May 11, 2012
The winner between the Irish (20-8) and the Commodores (8-15) will await the winner of No. 5 Ohio State and No. 68 East Tennessee State on Sunday, with the winner advancing to the Round of 16 in Athens, Ga., next weekend. The Buckeyes and Buccaneers play at 1 p.m. (ET) on Saturday.
“This is the time of the year when everyone in the tennis world gets excited,” said head coach Bobby Bayliss. “We have a great challenge forthcoming in a well-coached Vanderbilt squad. They are young, but have improved noticeably throughout the year. Our team has had some great practices thus far at Ohio State and we are looking forward to a great weekend of tennis.”
Entering their ninth consecutive NCAA tournament, the Irish have put together quite a season, defeating eight ranked opponents and winning 20 matches for the first time since the 2007 season. They squad is led by 2012 BIG EAST Player of the Year Greg Andrews, who enters the NCAA Tournament with a remarkable 25-3 record. Elsewhere on the team, four other regular singles players have reached the 15-win plateau. At the top of the lineup, senior Casey Watt sports a 15-11 record, often times playing against nationally-ranked competition. Fellow senior Sam Keeton boasts a 15-8 record playing primarily at No. 3 singles and entered the spring season ranked No. 74. Senior Niall Fitzgerald has a 16-7 record playing mostly at No. 5 singles, while junior Blas Moros has piled up 20 wins (20-6) playing mostly at the six spot.
At doubles, Notre Dame boasts a formidable lineup led by Watt and Fitzgerald at one. The senior duo sports a 9-9 record, but is ranked No. 55 in the country and received an invitation to the NCAA Doubles Championships that will take place later in the month in Athens, Ga. At two, Andrews partners with junior Spencer Talmadge. The twosome has put together a 15-5 mark this spring. At three, Keeton and sophomore Billy Pecor have a 14-6 record during the spring season.
Vanderbilt boasts an incredibly young team, as six of the team’s 10 players are freshmen. Only two seniors appear on the roster. With such a young team, the Commodores struggled a bit at first, but found their stride as the season went along. Despite losing seven of their last eight matches, many of the matches were close throughout. Among their impressive matches was a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to a strong Michigan squad, and an impressive 4-3 win over No. 23 LSU in the SEC Tournament. Three Commodore players have hit the 20-win mark, as Gonzales Austin (21-13), Charlie Jones (22-13) and Jeff Offerdahl (21-13) specialize at two, one and four singles respectively.
In doubles, the team of Austin and Alex DiValerio (4-4) are ranked No. 22 in the country.
With a pair of wins this weekend, Notre Dame would secure its eighth round of 16 invitation. The Irish finished as the NCAA runner-up in 1992 and reached the quarterfinals in 1993. The Irish lost in the opening round in 2004, '05, '08 and '09, but reached the round of 16 in 2006 and '07.
In last year's tournament, a similar field traveled to Columbus. Notre Dame held on for a 4-3 victory over East Tennessee State in the opening round before falling to Ohio State 4-0 in the Round of 32.
The Irish and Buckeyes met earlier this season with Ohio State holding on for a 5-2 victory in that matchup at Eck Tennis Pavilion. In that match, the Irish took the doubles point and won at No. 4 singles as Pecor defeated No. 44 Devin McCarthy, 4-6, 6-3, 1-0 (10-7).
Fans wanting to follow the match on Saturday can follow the live stats link available on UND.com. If rain moves the match indoors, free live video will also be available.