match for us. I don’t think people understand how difficult it is to come here and win with the crowd and the heat and everything else. This was a good win for us.”
The conference title was the sixth for the University of Notre Dame in 2001-02, which ties the conference record for BIG EAST championships in an academic year. The Irish have captured league titles this season in men’s cross country, women’s soccer, volleyball, women’s swimming and diving, women’s indoor track and field and men’s tennis. That matches the record, originally set by Notre Dame in 1996-97. The Irish still have chances to win additional BIG EAST crowns in five sports: baseball, softball, women’s lacrosse, and men’s and women’s outdoor track and field.
With the victory, Notre Dame earned the conference’s automatic berth in next month’s NCAA Championships. The Irish men’s tennis team has qualified for the NCAA tournament for 12 straight years — the longest active streak of any sport at Notre Dame. The Irish are under consideration to serve as one of the 16 host sites for first- and second-round action, to take place May 11-12 at campus sites. Winners from each site advance to the round of 16, which will, along with ensuing rounds, as well as the singles and doubles tournaments, take place in College Station, Texas from May 18-26. The full 64-team NCAA field and tournament draw will be announced May 2.
Notre Dame won the doubles point with victories at each of the top two spots. Smith and classmate Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia), the fifth-ranked doubles team in the nation, finished first with an 8-4 victory at No. 1. The pair improved to 30-11 as a team, becoming the first doubles team in the Bayliss era (1988-present) to win 30 matches in a season. Smith and Taborga, who have defeated eight top-30 teams this season, are expected to earn a spot in the NCAA doubles championships and are candidates for doubles All-America honors.
Seniors Ashok Raju (Morgantown, W. Va.) and Aaron Talarico (Laguna Beach, Calif.) then gave the Irish a 1-0 lead in the match with their 8-3 victory at No. 2. Raju and Talarico gained their first victory as a team in their first official match together this season. The pair also played in Saturday’s BIG EAST semifinal against Rutgers, but their match was abandoned when the Irish captured each of the other two doubles tilts and, hence, the doubles point. Raju and Talarico, like Smith and Taborga, teamed up for two defeats in the first fall tournament of their first years of action at Notre Dame, 1998-99, and did not pair up again until their senior seasons. Talarico improved to 6-0 in his career in doubles action at the BIG EAST Championship.
In singles action, Notre Dame got three wins in the first four matches completed to beat Miami for the second time this season. Senior Andrew Laflin (Tampa, Fla.) gave the Irish a 2-0 lead with his 6-1, 6-4 victory at No. 6. Laflin improved to 22-1 this season, including 16-1 in dual matches. He has won 36 of his last 39 matches.
Miami’s Todd Widom, ranked 22nd nationally in singles, gave the Hurricanes their only point of the day with a 6-2, 7-5 victory over 14th-ranked Taborga, avenging a third-set tiebreaker loss to the Irish senior earlier this year. Widom was named the BIG EAST Most Outstanding Performer at the conclusion of the tournament, despite his upset loss to Virginia Tech’s Saber Kadiri on Saturday.
Smith, ranked 106th, pulled the Irish within a point of victory with a 6-4, 6-4 win at No. 2. His victory came just a day after he missed the Rutgers match because he spent the day taking the Medical College Admissions Test, which is mandatory for prospective medical school students.
With the other two remaining matches in third sets, Scott clinched the Irish victory with a 6-4, 6-2 win at No. 5. He improved to 31-4 this season, including 23-2 in spring action. In combined singles and doubles play in the BIG EAST Championship, Scott has now won all four of his matches.
Notre Dame continued its success in the BIG EAST Championship since joining the league seven years ago. The Irish have been the top-seeded team in the tournament six times (every year except 2000) and compiled a 15-4 overall record, posting shutouts in every non-final match (second round and semifinals). Five times Rutgers and Notre Dame have faced off in the semifinals, with the Irish winning 4-0 each time (1996, ’97, ’99, 2001, ’02). Notre Dame has faced Miami each of the past six years in the title match, winning in 1996, 1999 and 2002.
#10 Notre Dame 4, #43 Miami 1
No. 1: #22 Todd Widom (M) d. #14 Javier Taborga (ND) 6-2, 7-5
No. 2: #106 Casey Smith (ND) d. Tomas Smid (M) 6-4, 6-4
No. 3: Aaron Talarico (ND) vs. Andrew Golub (M) 6-2, 4-6, 1-0, abandoned
No. 4: Luis Haddock-Morales (ND) vs. Jose Lieberman (M) 4-6, 6-4, 2-3, abandoned
No. 5: #85 Matthew Scott (ND) d. Joel Berman (M) 6-4, 6-2
No. 6: Andrew Laflin (ND) d. Tarik El Bassouni (M) 6-1, 6-4
No. 1: #5 Smith/Taborga (ND) d. Smid/Widom (M) 8-4
No. 2: Ashok Raju/Talarico (ND) d. Berman/El Bassouni (M) 8-3
No. 3: D’Amico/Haddock-Morales (ND) vs. Golub/Lieberman (M) 7-6, abandoned