Jan. 8, 2015
NOTRE DAME, Ind. – The University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team will lack a dominant leader in 2015.
That is not to say the preseason-ranked No. 14 Irish will be leaderless. That would be far from the truth. But rather than looking to a single outspoken and talented upperclassmen for guidance – as was the case with last year’s captain and first-team All-Atlantic Coast Conference honoree Greg Andrews – the Irish will rely on a strong core with national exposure to provide the backbone in the team’s second season in the ACC.
“I think the biggest thing our team has working for it entering the season is a lot of high-level experience,” head coach Ryan Sachire said. “It’s going to be multiple guys that have shown themselves to be very, very good, but working together. The strength of our team is going to be the pack and not necessarily one person being the dominant figure over our program.”
For Sachire, those players include senior Billy Pecor; juniors Quentin Monaghan, Eric Schnurrenberger and Alex Lawson; and sophomores Josh Hagar and Eddy Covalschi. All have competed well on a national level, with all but Schnurrenberger appearing in either singles or doubles preseason rankings from the Intercollegiate Tennis Association.
Notre Dame will look to build on a successful 2013-14 season in which the Irish went 21-10 to finish the season with a No. 13 ranking. The Irish reached the semifinal of the ACC Tournament before falling to top-seeded Virginia, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament Round of 16 before again dropping to the Cavaliers.
In their first year in the ACC, the Irish finished fourth with a 7-4 record. Underscoring the depth of the conference, nine of the ACC’s 12 teams received NCAA Tournament bids a year ago, and ten teams ranked in the top 50. This season, four teams rank in the top 15: No. 3 Virginia, No. 6 North Carolina, No. 12 Duke and No. 14 Notre Dame.
The Irish graduated two seniors from their main singles lineup, with Andrews and Ryan Bandy combining for a 51-30 overall record and a 30-22 mark in dual action. But a deep Irish roster returns four starters from last season, with seven others having the ability to make an impact down the lineup, according to Sachire.
Monaghan, Schnurrenberger, Hagar and Covalschi will make up the core at the top of the Irish lineup, with Monaghan (No. 37) and Hagar (No. 82) appearing in the ITA singles rankings. The pair occupied the No. 2 and No. 3 spots in the Irish lineup for
the majority of last season, respectively, while Covalschi and Schnurrenberger were successful in the No. 5 and No. 6 slots.
After a successful fall, Sachire figures Lawson has earned a spot in the singles lineup, while a handful of others will compete for the remaining slot. Sachire estimated that the Irish have been able to use up to 10 players in meaningful singles action over the previous two years, and a deep bench will be a boon for the Irish as they navigate the rigors of the season.
“When you’re talking about injuries, illness, maybe losing some confidence, taking some hits, losing some matches and therefore losing some confidence, guys need to come out of the lineup for various reasons,” Sachire said. “Our depth is going to benefit us this year. I feel very comfortable in saying I have belief and faith in all 13 of our guys that if they find themselves in the lineup, they can win against good teams.”
Perhaps the biggest strength for the Irish will be its doubles lineup this season. The Irish were one of two programs to send two doubles squads to the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships in the fall, with both reaching the tournament’s quarterfinal. Both received top 10 rankings to start the spring season.
The eighth-ranked duo of Pecor and Lawson posted an 11-4 record during the fall and were ranked 27th throughout the indoor season. The pair notably defeated the then-12th-ranked Roberto Cid and Sasha Guzon of South Florida twice in the fall, including in the Round of 16 at National Indoors.
Hagar and Covalschi will take a No. 9 ranking into the dual season, as the sophomore pair boasted a spectacular 7-1 record during indoor play. The tandem, which hadn’t played together until October’s Midwest Regional Championships, bulldozed their way to a regional championship crown by defeating teammates Pecor and Lawson in the semifinal and No. 16 Kevin Metka and Ralf Steinbach of Ohio State in the title match.
The Irish are facing one of the toughest schedules in the country, with all but three opponents ranked in the ITA top 75. But rather than looking at the schedule with dread, they will view each match as an opportunity to remain engaged and focused throughout the year.
“Our goal is to win the national championship and I think the best way to train our guys, to condition them to be at a high level every day, is to play high level opponents every match you play,” Sachire said. “There are no periods of our season where we can lose focus because we know we’ve got another tough match in a few days. That’s what we found last year. The benefit of the ACC was that there was consistent engagement from our guys every single day in practice because they knew they had to be getting better or it was going to be a tough weekend coming up.”
Notre Dame will play six top 25 teams at home this season, and nine overall. They open the dual season at No. 18 Kentucky on Jan. 17. Then, they welcome No. 25 Oklahoma State, and will play either No. 16 Columbia and No. 17 Tennessee during the ITA Kickoff Weekend on Jan. 24-25. The Irish will host No. 11 Illinois and No. 3 Virginia and will also make trips to No. 5 Ohio State, No. 12 Duke and No. 6 North Carolina throughout the season.
Sachire anticipates a year similar to last when the Irish played in 10 matches that were either 4-3 or 5-2 and came down to the final match on the court. They won seven of those matches last season, and Sachire believes that experience will aid his team in prevailing in similar situations this year.
“We’ll lose some matches; we know that and that’s OK,” Sachire said. “It’s not about building the schedule to win every single match. We’re building the schedule to challenge our guys as much as we possibly can and ultimately have them grow and develop because of it.”
The Irish will open the season at the Morgan Run Hidden Duals on Friday in Rancho Santa Fe, California, before commencing the dual season at Kentucky on Jan. 17. To keep up to date on all action on the court, be sure to ‘like’ Notre Dame men’s tennis on Facebook and follow along on Twitter (@NDMensTennis).
By Joanne Norell, Media Relations Assistant