March 19, 2006
MONTGOMERY, Ala. - The second-seeded and 20th-ranked University of Notre Dame men's tennis team (13-5) lost 4-2 to the No. 3 seed, #26 Virginia Commonwealth (15-4), in the championship match of the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic Sunday afternoon at the Lagoon Park Tennis Center. The Irish saw their 11-match winning streak ended in their sixth trip to the tournament's final, while the Rams became just the second school to win three Blue-Gray titles, after claiming back-to-back championships in 2003 and '04. Junior Stephen Bass (Bronxville, N.Y./Iona Preparatory School) became the first ND player since 1994 to win the tournament's Sportsmanship Award.
Due to a forecast of rain in the Montgomery area, the singles matches were played first, with doubles to be contested only if the score were tied following those. Though ND jumped out to a 2-1 lead, the Rams would end up winning a trio of two-setters to take a 3-2 advantage with only a three-set affair remaining. VCU's Francesc Lleal then finished a 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 upset of 89th-ranked Brett Helgeson (Overland Park, Kan./Blue Valley West H.S.) at No. 3 to hand the Rams the victory and make the doubles portion unnecessary.
The Irish rookie battled back from dropping the opening set against the Spaniard - who has also seen time at Nos. 1 and 2 this spring - but could not come through in the final set. It was just the second three-set defeat for Helgeson as a collegian. Lleal has won five of his last six matches.
First off the court was Damien Lacombe from France, who topped Irish senior captain Patrick Buchanan (Fullerton, Calif./Servite H.S.) 6-1, 6-3 at No. 6. It was the first appearance for Buchanan in the singles lineup since Feb. 18, while Lacombe improved to 13-3 on the season.
Notre Dame junior Ryan Keckley (South Bend, Ind./St. Joseph's H.S.) continued to be Notre Dame's most-reliable singles player this spring, as he tied the score at 1-1 with a 6-4, 6-4 upset of 125th-ranked Georges-Alexandre Israel at No. 4. Keckley has now won three in a row against nationally-ranked players and stands 18-3 on the season, including 16-2 in dual matches. Israel had been 14-2 on the season prior to the match.
The Irish took a 2-1 lead when sophomore Sheeva Parbhu (Omaha, Neb./Millard North H.S.), ranked 33rd in the nation, beat Petr Olsak from the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) at No. 2. Parbhu is now 23-6 on the season, including 12-4 in dual play.
VCU would win the final three matches, with Sergi Arumi of Spain evening the score at 2-2 with a 6-4, 6-0 upset of 106th-ranked Barry King (Dublin, Ireland/Gonzaga College) at No. 5. The No. 1 position featured a battle of players ranked among the top 20 in the nation, as 19th-ranked Arnaud Lecloerec of France prevailed 6-4, 7-5 over 13th-ranked Bass. Bass, who came through in the decisive match to give Notre Dame victories in both the quarterfinals and semifinals, now stands 0-2 in singles against VCU in his career in the Blue-Gray National Classic, while holding a 7-0 record against all other schools in the Blue-Gray. He is the third Notre Dame player to win the Sportsmanship Award, following Will Forsyth (1993) and Andy Zurcher (1994).
It was just the third all-time meeting between the Irish and Rams, with each coming in the Blue-Gray Classic. VCU also beat Notre Dame en route to the 2004 title, posting a 4-0 win in the quarterfinals, while the Irish prevailed 4-3 in the 1997 quarters.
Notre Dame now holds a 34-20 all-time record in the Blue-Gray, having played in the event in each of the last 16 years. The Irish reached the title match in 1993, '97, '98, 2001, '02, and '06, winning titles in '93 and '01. VCU joined USC (champs in 1987, '88, '91) as the only schools to have three Blue-Gray titles.
ND was defeated for the first time since Feb. 7, a 7-0 loss at #3 Illinois. The 11-match winning streak had been the longest for the Irish since 1990 and the second-longest of the 19-year tenure of head coach Bob Bayliss.
The Irish will return to action next weekend, heading south again for a pair of tough road matches. Notre Dame will play at #4 Texas on Saturday at 1 p.m. (CST) and #19 Texas A&M on Sunday at the same time.
#26 VCU 4, #20 Notre Dame 2 Singles No. 1: #19 Arnaud Lecloerec (VCU) def. #13 Stephen Bass (ND) 6-4, 7-5 No. 2: #33 Sheeva Parbhu (ND) def. Petr Olsak (VCU) 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) No. 3: Francesc Lleal (VCU) def. #89 Brett Helgeson (ND) 6-4, 1-6, 6-2 No. 4: Ryan Keckley (ND) def. #125 Georges-Alexandre Israel (VCU) 6-4, 6-4 No. 5: Sergi Arumi (VCU) def. #106 Barry King (ND) 6-4, 6-0 No. 6: Damien Lacombe (VCU) def. Patrick Buchanan (ND) 6-1, 6-3 Order of Finish: 6, 4, 2, 5, 1, 3* Doubles(not played) No. 1: Keckley/Parbhu (ND) vs. #45 Lecloerec/Olsak (VCU) No. 2: Eric Langenkamp/Roth (ND) vs. Arumi/Lleal (VCU) No. 3: Bass/King (ND) vs. Emil Lindgren/Sebastian Ripoli (VCU) * - indicates clinching victory