When he arrived at Notre Dame as a freshman, men's tennis player Ryan Bandy was tall and thin--6'1 and 170 pounds. He was quickly dubbed "Noodle," and the nickname stuck. Even now, three years later, when Bandy takes the court, he teammates cheer him on by the old moniker.
"Come on, Noodle!"
"Let's go, Noods!"
The nickname has been around so long that some of his younger teammates aren't even sure of its source. Ask one of the tennis players on the young team why they call Bandy "Noodle" and you'll get several different answers. Some say his build, some say it's the loose way he hits his forehand, and others still will tell you it's just because Bandy is a laidback kind of guy.
All of these explanations are true of Bandy, but head coach Ryan Sachire remembers the origin.
"When he came to school he was literally built like a noodle," Sachire laughs. "He was really skinny, he was all bones, and maybe even didn't have the coordination down as well. He needed the physical development."
The need for growth definitely had its impact in Bandy's early career at Notre Dame. As a freshman, he didn't get the chance to play singles in any of the spring dual matches, and as a sophomore, he was only able to play in two.
For Bandy, whom Sachire describes as an "unbelievable competitor," dealing with not competing was a challenge.
"It was definitely different and something that was not comfortable," he recalls. "I was always competing and one of the top juniors growing up, but for me, I knew it was a process. I trusted in the development program our coaches had for me. I knew if I continued with that, I would be in a position were I was helping this team succeed later in my career."
It wasn't until Bandy's junior year that that opportunity presented itself. With the top five of the lineup was already set going into the season, there was an opening at the No. 6 starting singles spot.
"I just wanted to compete, and I wanted to be out there with the guys every weekend and every match that we had," Bandy says. "It was that inner competiveness spirit that I have always had. I wanted to be out there and be the last guy and have the match on me."
Bandy beat out three or four other teammates vying for the spot before going on to have a breakout campaign. In the 2013 spring season, Bandy went 8-4 at No. 6 singles as well as 11-9 in doubles in dual matches. Now, as a senior, Bandy has spent this season playing primarily at No. 2 and No. 3 singles. Today, Sachire credits perseverance, hard work and competitiveness with turning Bandy into one of the team's best players.
"The kid's got a passion and fire in him that has always been there," Sachire says. "He has always had talent, and it's just been channeling that passion and enthusiasm the right way, which has really given him the biggest advantage over most of his opponents. He hates to lose more than anybody else I know."
A recent example of Bandy's determination came early this season when Notre Dame took on top-ranked Ohio State in the packed Eck Tennis Pavilion.
The 10th-ranked Irish fell to Ohio State, 4-2, but those two points reinforced a belief that Sachire and his team had been instilling in themselves all season--that Notre Dame is a gritty team able to play with the best programs in college tennis. Those two points also both came from Bandy, who helped secure the doubles point and then went on to win his singles match over Ralf Steinbach, 6-3, 6-3.
"That was an opportunity that I was looking forward to a lot," Bandy says. "I am from Ohio and I was never recruited from Ohio State so I wanted to win that match and show them that I belong at that level."
Nearly 500 fans had squeezed into the Eck to watch the match, and when Bandy had won his final point, he pumped his first and turned around to let out a guttural yell toward the crowd.
"I always want to win because I hate losing more than I enjoy winning," the senior confesses. "Anytime I'm out there in the court, there is going to be that grittiness factor and that desire and need to succeed."
"Grittiness" has been the mantra of this season for the men's tennis team. Sachire equates the term with character--to stick out the tough matches and believe you have the ability to win, you need to have character. Bandy, he believes, is an embodiment of that process.
"With Ryan's career in general, most people in his situation after his first two years with not playing as much would have quit, but he stuck with it," Sachire says. "He kept working hard, kept developing on the court and in the weight room. It's a storybook episode, and he has done a fantastic job for us. I couldn't be more proud of Ryan Bandy."
Bandy has just six regular season matches left in his career before he graduates in May from the Mendoza College of Business with a degree in management consulting. He will return to his hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio to work for PNC National Bank, but before he moves into that future, Bandy has just over a month left to leave his legacy behind here at Notre Dame.
"I want to be remembered as a guy that always left it all out there on the court and gave 100 percent every time I competed," he says.
Beyond his individual wins and losses, Bandy's presence on this team reminds younger players of what their own futures may hold should they have the drive to get themselves there.
And then, of course, he will always be remembered as "Noodle."