Jan. 18, 2017
By Joanne Norell
NOTRE DAME, Ind. — If not ushering in an entirely new era in 2017, the University of Notre Dame men’s tennis team will at the very least take on a much more youthful appearance as the Irish get set to start their season on Friday at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.
With the loss of five seniors and three regular starters from 2016 — including All-Americans Quentin Monaghan and Alex Lawson — the Irish will rely on a healthy mix of established veterans and budding newcomers to kick off the 2017 dual campaign.
Callaghan Family Head Men’s Tennis Coach Ryan Sachire likes what he sees so far. Not only did the Irish perform well during the fall tournament season, they returned from the winter holiday both strong and healthy.
“The biggest thing is that we’re healthy,” Sachire said. “We didn’t have anyone miss a practice during the first week and we went pretty hard. … Our guys know we have a lot of good players and there’s a lot of competition for spots in the lineup and I think that urgency was there over Christmas break and they came back playing well.”
Heading the charge for the Irish are senior captains Eddy Covalschi and Josh Hagar, who enter the season ranked No. 10 in the Oracle/ITA Men’s National Doubles Rankings after a 10-3 fall campaign that saw them win the first round consolation championship at the USTA/ITA National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships and advance to the All-American Championships doubles quarterfinal. Both will enter their fourth year as starters for the Irish.
With just four juniors and seniors, though, the Irish will rely heavily on their nine underclassmen. That’s not cause for too much concern for Sachire, however, who has seen major contributions from his freshmen and sophomores already.
“More than anything, you worry about new guys coming in and embracing the culture and, not only did our freshmen do that, but they’ve contributed to it from Day One,” Sachire said. “They work extremely hard and bring a lot of optimism and energy to the program. … They’ve done such a good job of contributing to what we do on a daily basis and bringing the right mindset and perspective every day.”
Hagar comes into the season ranked No. 27th in the Oracle/ITA Men’s National Singles Rankings, the highest of his career after going 9-4 in the fall, including advancing to the consolation quarterfinal of the All-American Championships after playing into the main draw.
Also ranked for the Irish is sophomore Alex Lebedev, who comes in at No. 119 after going 11-6 in the fall. Lebedev, who came to Notre Dame as a blue-chip recruit according to the Tennis Recruiting Network, did not play last season due to injury.
Both Covalschi and sophomore Grayson Broadus join Hagar as returning starters for the Irish. Covalschi primarily played in the No. 2 spot for the Irish last season, when he went 11-14 in dual matches. Broadus went 13-10 in duals, playing mostly in the Nos. 5 and 6 slots.
In total, Sachire believes up to 10 student-athletes could make meaningful contributions in the lineup. Junior Brendon Kempin and sophomore Daniel Rayl were both close to cracking into the lineup in 2016, while freshmen Matt Gamble, Guillermo Cabrera and Johnathan Small all have the potential to be significant playmakers for the Irish this season.
“In both singles and doubles, we have about nine or 10 guys that I feel really comfortable putting out there and believe that can succeed,” Sachire said. “We’re still flushing out a little bit who’s going to be at what spot and which are going to be the first ones to get those opportunities, but I think we all realize that it’s a long season and we’re going to need that depth as the season goes on.”
Strong doubles play has been a feature for the Irish over the past several seasons, with an Irish doubles team earning an NCAA Championship bid in each of the last three campaigns. In 2016, Monaghan and Lawson advanced to the national semifinal and became the program’s first doubles All-Americans since Casey Smith and Javier Taborga in 2002.
Covalschi and Hagar are a familiar pairing with several grand slam-level tournament appearances to their credit, and their 10-3 fall record has them poised to make a significant impact on the Irish doubles lineup. Also successful this fall was the partnership of Gamble and Lebedev, who went 6-5 and advanced to the semifinals of the ITA Midwest Regional Championships.
The Irish, who were receiving votes in the season’s initial Oracle/ITA Division I Men’s Tennis Rankings, will once again face one of the nation’s toughest schedules, with eight opponents (No. 1 Virginia, No. 2 Wake Forest, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 9 North Carolina, No. 13 Northwestern, No.15 Kentucky, No. 17 Illinois, No. 25 Duke) ranked in the most recent rankings released Wednesday, including four non-conference foes.
“It’s tough. Our second and third matches of the year (against Kentucky and North Carolina) are against teams I expect to be top 10 teams,” Sachire said. “All of our out-of-conference opportunities are pretty strong and the ACC has proven itself to be the best tennis conference in the country. We look at each match as an opportunity and if we can see it that way and not let the stress of playing a quality opponent every single match wear us down, we’re talented enough to win our fair share of matches and I think we’ll have a good season.”
The Irish will open the season against Ball State at 3:30 p.m. ET against Ball State at the Eck Tennis Pavilion before traveling to Lexington, Kentucky, to take on the 15th-ranked Wildcats at noon ET Sunday. Live scoring for the opening match against the Cardinals will be available here.
Joanne Norell, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2014 and coordinates communications efforts for the Notre Dame women's soccer, men's tennis, women's tennis and fencing programs. Norell is a 2011 graduate of Purdue University, where she earned a bachelor's degree in mass communication, and earned her master's degree in sports industry management from Georgetown University in 2013.