Senior Sheeva Parbhu.

Parbhu Knocks Off Top-10 Player To End Irish NCAA Drought

May 24, 2006

STANFORD, Calif. – Sophomore Sheeva Parbhu (Omaha, Neb./Millard North H.S.) registered a 7-5, 6-0 victory over eighth-ranked Scott Doerner – the top player for national-champion Pepperdine – Wednesday afternoon at Stanford University’s Taube Tennis Center to give Notre Dame its first win since 1998 in the NCAA Men’s Tennis Singles and Doubles Championships. It was the highest-ranked victory in Parbhu’s career and ended a 10-match skid for Irish entrants in the NCAA individual tournaments. Also on Wednesday, junior Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School) – who was bothered by a groin injury – lost 6-1, 6-3 to sixth-seeded Irishman Conor Niland from California in the opening round.

Parbhu, ranked 32nd in the nation, started slowly against the Australian, who helped the Waves to their first-ever NCAA team championship on Tuesday evening. The match started with a pair of service breaks, and Doerner – one of the draw’s Nos. 9-16 seeds – then broke at love in the fifth game to gain the advantage. The eighth game appeared to be one that would control the momentum, as the players battled through several deuces and Parbhu had five break-point opportunities. Doerner – who has been ranked as high as #4 in the country this season – finally prevailed to take a 5-3 edge in the opening frame. But that would be the final game that Pepperdine would win, as Parbhu would take each of the next 10 – many of them tightly-contested – to win the match.

Doerner had a set point on Parbhu’s serve at 4-5, but the Irish sophomore saved it and finally converted on his sixth game point to stay in the first set. The Australian could not serve out the set, and Parbhu consolidated the break by holding his serve at love. Doerner served at 6-5 and fell behind 30-40. Parbhu then fired a forehand down the line on his first set point and a diving Doerner could not handle it, dumping the ball into the net to give Notre Dame a set advantage.

The Wave won the first two points on Parbhu’s serve in the second set’s opening game, but four straight for Notre Dame ended that game. The second game went back and forth, and a backhand passing-shot winner down the line on his fourth game point put Parbhu up a service break in the second set. The players battled again on Doerner’s next service game, but the Irish sophomore eventually converted on his fifth break chance to take control of the match for good. After holding at love, he broke Doerner for the fifth straight time to win the match.

Parbhu has won nine of his last 10 matches and leads the Irish with a 31-7 overall mark this season, including 12-2 in tournament action. He is 14-2 in outdoor matches in 2005-06 (33-6 career) and has won 32 in a row when taking the opening set (25-0 this season). Parbhu improved to 9-3 vs. ranked opponents and 5-2 against players carrying a higher national ranking. He continued to play best in big matches, improving to 4-0 in his career in NCAA action, having previously gone 3-0 in the team championship with one match abandoned with him up a set.

He became the first Irish player to win a match in the NCAA singles tournament since three-time All-American Ryan Sachire beat Duke’s Doug Root 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to reach the round of 16 of the 1998 event (he fell in three sets to top-seeded Pavel Kudrnac of Oklahoma State). Since then, all five Notre Dame players in the tournament have bowed out in the first round, as have all three ND doubles teams taking part in that national championship. Wednesday marked just the second time that Notre Dame has knocked off a seeded player in the NCAA singles tournament since its current format was adopted in 1977. The previous instance came in 1995, when Mike Sprouse downed a Nos. 9-16 seed, Georgia’s Steven Baldas, 7-6 (10-8), 5-7, 6-4 in the first round. He failed to translate that upset into All-America accolades, falling 6-2, 6-3 to Fresno State’s Fredrik Bergh in the second round.

Parbhu also became the fourth different Notre Dame player to knock off a top-15 opponent this season, joining Bass (#13 Luke Shields of Boise State), freshman Brett Helgeson (#6 Treat Huey of Virginia), and senior Eric Langenkamp (#15 Tom Eklund of South Carolina). Parbhu’s previous high victory was a 6-1, 1-6, 7-5 victory against Ohio State’s Devin Mullings, ranked 19th at the time, in the semifinals of last fall’s ITA Midwest Championships.

Next up for Parbhu will be a matchup against Vanderbilt’s top player, sophomore Ryan Preston, who is ranked 41st in the nation, on Thursday at Noon (PT). He beat Charlotte’s Roy Sichel 3-6, 7-5, 6-1 in the first round. Preston and Parbhu have played one common opponent this season: Louisville’s Slavko Radman. The Irish player prevailed 6-1, 6-4 in the fall, while the Vandy competitor lost 7-6, 7-6 at No. 1 on Feb. 3. Preston has competed against a Notre Dame player recently, though not in official collegiate competition. Langenkamp notched a 6-3, 7-5 win against him last August in the round of 16 of the ITA National Summer Championships, an event in which the ND senior won the singles crown.

All second-round winners will assure themselves of being named ITA All-Americans in singles (as are all of the 16 seeded players and anyone who finishes the season ranked in the top 20). Notre Dame has not had a singles All-American since Javier Taborga in 2002, and Sachire was the last Irish player to reach the round of 16 (no one has ever gone further, though ND has had someone in the final 16 on five occasions).

Bass, ranked 21st in the nation, was forced to take an injury timeout to tend to his groin in the opening set of his match, and Niland pounced on the opportunity to take control of the affair. The Cal senior – ranked sixth after peaking at #3 following a 19-0 start to the season – won nine of the first 10 games of the match before Bass was able to mount serious opposition. The Irish junior then finally held at 0-4 in the second set in a long game and then came back to break serve immediately, giving him new life. Bass proceeded to hold at love to make it 4-3, but Niland would hold his own serve and convert on his third match point on Bass’ next service game to end the match. The Irishman improved to 24-2 overall this season and was 20-1 in dual play at No. 1 for Cal. He reached the round of 16 for the second consecutive year after being an All-American in 2005.

Bass concluded his season with a 27-14 record, including 13-2 in tournament action. He lost his final five singles matches, but still was 15-14 against nationally-ranked opposition.

Langenkamp and junior Ryan Keckley (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph’s H.S.) will begin play in the NCAA Doubles Championship on Thursday at 3:30 p.m. (PT), matching up against one of the Nos. 5-8 seeds, the seventh-ranked duo of Rylan Rizza and Nick Meythaler of Virginia. Keckley posted a 9-7 win over that duo in dual action last season, while Langenkamp topped Meythaler – though both had different partners – by an 8-3 score in this spring’s dual match.