May 1, 2004
CORAL GABLES, Fla. – After looking as though his match would be the decisive one and being just three points away from defeat, Irish freshman Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School) won 12 consecutive points for a dramatic three-set comeback victory at No. 3 singles, handing Notre Dame (15-8) its fourth BIG EAST championship. The second-seeded and 36th-ranked Irish defeated the tournament’s top seed, #48 Virginia Tech (15-11), 4-2 Saturday afternoon at the Neil Schiff Tennis Complex in winning their sixth consecutive match in the BIG EAST Championship, dating back to 2002.
Notre Dame led 3-2 with two singles matches remaining on the court, both in third sets. Down a break in the decisive frame at No. 2, it became apparent that the Irish would need a victory in the No. 3 match between Bass and Tech freshman Arvid Puranen of Sweden. The Hokie registered the first service break of the third set in the seventh game, but Bass broke back immediately to tie the score at 4-4. In his ensuing service game, he began experiencing muscle cramps in his right forearm and had to call an injury timeout to summon a trainer. Upon resumption of play, Puranen broke serve to take a 5-4 lead and give himself an opportunity to serve out the match and put his team in prime position to win its first BIG EAST title. The Swede won the first point of his service game to move to within three points of taking the match. Puranen would not win another point, as Bass won the next four to break serve and even the score at 5-5. He then held at love and won four straight points on the Hokie’s next service game to complete a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 triumph.
The win continued Bass’ extraordinary play under pressure in his rookie campaign. He is 11-0 in three-set matches this season, including 7-0 when the team outcome is still undetermined. Overall, Bass holds a 22-7 mark, 16-5 in dual matches. He has won five of his last six matches, with the lone loss a 7-5, 7-5 decision against Puranen in Notre Dame’s 4-3 loss at Virginia Tech on April 4.
The strength at the bottom of the lineups put the Irish in position to win the conference title, as Notre Dame won at the bottom two positions in singles and doubles.
After losing a closely-contested doubles point to the Hokies during the regular season, Notre Dame was victorious on Saturday. First off the court were Bass and fellow rookie Ryan Keckley (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph’s H.S.), who won 8-5 at No. 3 against Angel Diankov and Brent Wilkins. The Irish team got a pair of service breaks early, which turned out to be enough. Bass and Keckley had never previously played together, but went 2-0 in the BIG EAST tournament at No. 3, a position where the Irish were just 7-13 during the regular season.
At No. 2, junior tri-captain Brent D’Amico (Castle Rock, Colo./St. Stephen’s Episcopal School [TX]) and sophomore Eric Langenkamp (Scarsdale, N.Y./Scarsdale H.S.) beat Adel Abbas and Andreas Laulund 8-6 to clinch the doubles point. The match began with three straight holds and then saw seven service breaks over the next eight games. After the slew of return success, the Irish duo was up 6-5. Two holds later, the duo had improved to 3-0 since being paired together for the first time in the regular-season finale.
For the second day in a row, Notre Dame’s senior tri-captains, Luis Haddock (Caguas, P.R./Notre Dame H.S.) and Matthew Scott (Oakton, Va./International School of Paris), fought off impending defeat and eventually were rewarded by having their match abandoned when their teammates clinched the doubles point. On Saturday, Stephane Rod and Spanner led 7-6 and had a match point when Langenkamp fired an ace to finish the No. 2 match and force the abandonment of the No. 1 contest. On Friday, Haddock and Scott saved four match points before their contest was abandoned, with them trailing 7-6. In similar fashion to the No. 2 match, Saturday’s No. 1 contest began with four consecutive holds, then saw five straight breaks followed by four holds.
Irish freshman Barry King (Dublin, Ireland/Gonzaga College) put Notre Dame up 2-0 by beating Diankov 6-3, 6-1 at No. 5. King has won five in a row and is 17-10 on the season, including 13-7 in dual play.
Virginia Tech got on the board when Rod of Switzerland completed a 6-3, 7-5 victory against D’Amico at No. 4 to improve to 20-6 this season, including 10-3 in dual matches. It was his second straight-set win against D’Amico in the past month.
Langenkamp, playing singles again in place of Keckley, who was struck with illness earlier this week, made the score 3-1 when he finished off the Egyptian, Abbas, in a 6-4, 6-2 decision at No. 6. The Irish sophomore has won four in a row and is 20-5 in 2003-04, including 11-3 in dual-match affairs.
The final point would be the most difficult for Notre Dame. The Hokies pulled within one just moments after the No. 6 match ended, as #41 Laulund of Denmark topped Haddock, ranked 64th, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 at No. 1 in a battle of the only two nationally-ranked players in the BIG EAST Conference. The Irish senior had registered a straight-set win during the regular season.
At one point, it appeared that Scott would win his match in straight sets to deliver the Notre Dame victory and allow Bass to abandon his match. The Irish senior won the first set 6-4 and led 3-0 in the second before Spanner of Denmark staged a comeback. He rallied to win the second set 7-5 and then was up a break at 5-2 in the third when Notre Dame clinched the team match.
A key to Notre Dame’s success in the event was the outstanding play of its student-athletes making their BIG EAST Championship debuts. Four players – Langenkamp, Bass, King, and Keckley – had not previously seen action in the tournament, but their first taste of the postseason was a sweet one, as they combined for a 12-0 record in the league championship. Bass and Langenkamp each were double winners both days, while Keckley was victorious twice in doubles, and King won twice at No. 5 singles.
It marked the second straight year the Irish pulled out a hard-fought decision against Virginia Tech in the BIG EAST tournament. In 2003, Notre Dame took nearly five hours to complete a five-hour 4-3 triumph over the Hokies in the semifinals.
In its nine years as a member of the BIG EAST, Notre Dame has won four titles (1996, ’99, 2002, ’04), has finished as the runner-up on four occasions (’97, ’98, 2000, ’01), and saw the 2003 final rained out in progress with no winner declared.
With the win, the Irish earned the conference’s automatic berth to the NCAA Championship, slated to begin on campus sites May 15-16. Notre Dame missed the NCAAs in 2003 for the first time in 13 years. This year’s NCAA draw will be announced this Wednesday, May 5, between 3:00 and 4:00 p.m. (EST) on ESPNews. The Irish will enter the NCAA tournament having won eight of their last 11 matches.
Men’s tennis marks the seventh BIG EAST Conference title for Notre Dame in 2003-04, following on the heels of championships in men’s soccer, women’s cross country, women’s swimming and diving, women’s rowing, men’s golf, and women’s golf. The league record for titles in an academic year is nine, done in 2002-03 by Notre Dame. With the BIG EAST outdoor track and field meet going on this weekend, as well as the baseball and softball tournaments still ahead, the Irish have a chance to equal or better that record.
 #36 Notre Dame 4,  #48 Virginia Tech 2
No. 1 #41 Andreas Laulund (VT) d. #64 Luis Haddock (ND) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4
No. 2 Soren Spanner (VT) led Matthew Scott (ND) 4-6, 7-5, 5-2, abandoned
No. 3 *Stephen Bass (ND) d. Arvid Puranen (VT) 6-4, 3-6, 7-5
No. 4 Stephane Rod (VT) d. Brent D’Amico (ND) 6-3, 7-5
No. 5 Barry King (ND) d. Angel Diankov (VT) 6-3, 6-1
No. 6 Eric Langenkamp (ND) d. Adel Abbas (VT) 6-4, 6-2
Order of finish: 5, 4, 6, 1, 3*
No. 1 Rod/Spanner (VT) led Haddock/Scott (ND) 7-6, abandoned
No. 2 *D’Amico/Langenkamp (ND) d. Abbas/Laulund (VT) 8-6
No. 3 S. Bass/Ryan Keckley (ND) d. Diankov/Brent Wilkins (VT) 8-5
Order of finish: 3, 2*