Feb. 18, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team (2-5) will return to action this week after a nine-day layoff by taking on a pair of ranked foes from the Big Ten Conference. Notre Dame, 44th in the latest ITA national rankings, will head to No. 66 Michigan State (8-1) on Wednesday for a 4:30 p.m. (EDT) match before coming home to play host to No. 41 Northwestern (5-2) on Saturday at 1 p.m. (EST) in the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Irish, who are 2-3 thus far in their nine-match slate against Big Ten teams this season, have won 13 straight matches against the Spartans and 10 of the last 12 vs. the Wildcats. The two opponents are tied as the most-common foe in Irish men’s tennis history, with this weekend marking the 71st match in each series.
LAST TIME ON THE COURT: Prior to their brief respite, Notre Dame had a busy stretch of three matches in six days, resulting in the first two wins of the season for the Irish and a near upset. On Feb. 4, Notre Dame got its first win in five matches this spring with a 7-0 road victory against Wisconsin. The Irish won the doubles point and took all six singles tilts, winning at Nos. 1 and 3 singles in three sets.
On Feb. 8, Notre Dame made it two in a row with a 4-3 road win vs. Purdue. The Boilermakers swept the doubles matches and got a win at No. 4 in the first singles match off the court, but the Irish stormed back with wins at Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 5 for the victory. Junior tri-captain Matthew Scott (Oakton, Va./International School of Paris) delivered the final blow with a 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 win at No. 2 to clinch the match.
No. 8 Duke visited the Eck Tennis Pavilion the following day and barely escaped with a victory. The Blue Devils swept the doubles matches to take a 1-0 lead, but the Irish won the first sets in four of the six singles matches, placing Notre Dame on the verge of triumph. After wins by Duke at Nos. 1 and 2 and victories by freshman Patrick Buchanan (Fullerton, Calif./Servite H.S.) at No. 4 and junior Nicolas Lopez-Acevedo (Guaynabo, P.R./Colegio Marista) at No. 6, the Devils held a 3-2 lead with the two remaining matches in third sets. Senior tri-captain Brian Farrell (Lilburn, Ga./St. Pius X H.S.) rallied from a 5-2 deficit in the final set, but freshman Jonathan Stokke finally converted on his fourth match point for a 3-6, 6-3, 7-5 win at No. 3 to give Duke the 4-2 win. The No. 5 match was abandoned due to Duke travel arrangements.
IRISH vs. SPARTANS: Michigan State opened the spring with eight consecutive wins before dropping a 4-3 decision last week at Ball State. In the loss, the Spartans were without sophomore Andrew Formanczyk and senior Jimmy McGuire, who play Nos. 2 and 3 singles, respectively. Both were out with injuries, but at least Formanczyk is scheduled to return vs. the Irish. The highlight of the season thus far for Michigan State was a 4-3 win over Western Michigan, ranked 46th at the time after a 5-0 start, which vaulted MSU into the national rankings. The Spartans, now ranked 66th, returned eight of nine letterwinners from last year’s squad that started 7-1 and rose to 54th nationally, but lost seven of their last eight to finish 14-12 (2-8 Big Ten) and fall in the first round of the conference tournament to Penn State. Head coach Gene Orlando is in his 12th year at Michigan State and has a 124-158 (.440) mark at the school, as well as a 155-198 (.439) overall record, including three years at Bowling Green.
The Spartans and the Irish will meet for the 13th consecutive season and the 71st time overall, which will make Michigan State the most-common opponent in the 81-year history of Irish men’s tennis for three days until the 71st meeting in the Northwestern-Notre Dame series. Michigan State won the first match 4-3 in 1926, but the Irish lead the series 39-31, including each of the last 13 matches. The last Spartan win over the Irish was a 5-4 decision in East Lansing in 1988, Irish head coach Bob Bayliss’ first year. Four of the last five meetings between the schools have been Notre Dame shutouts, but the 1999 match in East Lansing was a 4-3 contest. The Irish have won six straight on the road in the series, but two of those were 4-3 matches.
In 2002, Notre Dame won every match, sweeping the doubles and winning all six singles en route to a 7-0 home win. Some of the matches were close, with the No. 3 doubles tilt being decided in a tiebreaker and the Nos. 1 and 3 singles contests going to third sets.
IRISH vs. WILDCATS: Northwestern enters this week with a 5-2 (1-1 Big Ten) mark with the Wildcats slated to play host to DePaul on Thursday before coming to Notre Dame. The ‘Cats were 39th in the preseason and now stand 41st. Northwestern’s losses were to No. 14 Alabama (5-2) and No. 40 Indiana (4-3). The Wildcats have posted 4-3 victories over No. 26 Arkansas and No. 48 Indiana State, avenging a 4-0 ’02 NCAA first-round loss in the latter case. Northwestern and Notre Dame have played two common opponents, delivering identical results: a 4-3 loss to Indiana and a 7-0 win against Wisconsin. Sophomore Tommy Hanus, the 2002 Big Ten Freshman of the Year, was 76th in the preseason in singles and currently stands 117th, though he is 6-1 at No. 1 singles this spring. Hanus rallied from down a service break in the third set to deliver the win over Arkansas with the match tied, 3-3. After going 7-2 in the fall and advancing to the final of the Omni Hotels Midwest Championships, the team of senior Josh Axler and freshman Adam Schaechterle was ranked third in the region and 31st in the nation in doubles. The pair is 3-4 in dual-match action.
The Wildcats returned six of nine letterwinners from last year’s team that was 13-10 (6-4 Big Ten) and was ranked as high as 35th before finishing 45th. Northwestern gained an at-large berth into the NCAA tournament, but fell to the Sycamores in the opening round. Head coach Paul Torricelli is in his 20th season and has a 284-198 (.589) record.
Notre Dame and Northwestern will meet for the 13th consecutive season and the 71st time overall, which makes the Wildcats tied with Michigan State as the most-common opponent in the 81-year history of Irish men’s tennis. Notre Dame won the first meeting 4-3 in 1927 and holds a slim 35-34-1 edge in the all-time series. The Irish have won 10 of the last 12, including each of the last four matches. If the Wildcats remain ahead of Notre Dame in this week’s rankings, it will be just the second time under head coach Bob Bayliss that Northwestern enters the match with a higher ranking than the Irish. The other time it happened was the last Wildcat win — a 5-2 home victory for 21st-ranked Northwestern over #23 Notre Dame in 1998. The Irish have won six straight over the Wildcats at home.
A year ago, the Irish gained a 5-2 road victory over Northwestern. The doubles point came down to the final match on the court, with Jackie Jenkins and Chuck Perrin prevailing in a tiebreaker, 9-8 (8-6), over James Malhame and Ashok Raju at No. 2. Trailing 1-0, the Irish responded by winning five of six in singles, though the Nos. 1 and 5 matches were decided in three sets. Hanus, at No. 2, was the lone Wildcat victory.
BIG ELEVEN (OR TWELVE)?: Though Notre Dame participates in the BIG EAST Conference in men’s tennis, a glance at the Irish schedule may not bear out that fact. Notre Dame will face only a pair of BIG EAST foes (Virginia Tech and Miami) during the regular season, but will take on a total of nine teams from the Big Ten Conference. Only Penn State and Iowa from the Big Ten will not play the Irish this season. A year ago, Notre Dame played 13 matches against Big Ten teams (including the Blue-Gray Classic and NCAA tournament), posting a 9-4 mark. In ’03, the Irish are 2-3 thus far.
Notre Dame has had a long history of playing the teams that now make up the Big Ten, posting an all-time 303-221-2 (.578) mark, averaging nearly seven matches per season against Big Ten teams in the 81-year history of the program. The Irish have played each of the original 10 members of the conference at least 25 times, holding a winning mark against every team but Michigan (21-41).
HOME, SWEET HOME?: The confines of the Eck Tennis Pavilion have not been friendly this season, with the Irish dropping all four home matches thus far. Prior to this year, only once since its construction had Notre Dame lost more than three matches in the Eck Pavilion in one season. The Irish were 11-7 in the facility in its initial spring, 1988. Notre Dame was 10-0 in the Eck in 2002 and has never had a losing season in the building. Six home dates remain this spring.
DOUBLES TROUBLES: After losing five of the top seven doubles players from last year’s team that won the doubles point 18 times in 30 matches (including eight sweeps), Notre Dame has struggled in doubles this spring. The Irish have won the doubles point just twice in seven matches and have been swept on four occasions. Overall, Notre Dame teams are 6-15 in doubles this spring.
For the second straight season, wins at the No. 2 position have been elusive. In ’02, the Irish were 12-14 at No. 2, while the other spots combined for a 37-17 mark. This season, the No. 2 spot registered an 8-1 win in the season opener vs. Indiana, but has since dropped six straight.
D’AMINANT D’AMICO: After playing singles in only four dual matches a year ago, compiling a 1-3 mark at No. 6, Brent D’Amico (Castle Rock, Colo./St. Stephen’s Episcopal School) has emerged as the most consistent winner for the Irish early this spring. After making the jump to No. 3 singles, the sophomore is 5-0, including his first two career victories against ranked players, coming just two days apart. On Jan. 29, D’Amico upset 84th-ranked Ryler DeHeart of Illinois 7-5, 7-5 before knocking off No. 114 Alex Herrera of Florida State 6-3, 6-3 on Jan. 31. On the season, D’Amico is 11-4 after compiling a 4-6 mark in 2001-02. Of his losses this season, three were close straight-set decisions, including two against ranked players (#72 Scott Mayer of Purdue and #51 Aleksey Zharinov of Minnesota), and the other was decided in a match tiebreaker.
TURNING IT AROUND: After slow starts, a pair of Irish newcomers have begun to have singles success of late. Freshman Patrick Buchanan (Fullerton, Calif./Servite H.S.) has won three straight matches after dropping 11 of the previous 13 contests, including five in a row. Buchanan won at No. 5 against Wisconsin and Purdue and then stepped up to No. 4 for a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Duke’s Ryan Heinberg.
Junior Nicolas Lopez-Acevedo (Guaynabo, P.R./Colegio Marista), who transferred from Bowling Green for his final season of eligibility after the Falcon tennis program was discontinued, has won two of three matches since being inserted into the singles lineup at No. 6. He had impressive straight-set wins against Wisconsin and Duke’s Yorke Allen and dropped a heartbreaker to Purdue’s David Robinson, winning the first set before losing a second-set tiebreaker and a match tiebreaker. Prior to those three matches, Lopez-Acevedo was 5-9 in singles and had lost seven of nine.
KEEPING UP WITH NOTRE DAME TENNIS: For the fastest results of Notre Dame tennis matches, call the Notre Dame sports hotline at (574) 631-3000 and choose #8. The hotline provides schedule and results information for varsity sports and serves as a supplement to the game recaps and weekly releases provided on the official athletic website at www.und.com. The hotline is the first medium updated with the results of each Notre Dame tennis match. In addition, media members and fans may be added to the sports information e-mail release list by contacting Bo Rottenborn at Rottenborn.firstname.lastname@example.org, or Chris Masters at Masters.email@example.com, who also can provide any information about the Irish tennis program.