Jan. 21, 2010
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a 10-part series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2010 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we open our coverage of Fighting Irish spring sports with the Notre Dame men’s tennis team, which has been a regular participant in the NCAA Championships during the past two decades, including round-of-16 appearances in two of the past four years.
The Fighting Irish men’s tennis team is set to open the 2010 dual season with three home matches this weekend. Head coach Bob Bayliss begins his 23rd season at the helm of the program on Friday, Jan. 22 against the Tribe of William and Mary at 5:00 p.m. Then, on Sunday, January 24 the Irish have a doubleheader, which includes a showdown with No. 2 Virginia that begins at 9:00 a.m., and a 6:00 p.m. matinee versus IUPUI. All three matches will take place in the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
The match versus Virginia will utilize a previously agreed upon scoring format in which three doubles matches will be contested to determine the doubles point and 10 singles matches will be played, making it a race to secure six points in order to clinch the match. All three matches this weekend will feature live scoring updates through und.com, where recaps will also be posted.
The 2010 Season Preview
Notre Dame, currently ranked 30th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) first set of rankings for 2010, enters the year with high hopes due to a significant amount of experience and talent that has returned to the Irish lineup for 2010.
“We should be able to position ourselves for a strong finish given our schedule and the opportunities it will present to get better and beat some good teams along the way,” Bayliss said. “Then we can focus on winning another BIG EAST title and achieving success in the NCAA tournament.”
Last year, the Irish posted a record of 13-13 and appeared in the NCAA Championship field for the 18th time in the last 19 seasons, making them one of just 11 schools to have accomplished that feat. What makes that accomplishment all the more impressive is that Notre Dame did so against one of the toughest schedules in the nation with all but one of its regular starters either a freshman or sophomore.
“Last season we played what I would consider to be the toughest schedule any of my teams have ever played in my 40 years as a head coach,” said Bayliss.
All told, the Irish faced two of the top three ranked teams at the season’s end, 10 of the ITA’s top 25 and 18 of Notre Dame’s opponents appeared in the final ITA rankings (which rank the top-75 teams in the country). The Irish faced USF, Louisville, Wisconsin and Michigan on two occasions, meaning that Notre Dame played 22 matches versus the top-75.
“Playing a schedule as difficult as last year’s really helped our younger guys grow up in a hurry and gain experience, which will go a long way in getting ready for this season,” Bayliss added. “They will all be prepared and they know what to expect, as we have another challenging schedule in 2010.”
The Irish will need to build on last season’s experience, as the 2010 schedule does not get any easier. According to the preseason ITA rankings (released on Jan. 5) the Irish will square off against two top-10 teams, seven top-20 squads and 14 ranked teams overall. All of those totals are sure to grow as the season progresses and the Irish take part in the National Team Indoor tournament, the Blue Gray National Classic and the BIG EAST Championship.
Sophomore Casey Watt is 18th in the 2010 ITA preseason rankings.
Two players who benefitted from last season’s grind of facing top-notch competition match after match are sophomore Casey Watt (Gibsonia, Pa.) and junior Stephen Havens (Cincinnati, Ohio). Watt and Havens, who combined to go 12-12 as the No. 2 doubles team last season, are expected to anchor the top of Notre Dame’s singles lineup in 2010. Both players appear in the 2010 ITA preseason rankings and will be looking to build on successful 2009 dual and fall seasons.
Watt earned runner-up honors at the ITA Midwest Regional Championships, which concluded on Oct. 19 and helped propel him to the No. 18 ranking in the 2010 ITA preseason singles rankings. In his run to the championship match of the regional, Watt defeated top-seeded and 13th-ranked Justin Kronauge of Ohio State, Illinois’ third-seeded and 24th-ranked Dennis Nevolo and fifth-seeded and 34th-ranked Marek Michalicka of Wisconsin to prove he can have success at the No. 1 or No. 2 spots in Notre Dame’s singles lineup.
As a freshman, Watt earned 2009 all-BIG EAST honors after posting an 18-5 dual season singles record that included stints at No. 4 and No. 3 singles. He also led the Irish with five match-clinching wins.
As only a sophomore, Havens held down the No. 2 singles position in Notre Dame’s lineup a season ago and figures to bounce between the No. 1 and No. 2 positions as a junior. Considered one of Notre Dame’s best-shot makers and currently No. 93 in the ITA singles rankings, Havens posted a 10-15 mark at No. 2 singles while showing flashes of brilliance against some highly ranked competitors. One of his biggest wins of the 2009 season came against the then 13th-ranked Aggies of Texas A&M when he defeated Austin Krajicek (6-2,6-7, 6-3) in a marathon three-set match to clinch Notre Dame’s upset win. He also knocked-off 37th-ranked Marek Michalicka of Wisconsin (6-3, 6-2) at the Blue Gray National Tennis Classic for another upset win over a ranked opponent.
“If Casey and Stephen continue to show the improvements that they have been showcasing this fall in order to add potency to the top, we are going to be an elite team by the end of the year,” asserted Bayliss.
If Notre Dame is able to reach some stability at the top of its lineup, Bayliss is confident about the Irish achieving success in the upcoming season because he returns a wealth of experienced players to disperse throughout the No. 3, 4, 5 and 6 positions of his lineup. With such a deep and talented group, the Irish should be able to put pressure on their 2010 opponents by dictating play throughout the lower lineup spots in most of their dual season matches.
Leading that core group will be juniors Daniel Stahl (Bethesda, Md.), David Anderson (Sandwich, Mass.), Tyler Davis (Nashville, Tenn.) and Matt Johnson (Portage, Mich). Stahl, currently ranked 95th by the ITA, saw time at No. 3 and No. 4 singles in 2009. He posted a winning record at both positions. In just two seasons, he has amassed 27 dual season singles wins and six match-clinching triumphs.
Anderson became an important cog in the Irish lineup last season as Bayliss penciled the Massachusetts native in as his No. 5 or No. 6 starter on 17 occasions and he posted a combined 9-5 record (three of his matches were unfinished). He also had arguably Notre Dame’s biggest match-clinching win of the season when, with the overall match tied at 3-3, he defeated Meedo El Tabakh of ninth-ranked Illinois (7-6, 6-4) to secure a 4-3 win for the Irish in their final home match of the season. With the win in front of a spirited crowd at the Eck Tennis Pavilion, Anderson helped the Irish to their first victory over a top-10 ranked opponent since April 1, 2007.
Davis made his mark as a doubles player for the Irish last season and is expected to be an important part of the 2010 doubles lineup as well and to compete for starting time in the lower portion of the lineup. Last year, he teamed with the now graduated Brett Helgeson to reach as high as 13th in the ITA doubles rankings as the duo posted a 14-11 mark at No. 1 doubles. Davis also started 12 matches at either No. 5 or No. 6 singles, posting a 5-5 mark with two unfinished matches. This season, Davis’ impact will go beyond adding depth and skill to the dual season lineup as he has earned the rare honor of being named a junior captain for the Irish.
Johnson was also a doubles specialist for the Irish a season ago. He started 16 matches at No. 3 doubles with Niall Fitzgerald (Wicklow, Ireland) and the duo recorded doubles point-clinching wins against Michigan State and Northwestern.
Along with Watt, Fitzgerald joins Samuel Keeton (Kansas City, Mo.) as sophomores who will be looking to make a statement during the 2010 season. Aside from his appearances with Johnson at No. 3 doubles, Fitzgerald made 16 starts between the No. 4, 5 and 6 singles positions in the 2009 dual season. Keeton, who missed the 2008 fall season due to injury, got off to a great start with the Irish as he began his Irish career with six consecutive wins at the No. 5 and 6 spots in the singles lineup.
“With Sam and Niall’s improvements in court presence and the poise they are learning to play with, each is ready to make even greater strides in our lineup this year,” said Bayliss.
With an already deep stable of returnees, Bayliss has the luxury of adding three talented freshmen to the mix, creating an environment in which competition for starting places will be fierce.
“We have some freshman impact players in Blas Moros and Michael Moore,” analyzed Bayliss. “We believe both these guys will win a lot of matches for us as freshmen, and freshman Spencer Talmadge could be a factor in doubles play with his ability at the net.”
In fact, Moros (Boca Raton, Fla.) is No. 74 in the current ITA singles rankings, having posted an 8-3 singles record with the Irish during the fall season. He combines with Watt, Havens and Stahl to give the Irish four players in the ITA singles rankings. All told, Notre Dame is one of only five Div. 1 schools with four or more players in the current singles rankings, which include the top 125 student-athletes. The Irish join USC (6 players), Virginia (6), Texas (5) and Tennessee (4) in that select group.
The talented cast of returnees combined with one of the most experienced and respected coaches in all of college coaching and three skilled freshmen, the Irish have their sights on returning the BIG EAST title to Notre Dame, with the added incentive of doing so on their home courts as they will play host to the 2010 BIG EAST Championships. Notre Dame will also look to return to the NCAA Championship field for the 19th time in the past 20 years.
— ND —