April 14, 2002
MUNCIE, Ind. – The seventh-ranked University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team completed its regular season with a 4-3 victory over Ball State Sunday afternoon at the Cardinal Creek Tennis Center. The Irish won the doubles point and the first three singles matches off the court before dropping three singles contests after outcome was determined. Notre Dame improved to 19-6, marking the most regular-season wins by an Irish team since the 1994 squad was 21-9 heading into postseason play. That team finished 23-10 and advanced to the round of 16 in the NCAA tournament, marking the last time Notre Dame advanced that far in the national championships. Ball State fell to 10-12.
The Irish will return to action next weekend in the BIG EAST Championships, from April 19-21 in Coral Gables, Fla. Notre Dame lost 4-2 in the final of last year’s tournament to Miami. The Irish and Hurricanes have met in the championship match of each of the six BIG EAST tournaments since Notre Dame joined the conference, with the Irish winning in 1996 and ’99.
The Irish won the doubles point with wins by a pair of doubles teams playing together for the first time. Seniors Casey Smith (Leawood, Kan.) and Ashok Raju (Morgantown, W. Va.), teaming up for the first time in their careers, struck first with an 8-5 win at No. 1. The Cardinals bounced back when Brad Rhodes and Matt Laramore registered an 8-6 victory at No. 2. In the deciding match, sophomores Luis Haddock-Morales (Caguas, Puerto Rico) and Matthew Scott (Paris, France) won 8-4 at No. 4, securing the doubles point for the Irish for the first time in four matches.
Notre Dame won each of the first three singles matches off the court to clinch the win. Scott, ranked 79th nationally in singles, finished first, leading 6-2, 4-0 at No. 4 when Laramore retired. Senior Andrew Laflin (Tampa, Fla.) put the Irish within a point of victory with a 6-2, 6-1 win at No. 5 before Haddock-Morales clinched Notre Dame’s triumph, winning 6-4, 6-4 at No. 4. After the outcome was determined, Jason Pressel won 3-6, 6-1, 6-4 at No. 1, Andrew Seni gained a 6-3, 4-6, 1-0 (10-8) victory at No. 2 and Michael Heule finished a 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4) at No. 6.
The three Irish singles winners have been dominant all season for Notre Dame. Haddock-Morales is 27-6 overall, including 18-5 this spring. Scott improved to 29-4 this season and 21-2 in dual matches. Laflin is 20-1 in singles action in 2001-02 and has won 34 of his last 37 matches.
Both teams were without key players on Sunday. For Notre Dame, senior Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia), who plays No. 1 singles and doubles, had to sit out due to playing-date restrictions, while freshman Brent D’Amico (Centennial, Colo.) and junior Brian Farrell (Lilburn, Ga.) missed the match due to injury. Ball State had to do without the services of St. Joseph High School-graduate and Granger, Ind.-native Chris Varga, who plays No. 2 singles and doubles.
The win marked the 13th in a row for the Irish over Ball State. The teams have met in each of the last 33 seasons, with the exception of last year, when the match was cancelled. Notre Dame leads the series 28-5 and has now won 14 straight matches against foes from the Mid-American Conference.
Notre Dame is expected to earn the top seed in the 2002 BIG EAST Championships when the draw is announced on Tuesday. The championships consist of a six-team format, in which the top two seeds receive byes in the first round. Other contenders for the league title include Miami and Virginia Tech. The Hurricanes were ranked 18th in the preseason, but have fallen to No. 43 in the latest listing, while the Hokies were initially ranked 59th, but have moved up to 30th. Miami is the only BIG EAST team the Irish have faced this season, notching a 6-1 home victory on Feb. 24.
The winner of the tournament receives an automatic berth to the NCAA Championships, which begin at campus sites on Saturday, May 11. The full 64-team tournament field will be announced on May 2. Notre Dame is looking for its 12th consecutive berth in the NCAA tournament and will be considered as one of the 16 host sites for the first and second rounds, May 11-12. This would mark the first time the Irish have served as a host site since the tournament expanded to its current 64-team format in 1999. Notre Dame played host to NCAA action four times previously, in 1994, ’95, ’96 and ’98, including serving as the host site of the NCAA Championship in ’94.
#7 Notre Dame 4, Ball State 3
No. 1: Jason Pressel (BSU) d. #87 Casey Smith (ND) d. 3-6, 6-1, 6-4
No. 2: Andrew Seni (BSU) d. Aaron Talarico (ND) 6-3, 4-6, 1-0 (10-8)
No. 3: Luis Haddock-Morales (ND) d. Kevin Burnett (BSU) 6-4, 6-4
No. 4: #79 Matthew Scott (ND) d. Matt Laramore (BSU) 6-2, 4-0, ret.
No. 5: Andrew Laflin (ND) d. Brad Rhodes (BSU) 6-2, 6-1
No. 6: Michael Heule (BSU) d. James Malhame (ND) 6-3, 2-6, 7-6 (7-4)
No. 1: Smith/Ashok Raju (ND) d. Burnett/Pressel (BSU) 8-5
No. 2: Rhodes/Laramore (BSU) d. Malhame/Talarico (ND) 8-6
No. 3: Haddock-Morales/Scott (ND) d. Klint Knable/Seni (BSU) 8-4