March 5, 2008
By Maura K. Sullivan, Sports Information Student Assistant
Notre Dame junior tennis player Brett Helgeson came to the University because of what he called "the x-factor," a unique combination of academics, athletics, tradition, and spirituality that make Notre Dame such a special place. As one half of a dynamic duo of tennis-playing brothers from Kansas, Helgeson had many options when choosing a college.
"I visited Texas [where older brother Travis played his freshman season] and it was a big thing for me to go there and play with my brother," he says. "But I chose to come here and do my own thing."
Helgeson praised the overall education at Notre Dame. A finance major in the Mendoza College of Business, he names Introduction to Accounting professor Ed Hums and Introduction to Finance professor Carl Ackerman as two of his major influences and his favorite professors at the University. Just like the x-factor that lured him to Notre Dame, Helgeson may possess the x-factor for success on the tennis court.
Growing up, Helgeson played both soccer and tennis. He ended up choosing tennis, in part because he was better at it and in part because of the influence and guidance of his father, Kent, who played tennis at the University of Minnesota. The Helgeson brothers are only a year apart in age, so competition was a natural and integral part of their childhood.
"We played on the same soccer team, played tennis together, were together in school," Brett says. "We could never just sit and hang out; we were always outside doing something, playing against each other."
The brothers were so talented and competitive that they met in the Kansas state singles finals three years in a row. Keeping the rivalry on the court was a difficult balance, but Helgeson feels that he benefitted from competing with his brother.
"I felt like I played my best tennis against him because I knew him so well," he recalls. "We played together so much, I almost knew where the next ball was going. I never felt any pressure; it was harder for him because he was older and people expected more of him, like he had something to prove."
It also speaks to Helgeson's incredible talent that his only losses in high school were to his older brother. In his senior season, he won the state singles title, dropping only one game in the entire tournament. Brett and Travis also played doubles together in high school. After conquering Kansas tennis, it was on to bigger and better courts for Helgeson.
Upon arriving at Notre Dame, Helgeson made an immediate impact on the court as both a singles and doubles player. As a freshman, he defeated the sixth-ranked player in the nation, Virginia's Treat Huey, by scores of 6-7, 6-1, 6-1. Helgeson was also named to the BIG EAST Conference All-Tournament Team in singles. However, his clear strength is in his backhand and a strong work ethic that has enabled him to improve his transition skills and net play. This improvement showed in his sophomore season, when he was named to the BIG EAST All-Tournament Team in both singles and doubles and finished the season ranked No. 109.
His junior season has been stellar so far, with a 22-5 record and No. 32 national ranking. Helgeson also boasts a career singles record of 61-19 and could be in line to be named an All-American. However, Helgeson is a team player in this individual sport.
"My goal is just to stay focused on the NCAAs and how important the end of the season is," he notes. "As a team, we want to be playing our best tennis at the end of the season. If we can do that, we will have the year we want to have."
Helgeson also credits his success and improvement to his coaches at Notre Dame -- head coach Bob Bayliss and assistant coach Ryan Sachire -- and the great atmosphere on the team, praising the friendships he has created here.
"I came to Notre Dame not knowing anyone, and I had 15 brothers right away," he says.
The other influence in Helgeson's life is having a standout season of his own at Georgia, as Travis currently is ranked No. 5 in the nation for the Bulldogs.
It is clear that brotherly influence has played a factor in Helgeson's success and career, and this influence will continue in the future. Once his career at Notre Dame is over, Helgeson and his brother plan to travel on the pro circuit together.
"The travel is expensive and it will be good to do it with someone, to support each other," Brett says.
Through the years, comparison to current superstars Bob and Mike Bryan must have been inevitable for these brothers, but each is a success in his own right and will go on to a bright future in tennis.
With the brotherly support of his Fighting Irish teammates, the friendly rivalry with older brother Travis, and his own strong work ethic and positive attitude, Brett Helgeson may have a winning combination. The spirit of Notre Dame has been called tough to define, yet impossible to ignore; the x-factor to which Helgeson was referring. On the tennis court, Helgeson's winning combination may be tough for opponents to defeat, but as the Irish head into the NCAA tournament, it will be impossible to overlook.