May 7, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The last time the University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team took the court in competition, the Fighting Irish came out on the wrong end of a disappointing and rather surprising 4-0 loss to Georgia Tech in the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference Championship.
But the 35th-ranked Irish (14-11) won’t be rushing to forget that setback to the Yellow Jackets. Instead, they’re taking lessons from that day, trusting that the information gleaned from its review will play a key role in translating to success when Notre Dame takes on No. 24 Vanderbilt (19-7) at 10 a.m. EDT Friday in the first round of the NCAA Championship at the Varsity Tennis Center in Columbus, Ohio.
Head coach Ryan Sachire’s loudest message? Hard work is not enough.
Sachire reckons the Irish have put in the hard work necessary to make waves in the tournament. He’s seen that play out daily in practice all season. What the Irish need most, however, is an attitude that allows them to overcome adversity.
“I think as the season’s gone on, our guys have done an amazing job with their practice habits and working hard every day,” Sachire said. “I think the biggest message coming out of the Georgia Tech match was that just because we’re practicing really hard and working hard every single day, doesn’t mean winning is going to be easy on game day. They’re going to have to face some adversity and go out and overcome that and take it against these good teams.”
The Commodores enter the tournament as winners in six of their last eight matches, but fell in the quarterfinals of the SEC Tournament to No. 14 Ole Miss 4-1. In Vanderbilt, Sachire sees many similarities to his own team, including great talent at both No. 1 doubles and singles slots. Vanderbilt boasts No. 5 Gonzalez Austin and Rhys Johnson (16-4 dual record) atop its doubles lineup, while Gonzalez, who was named SEC Player of the Year, is ranked 10th in the ITA singles poll with a 21-2 singles record. Notre Dame’s top doubles duo, Billy Pecor and Alex Lawson (11-4 dual record), are ranked 15th, while junior Quentin Monaghan (20-3 dual record) is No. 9 in the national singles rankings and was named first team All-ACC.
“I think if you just look at records and rankings and past success, their team mirrors our team a lot,” Sachire said. “It should be a really fun match because it’s going to be competitive. There’s not going to be a lot of lopsided match-ups, so I think it’s going to be whichever group of players competes the best on game day. If we’re able to do that I think we’ll have a chance.”
Monaghan echoed that sentiment and added that the opportunity presented by the draw is one the Irish are ready to take advantage of.
“We couldn’t really expect anything else just given how our season’s gone, but I think that it’s an incredible opportunity,” Monaghan said. “I think Vanderbilt is a great team and that’s going to be a great challenge. They’re similar to us in a lot of ways — [they] played in a tough conference, had a pretty solid year — so that will be a fun match and I think if we’re able to get through that, I think everyone wants another shot at Ohio State.”
On the other side of the pod, host No. 11 Ohio State (25-8), who defeated the Irish 6-1 on February 21, will take on the automatic qualifier from the Mid-American Conference, Buffalo (12-10), at 1 p.m. EDT Friday. The winners from each match will meet in the regional final at noon EDT Saturday for the right to travel to the main championship site at the Hurd Tennis Center in Waco, Texas, for the Round of 16.
For the Irish, that possibility will come down to not just how hard they have worked, but how well they approach those pressure-filled situations.
“There are three teams (Notre Dame, Vanderbilt and Ohio State) going down there that expect to win two matches and advance to the final site, and we’re one of them,” Sachire said. “I think it’s going to be a really balanced pod and I expect the team that competes the best to win. I think all three teams could come out of it and it’s more about who handles the big moments the best and who handles the pressure the best and can execute through that. If it’s us, we’re going to have a great chance to win two matches.”
NCAA TOURNAMENT STRUCTURE: The Fighting Irish will begin their NCAA tournament journey on Friday at Ohio State, one of 16 regional hosts of the 64-team championship. Regional matches will take place May 8 and 9, with winners of each pod advancing to the NCAA Championship site at the Hurd Tennis Center in Waco, Texas, May 16-19. Following the conclusion of the team championship, the NCAA Singles and Doubles Championships will take place May 20-24.
Tournament matches will be regulation dual matches with three eight-game, pro-set doubles played for one team point, followed by six singles matches, each valued at one team point, played in best-of-three sets. Regular scoring will be used and a 12-point tiebreaker will be played at seven-games-all in doubles and at six-games-all in singles.
OSU REGIONAL SCHEDULE:
Friday, May 8
10 a.m. EDT — No. 24 Vanderbilt (19-7) vs. No. 35 Notre Dame (14-11)
1 p.m. EDT — No. 11 Ohio State (25-8) vs. Buffalo (12-10)
Saturday, May 9
Noon EDT — Match 1 Winner vs. Match 2 Winner
VANQUISHING VANDERBILT: Notre Dame and Vanderbilt have met three times, with the Irish holding a 2-1 series advantage over the Commodores. The teams last met in the first round of the 2012 NCAA Championship– also played in Columbus, Ohio — with the Irish notching the 4-3 victory. The two previous meetings came in 1928 (Vanderbilt win) and 1963 (Notre Dame win).
IRISH IN THE NCAA TOURNAMENT: The Irish are making their 12th straight appearance in the NCAA Championship, and 24th of the last 25 years. Their best finish came in 1992 when the Irish defeated No. 1 USC in the semifinal and finished as runners-up to champion Stanford. Last season, the Notre Dame advanced to the Round of 16 for the first time since 2007.
ASSESSING THE POD: Though the three ranked teams competing in the Columbus regional are all ranked outside of the top ten, the pod boasts the highest combined ranking (70) of pods that do not feature a single-digit ranked team and is the fifth-highest ranked pod overall (combined rankings). Host Ohio State ranks 11th, while Vanderbilt is 24th and Notre Dame is 35th.
BUCKEYES VS. BULLS: Friday’s second match pits Mid-American Conference automatic qualifier Buffalo (12-10) against host No. 11 Ohio State (25-8). The Bulls won the MAC Tournament Championship on April 25 with a 4-2 win over Binghampton and have won four of their last five matches. The Buckeyes fell to No. 4 Illinois in the Big Ten Championship final, but are 16-1 at home this season with their only loss coming to No. 1 Oklahoma on March 6 — which incidentally ended Ohio State’s 200-match home win streak.
RANKINGS UPDATE: In the latest ITA team poll (May 1) the Irish held steady at No. 35 after bowing out in the opening round of the ACC Championship to Georgia Tech. The Irish finished seventh in the ACC regular-season standings, behind Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wake Forest, North Carolina, Duke and Louisville.
A SINGULAR PERFORMER: In the latest ITA singles poll (May 1), junior Quentin Monaghan remained at the No. 9 spot in the rankings for the third week. From March 15 to April 17, Monaghan won 11 straight matches, including wins over the No. 3, No. 11 and No. 12 ranked players. The Chatham, New Jersey, product is 20-3 in dual play this season (29-6 overall) and has set career highs in both dual and overall singles wins. On April 29, Monaghan received a bid to the NCAA Singles Championship, earning one of the top 16 seeds. He was one of six ACC players to be seeded in the top 16 in the 64-player field. It will be Monaghan’s first trip to the individual tournament.
DOUBLES DOMINANCE: Senior Billy Pecor and junior Alex Lawson, who have spent the entire season ranked in the top 15 of the ITA doubles rankings, received one of 32 bids to the NCAA Doubles Championship. The pair are 11-4 in dual play this season (23-8 overall) and have already made the rounds on the collegiate grand slam circuit, competing at last fall’s USTA/ITA Intercollegiate Indoor Championships and winning last summer’s ITA National Summer Doubles Championship. Lawson will bring his past experience to the tournament, having made the trip with former partner Greg Andrews last season. It will be Pecor’s first trip the NCAA Doubles Championship.
Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant