March 21, 2003
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team (5-8, 0-0) has a pair of important home matches scheduled for this weekend. The Irish, listed 58th in the most recent national rankings, will play host to #12 Minnesota (9-3) on Saturday and BIG EAST Conference leader #48 Virginia Tech (9-3, 2-0) on Sunday, with both matches slated for 1 p.m. (EST) starts. Eight of the last 11 times the Golden Gophers and Irish have played, the result has been a 4-3 decision. Notre Dame and the Hokies, meanwhile, will meet for just the second time.
LAST TIME ON THE COURT: The Irish saw their first outdoor action of the season last week, going 1-2 in the Blue/Gray National Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Ala. In the first round, Notre Dame won the doubles point vs. Tulsa on March 13 before play was suspended for the day due to inclement weather. When action resumed the following morning, the Irish built a 3-1 lead before the Golden Hurricane rallied with a trio of three-set victories. With the match tied 3-3, Notre Dame’s Brent D’Amico (Castle Rock, Colo./St. Stephen’s Episcopal School) had a 5-2 lead in the final set at No. 3 before Dustin Taylor came back to force and win a tiebreaker to give Tulsa the victory. In doubles, D’Amico and junior Matthew Scott (Oakton, Va./International School of Paris) each registered their first-ever upset of a ranked team, defeating #55 Ryan Livesay/Taylor at No. 1 by an 8-4 score.
Just hours after losing a 4-3 decision for the fourth time this spring, Notre Dame took the court again, this time rebounding for a 4-2 win over UAB. The doubles point came down to the No. 1 contest, with D’Amico and Scott turning in an 8-4 victory to give the Irish a 1-0 lead. In singles, Notre Dame got straight-set wins at Nos. 3-5 to gain victory. The No. 2 match appeared to be headed to a third set before it was abandoned.
On March 15, Boise State shut out the Irish 4-0 in consolation play in the Blue/Gray. The Broncos won the doubles point and the first three singles matches finished. Court restrictions made it so that only four singles matches could be played at a time, leading to the No. 5 match finishing only three games and the No. 6 match never making it on the court when the match was determined. It marked the first time since Feb. 13, 1999 that the Irish were shut out. On that day, Duke posted a 7-0 victory over Notre Dame in the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
IRISH vs. GOLDEN GOPHERS: After opening the season with seven consecutive wins, including wins over #10 Kentucky and #20 Tulane, Minnesota has lost three of its last five matches to enter the weekend with a 9-3 (1-1) record. Minnesota’s first defeat was a 4-3 loss to Wake Forest, in which the Demon Deacons prevailed 7-5 in the third set at No. 5 with the match tied 3-3. The Gophers’ other losses were on the road to No. 1 Illinois and No. 4 Baylor. Minnesota was ranked 19th in the preseason and moved up to No. 10 before entering this weekend at 12th. Three Gophers hold national singles rankings. Junior Aleksey Zharinov, who has played No. 1 singles in each of the last two matches after going 7-2 at No. 2, is 56th. He is 21-7 overall this season, with one of his losses coming in a match tiebreaker to Notre Dame’s Luis Haddock (Caguas, P.R./Notre Dame H.S.) in the Homewood Suites Fall Tribe Classic. Senior Thomas Haug is ranked 63rd after being the runner-up in the Big Ten Singles Championship and playing No. 1 for Minnesota this spring until missing the last two matches. Junior Chris Wettengel earned his first career national ranking last week, at 105th. He has played mostly No. 3 singles and is 20-9 overall, with one of his defeats coming in straight sets to Irish junior Matthew Scott (Oakton, Va./International School of Paris) in the Fall Tribe Classic. Minnesota and Notre Dame have played one common opponent: Boise State. The Gophers beat the Broncos 4-3, while BSU topped the Irish 4-0 in the Blue/Gray National Tennis Classic last week.
In 2002, Minnesota was 17-8 overall and 7-3 in the Big Ten, with all three conference losses coming in 4-3 decisions. The Golden Gophers lost in the final of the league tournament to Illinois, but earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Championship, defeating Arizona State in the opening round before falling to Pepperdine. Head coach David Geatz in in his 15th year at Minnesota with a 268-125 (.682) record.
Notre Dame and Minnesota will meet for the 17th time since 1990 and the 27th time overall. The Irish hold a 14-12 advantage in the all-time series and a 9-7 edge during head coach Bob Bayliss’ tenure. The Golden Gophers, though, have won five of the last seven contests between the teams. The series has featured an excess of close matches, beginning with a 5-4 Irish win in the initial meeting, in 1930. More recently, eight of the last 11 tilts have been 4-3 affairs, with Minnesota winning five of them. In the Gophers’ last trip to the Eck Tennis Pavilion, though, they were ranked 18th before being upset 7-0 by the 33rd-ranked Irish, in 2001. The teams have also had a fierce postseason rivalry, facing each other in five consecutive NCAA tournaments from 1994-98. Four of those matches were at Notre Dame and each was a 4-3 decision, with each squad winning a pair. Minnesota won on neutral courts in 1997. Since 1990, the teams have split 10 matches at Notre Dame, including splitting the six regular-season matchups. This year’s contest will feature the highest-ranked Gopher team and the lowest-ranked Irish team during that span.
A year ago, Minnesota dealt the Irish their first loss of the season, a 4-3 decision in Minneapolis on Jan. 25. The doubles point was decided by a tiebreaker at No. 1, with Thomas Haug and Harsh Mankad delivering a 9-8 (7-4) upset of Notre Dame’s Javier Taborga and Casey Smith, ranked No. 6 nationally at the time. All six singles matches were decided in straight sets, with Notre Dame winning the bottom three, but the Golden Gophers grabbing victories at each of the top three spots. With the match tied 3-3, Mankad, ranked second in the nation in singles, finished a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 win over #88 Smith at No. 1 to seal the Minnesota triumph.
IRISH vs. HOKIES: Virginia Tech opened the season with five straight wins, then lost three in a row before putting together a four-match winning streak to head into this weekend with a 9-3 record. The Hokies will be at Western Michigan on Saturday before coming to Notre Dame. Virginia Tech’s losses came to #24 Georgia Tech, #28 Wake Forest, and #34 William & Mary. The Hokies, who like Notre Dame play a limited conference schedule, sit atop the BIG EAST Conference with a 2-0 mark, having posted victories over West Virginia and perennial power Miami. On March 9, the Hokies positioned themselves to gain the top seed in this year’s BIG EAST Conference Championship (April 25-27 in Coral Gables, Fla.) with a 5-2 win on the road against the Hurricanes. A win on Sunday (in VT’s last regular-season match against a BIG EAST foe) would nearly guarantee Virginia Tech the No. 1 seed in the league tournament. Virginia Tech started the season ranked 35th and now stands 48th. Senior Saber Kadiri is ranked 64th in the nation in singles, having played Nos. 1-4 singles for the Hokies this spring.
Virginia Tech returned eight letterwinners from last year’s squad that was 17-8, finished third in the BIG EAST Championship, and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, defeating North Carolina before falling to Tennessee in the second round. The Hokies nearly broke the current stranglehold on the top two spots in the BIG EAST, held by Miami and Notre Dame, who have met in each of the last seven BIG EAST finals. Virginia Tech led Miami 3-2 in the semifinals of the ’02 BIG EAST tournament, but the Hurricanes saved four team match points and won a pair of third-set tiebreakers to pull out the victory. Head coach Jim Thompson is in his fifth season with an 80-43 (.650) record.
The Irish and Virginia Tech will meet for just the second time and the first since 1977. In that match, the Hokies gained a 7-2 victory at home against the Irish. This will be the first-ever trip to Notre Dame for Virginia Tech. VT will become the 92nd team to play Notre Dame under head coach Bob Bayliss. Out of the 186 all-time opponents in the history of the Irish men’s tennis program, just eight have played Notre Dame more than once and remained undefeated. A win on Sunday could put the Hokies in those ranks, along with UCLA (5-0 vs. ND), Mississippi (4-0), Stanford (3-0), Maryland (3-0), Tennessee (2-0), Washington (2-0), Cal State-Long Beach (2-0), Grinnell (2-0).
AMONG THE NATION’S ELITE: Notre Dame stands 58th among the 75 teams ranked by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association in this week’s Omni Hotels Collegiate Tennis Rankings, the first set to be based on the point-per-match computer formula, as opposed to coaches’ voting, which determined all the previous sets of rankings this season. The Irish have been listed in every set of national rankings since head coach Bob Bayliss, in just his third year at the school, guided Notre Dame to its first-ever national ranking midway through the 1990 season, meaning the Irish have been constantly ranked for over 13 consecutive seasons, in more than 200 straight sets of rankings. Notre Dame’s current ranking is the lowest for the Irish since the ITA began ranking more than 25 teams in the 1994 season. No Irish players were mentioned in the most recent set of individual singles and doubles national rankings released on March 12. A new set of team and individual rankings is due out March 26.
DO THEY ALL HAVE TO BE THIS CLOSE?: The Irish have had a penchant for playing matches with outcomes undecided until late in the affair. Six of 13 matches this spring have been decided by 4-3 scores (after just eight 4-3 matches in 30 contests a year ago), with five of those tilts being decided by the last singles match on-court. In addition, the Irish lost 4-2 to Duke with the abandoned match in a third set.
Notre Dame is 2-4 in one-point matches in ’03, but the Irish have lost four of five contests that have come down to a final singles match with the teams knotted at 3-3, including a pair decided in third-set tiebreakers. Zach Held pulled out a three-setter against Brian Farrell (Lilburn, Ga./St. Pius X H.S.) to lead Indiana over the Irish in the season opener. At No. 1, Mat Cloer finished a close straight-set decision over Luis Haddock (Caguas, P.R./Notre Dame H.S.) to help Florida State edge Notre Dame. Two consecutive February matches not only come down to the last match on-court, but were decided by a third-set tiebreaker in that contest. Haddock topped Andy Formanczyk 7-2 in the breaker at No. 1 in Notre Dame’s win over Michigan State, but Adam Schaechterle edged Patrick Buchanan (Fullerton, Calif./Servite H.S.) 7-3 in the deciding tiebreaker to help Northwestern over the Irish just three days later. Both of those deciding matches also featured tiebreakers prior to the final set. Finally, Tulsa’s Dustin Taylor rallied from a 5-2 third-set deficit for a 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2) win over Brent D’Amico (Castle Rock, Colo./St. Stephen’s Episcopal School) in the first round of the Blue/Gray National Tennis Classic.
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 4-4 heading into the match with Minnesota.
Notre Dame has had a long history of playing the teams that now make up the Big Ten, posting an all-time 305-222-2 (.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 (22-41).
HOME, SWEET HOME?: The confines of the Eck Tennis Pavilion have not been friendly this season, with the Irish dropping each of the first five home matches before beating Michigan on March 6. 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. Four home dates remain this spring.
TURNING IT AROUND: A number of Irish players have been hot of late after struggling early in the season. Junior tri-captain Matthew Scott (Oakton, Va./International School of Paris) has won six of his last eight matches at No. 2 singles after going 5-11 up to that point this season. Classmate Nicolas Lopez-Acevedo (Guaynabo, P.R./Colegio Marista) has won five of his last six in singles, playing Nos. 5 and 6, after starting the season 5-9. After having lost 11 of his previous 13 matches, freshman Patrick Buchanan (Fullerton, Calif./Servite H.S.) has now been victorious in five of his last seven contests. Senior tri-captain Brian Farrell (Lilburn, Ga./St. Pius X H.S.) started 2-6, but has won three of his last five singles matches. In doubles, Farrell and junior Luis Haddock (Caguas, P.R./Notre Dame H.S.) lost three of their first four matches together, but have now won four in a row.
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.email@example.com, or Chris Masters at Masters.firstname.lastname@example.org, who also can provide any information about the Irish tennis program.