Jan. 21, 2011
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first in an ongoing series on UND.com, spotlighting the 2011 Notre Dame spring sports season with both written and video previews. Today, we take a look at the Fighting Irish men's tennis team, which has advanced to the NCAA Championship 19 times in the past 20 seasons, adding yet another postseason berth to its resume last year.
The Notre Dame men's tennis team welcomes back a full roster of singles and doubles starters, in addition to four talented freshmen for the 2010-11 season. Given the combination of depth and experience, head coach Bob Bayliss and the Irish are hoping for a successful upcoming campaign.
The Irish concluded the 2009-10 campaign after posting a record of 16-13 and appeared in the NCAA Championship field for the 19th time in the past 20 seasons.
Among the anticipated top singles players for the Irish are junior Casey Watt (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine-Richland) and seniors Stephen Havens (Cincinnati, Ohio/Hill Christian) and Daniel Stahl (Bethesda, Md./Walt Whitman).
"Casey gives away nothing in athleticism to anyone he plays," Bayliss says. "He has shown that he can beat the better players in the country - such as Chase Buchanan of Ohio State, Moritz Baumann of Wisconsin and Dennis Nevolo of Illinois - but he needs to be more consistent and efficient while competing against players with less ability."
Havens focused on No. 2 singles last season, compiling an 8-14 record and produced big wins in the fall including a defeat of Wisconsin's Marek Michalicka.
"I am really proud of the way Stephen has taken ownership of his potential," Bayliss says. "In the past, Stephen has shown flashes of brilliance, but was lacking in consistency. It is apparent that he has filled in some of the holes in his game and added more punch to other aspects. But more importantly, he has grown in the area of mental toughness and now welcomes challenges."
Stahl spent the majority of last season at No. 3 singles where he totaled a 12-8 record. Stahl picked up back-to-back singles wins that showed his ability to play at a very high level when he first handled Denis Bogatov of Michigan State 6-2, 7-5, then battled Patrick Pohlmann of Wisconsin 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-4.
"Dan continues to improve as he has gone from a player who had a unique ability to play the ball early to a complete all-court player with the ability to defend and finish at the net," Bayliss says. "He is a great competitor, and is learning to relax and play with a broader perspective."
Seniors David Anderson (Sandwich, Mass./Sandwich) and Matt Johnson (Portage, Mich./Portage Central), sophomore Blas Moros (Boca Raton, Fla./Pine Crest) and junior Sam Keeton (Kansas City, Mo./Pembroke Hill) are meanwhile expected to add depth to the roster.
Anderson, Johnson and Moros both appeared in the lineup last season and are reliable in a variety of roles. Anderson picked up 13 doubles victories, Johnson picked up a two-person win against Toledo, while Moros concluded the season at No. 6 singles by winning 10 of his final 12 singles matches.
Keeton compiled an impressive 17-3 dual record, splitting his playing time between No. 4 and No. 5 singles.
"Sam moved from a reserve position to finished the season as our team's MVP," Bayliss says. "He has learned an efficient slice back hand, and has become adapt to moving in behind on his ground stroke to finished points at the net."
"Tyler's insight and skills make him perhaps our best doubles player," Bayliss says. "Spencer has been a pleasant surprise as his quick hands around the net in combination with his powerful serve make him a very capable doubles competitor."
Junior Niall Fitzgerald (Wicklow, Ireland/Blackrock College) and sophomore Michael Moore (Glenview, Ill./Glenbrook South) add even more experience of the roster. Fitzgerald started in 27 doubles matched in the dual season, while Moore made appearances at No. 3, 4 and 6 singles play.
The team adds four new faces to the roster this season in Greg Andrews (Richland, Mich./Gull Lake), Ryan Bandy (Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Xavier), Matt Dooley (New Braunfels, Texas/New Braunfels) and Billy Pecor (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral).
"Greg is known in the junior ranks for his big forehand, quickness and competitiveness," Bayliss says. "He has true all-court skills and a great work ethic. Billy has great power and the ability to lift his game to very high levels, therein lies his challenge to consistently play at a very high level. Ryan and Matt are both athletically talented and I foresee them in our starting lineup in the future."
The Irish are known for playing a tough schedule and this season will be different. The team battles 10 top-25 ranked teams (ITA post-season standings) including No. 3 Virginia, No. 5 Ohio State and No. 10 Texas A&M.
While returning all of its 2009-10 starters, adding four talented freshmen and the leadership of Bayliss and his coaching staff, the Irish hope to return to the top of the BIG EAST Conference, while advancing further into the NCAA Championship.