Jan. 16, 2006
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - The University of Notre Dame men's tennis team is 26th in the first set of Fila Collegiate Tennis Rankings administered by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), which were released last week. The Irish - who return seven of eight starters from last year's team that was 18-8 and finished 37th in the national rankings - are one of the biggest movers in the poll, as no other team in the preseason top 35 rose as many spots from last year's final rankings.
Notre Dame received 1,470 points in the rankings, which will be determined by coaches voting until the ITA's computer takes over the listing on March 7. The Irish are just outside the national top 25, which is rounded out by Mississippi State. It is the 15th consecutive season that the Irish are listed in the preseason ITA rankings, but the highest ND has appeared in them since beginning the 2001-02 campaign at #7. It is also the 11th time in the last 15 campaigns that Notre Dame will begin in the national top 30.
The 11-spot rise for the Irish from last year's final rankings is the largest such jump in program history. Twice before Notre Dame had moved up nine spots in the preseason rankings (from 31st to 22nd in 1999-2000; from 16th to seventh in 2001-02). Only two teams among the 75 in the preseason edition of this year's rankings moved up more than Notre Dame since the final 2004-05 listing. Miami is 39th after concluding last season at 64th, while Pennsylvania finished '04-05 unranked, but is now 49th. Among top 35 teams, the next-highest rise was by Stanford, which moved from 22nd to 14th.
Notre Dame - which recorded a 6-1 exhibition victory over #20 USC during the fall - is third among teams from the ITA's Midwest Region, behind #4 Illinois (which received a pair of first-place votes) and #18 Ohio State. The Irish will take on the Illini in Urbana on Feb. 7 and will welcome the Buckeyes to the Eck Tennis Pavilion on Feb. 24. Notre Dame and newcomer Louisville (ranked 32nd) - who met in the opening round of last year's NCAAs, with the Cards prevailing 4-1 - give the BIG EAST Conference multiple nationally-ranked squads for the first time since the final poll of 2003-04, when the Irish were 33rd and the now-departed duo of Virginia Tech and Miami were 48th and 49th, respectively. The last time two BIG EAST squads were ranked among the top 35 was March 26, 2004, when ND was 26th and the Hurricanes were 30th.
In all, 16 of Notre Dame's 19 regular-season opponents - not including the teams the Irish will face in the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic, which traditionally provides several ranked tests for ND - were listed in the preseason rankings, with seven ranking in the top 25: #1 Virginia (which Notre Dame plays on Jan. 27 in Richmond), Illinois, #8 Duke (Feb. 5, away), #11 Florida State (March 14, away), #13 Texas A&M (March 26, away), Ohio State, and #22 Texas (March 25, away). For the complete set of rankings, see www.itatennis.com. ND will get an early indication of its ability to compete with the nation's best, as it will take on a trio of top-10 squads in the first three weeks of the spring portion of the campaign.
The Irish will begin the dual-match portion of their 2005-06 season this Saturday, when they travel to long-time rival #51 Northwestern for a 6 p.m. (CST) match in the Combe Tennis Center. Notre Dame's home opener is on Sunday, Jan. 29 at 10 a.m. (EST) against #65 William & Mary.