Sept. 29, 2015
Among his Notre Dame tennis teammates, senior Quentin Monaghan is known as a “tennis nerd.”
In tournament play, when the Irish have wrapped up a dual match, Monaghan and his teammates are exhausted and hungry, and the players pack away their racquets and head in search of nourishment and relaxation.
But as Irish head coach Ryan Sachire remains to watch other schools play out their matches, he notices a familiar sight: Monaghan lingering at the courts. And Sachire knows that his star player isn’t going anywhere just yet.
“His appetite for tennis is insatiable,” says Sachire. “He honestly can’t get enough. It expands way beyond his own tennis – which is, he plays more tennis and hits more balls than probably any tennis player in the country. Certainly more anybody that I’ve come across in my 10 years of coaching. It’s not even close, really.”
As Sachire says, for Monaghan, it’s about more than loving to play the game. He relentlessly follows the professional tour and he’s deeply plugged into college tennis. He’ll watch tennis on his phone, his laptop, in person – it doesn’t matter. He’s obsessed with the sport, which is convenient, considering he’s one of the top players in the country and among the best in Notre Dame history.
How good is Monaghan, exactly? In May, he advanced to the NCAA Singles Championship semifinal-the first Irish player to do so since the individual tournament was separated from team championship in 1977. He became the 18th All-American in program history, ended the season ranked seventh in the country and went 20-3 in the No. 1 singles spot in dual match play during the spring semester.
All-American is a title that has eluded many tennis greats, and Monaghan locked it up with a season of college tennis to spare. He’s no stranger to playing at the top of the lineup either, considering that he split time between No. 2 and No. 3 when he was just a freshman. But these clear markers of greatness have never been the way Monaghan chooses to measure his game – which is perhaps the very reason his career has been steeped in success.
“I never set any goals, like ‘Oh, I want to play in the lineup,’ because stuff like that would just put too much pressure on me,” Monaghan recalls of his mindset going into freshman year. “But what I said from day one when I got here was, ‘I want to be the hardest working player in the country. I just want to outwork people and see where that takes me.’ That’s pretty much all I can control.”With this simple goal – outwork everyone else – Monaghan has achieved record-breaking individual success. But as he enters his senior campaign and second season as captain, he finds himself thinking there’s still plenty left to prove.
“The biggest thing for me is the team,” the Chatham, New Jersey native says. “It’s my senior year – my final season playing for Notre Dame, playing college tennis. I feel like it would really be great to go out on a team that made history as a team. It was great to do that individually, but looking back, I’d love to be able to say, ‘Quentin was a captain on the national championship team.’ In a lot of ways, it’s all about the team. It’s one final run.”
Soft-spoken and humble, Monaghan is not a commanding captain. He has a quiet nature that lends itself to thoughtfulness and leading by example, but being vocal has been more learned than natural. Just as he has become more confident in his game throughout his years at Notre Dame, so has Monaghan become more confident in his ability as a leader.
Sachire explains that for much of Monaghan’s career, the senior has internalized his passion. But now he’s finding more ways to articulate that passion to his teammates.
“Every time he speaks up, it’s really quality stuff that he says,” Sachire says.
Monaghan is the first to admit that growing into a leadership role was an adjustment.
“The biggest thing was just trusting myself to give guys advice,” Monaghan says. “I would sometimes be too results-oriented in the past. So my freshman, sophomore year, when we had a guy like Greg [Andrews], I was like, ‘Why would I tell Greg anything?’ because he’s better than me or his results or better or he’s No. 1. But looking back, I think I could have helped him out in certain ways.”
Andrews, who graduated in 2014, and Monaghan share definite similarities. Both are notoriously hard workers, two-time captains and No. 1 powerhouses on the court. Andrews hosted Monaghan in his dorm room when the younger player came on his campus visit in 2011, and it’s clear that Monaghan still looks up to his old captain.
But Andrews is quick to say that Monaghan has grown tremendously during his time at Notre Dame and has no problem filling his shoes.
“Quentin is the type of teammate that makes you proud to say you are a Notre Dame tennis player,” Andrews says. “From the moment he stepped on campus, he committed himself to improving every day both as a player and a leader. He went from being this quiet, hard-working underclassman to being a confident, outspoken leader of our program. I feel lucky to have had the chance to watch him develop.”
Monaghan’s current teammates have noticed – and appreciate – his evolution.
Like Monaghan, junior Josh Hagar has played in the starting lineup since his freshman year. He cites Monaghan as a perfect example of the team’s “grittiness” mentality and says the senior has proven himself as a worthy leader of the group.
“No matter what is happening or how difficult conditions are in any facet of life, you can always trust Q to put his best foot forward and get the job done,” Hagar says. “In the last two years especially, he’s become more vocal and you can tell that he leads with more than his example. He connects with guys off the court on a personal level, and, in turn, I think it builds trust between everyone on the team.”
Monaghan truly believes there is no closer team in all of college tennis. He and his senior classmates- Alex Lawson, Eric Schnurrenburger, Kenny Sabacinski and Nicolas Montoya-have called themselves the “Fab Five” since their first days on campus. Along with Hagar and junior Eddy Covalschi, these tightly-bonded upperclassmen have formed a culture that is just as supportive as it is competitive.
For Monaghan, these relationships are what he cherishes most about playing for Notre Dame.
“I can honestly say we’re all each other’s best friends,” he says. “That’s what’s been fun because you’re just going to practice and going through everything with your best friends. But the bottom line is tennis is still in a lot of ways an individual sport, and when you’re in a dual match, the best way to help the team is just by winning your own match. This year, we’re really starting to see guys come in for individuals and push themselves to the limit. Then, ultimately, that pushes everyone else because everyone wants to keep getting better and be in the lineup.”
Regardless of what happens this season, Monaghan’s performance last spring has already solidified him as one of the best players to come through the program – “one of the people who will be on the Mount Rushmore, so to speak, of Notre Dame Tennis,” according to Sachire. But what makes Monaghan truly of Notre Dame is that his individual accomplishments don’t weigh as much when he considers the fate of his team.
“I feel responsibility for how we do,” Monaghan admits. “You have the coaches and stuff, but when it comes down to it, you’re playing alongside your teammates and you’re responsible, in part. People are looking up to me now, so making sure I’m constantly giving guys feedback and encouraging them or taking them aside when they’re not doing something right. And trusting that I’ve been through a lot and now I feel like I have a good idea of what it takes to be a good player.”
At the heart of it, Monaghan remains a tennis nerd, sucked into any match or challenge laid before him. His passion has inspired those around him, and, in his final run, Monaghan’s ambitions extend beyond himself.
By Lauren Chval