September 17, 1998
Fear of the unknown could very well be the theme of the 1998-99 Notre Dame men's tennis team with four players from last year's lineup having graduated. But for Bob Bayliss, who enters his 12th year as head coach of the Irish, the influx of new players into the lineup brings a sense of electricity and freshness to the program.
"There is going to be a very new look to our team," says Bayliss. "Whenever there are this many new faces, usually the team has a lot of enthusiasm, excitement and anticipation. I have not gone into a year with more question marks than this year, but at the same time I've not been as excited as I am, given what we feel are a lot of good options in the lineup."
Behind this charge of new players is a freshman class stacked with talented players that make up one of the best classes to come to Notre Dame.
"The freshmen bring the most depth and highest talent level that we've seen in a freshmen class since the class of 1993 which led our team to an NCAA final and a quarterfinal appearance," says the 1998 BIG EAST coach of the year. "I think we have that kind of class again."
The two mainstays in the lineup, senior Brian Patterson (Falmouth, Maine) and junior Ryan Sachire (Canfield, Ohio), combined for 38 dual-match singles wins last year.
"We should be strong at top of our lineup," says Bayliss. "With both Brian and Ryan returning, we have a lot of strength and experience there."
Patterson was nearly flawless at No. 3 singles last year with a 17-2 record and a 20-3 overall dual-match record. With his strong backcourt game, Patterson won 10 consecutive singles match at one point during the season and ended the season with eight straight wins.
Patterson found success at doubles with Jakub Pietrowski as they teamed up to qualify for the NCAA doubles championship the last two years. The duo won the 1996 Midwest Regional Rolex title and were ranked as high fifth a year ago.
"Brian had an incredible year last year, one of the best any of our players has ever had," says Bayliss. "He can play No. 2 singles for us and push Ryan Sachire a little bit. Brian is such a hard worker and is continuing to develop the areas of his games that need work. His serve, slice backhand and volleys have shown improvement."
Sachire enters his junior year with a preseason ranking of No. 8 in singles, but perhaps more impressive is his Association of Tennis Professionals world ranking of 703 which he earned by playing on the professional tennis tour this summer. As one of six members of the United States Tennis Association Summer All-American team, Sachire spent his summer traveling the tennis circuit and earning ATP tour points toward his singles ranking and doubles ranking of 708.
Sachire won a futures tournament in College Station, Texas, and advanced to the quarterfinals at a satellite tournament in Springfield, Mo. He teamed with former Georgia All-American John Roddick to reach the finals of the futures tournament in Tulsa, Okla., and made two other quarterfinal appearances.
"Ryan had a truly outstanding summer," says Bayliss. "It was a great honor for him to be selected for the USTA summer team. Winning a satellite tournament was something that none of our Notre Dame players ever did while at Notre Dame. He has been recognized by the USTA as a rising star, and someone in which they have a great deal of interest. The assistance they gave him this summer will help him a lot, and the exposure to great players and coaching all summer was great for him."
Prior to hitting the ATP tour this past summer, Sachire used his strong serve and compact groundstrokes to become Notre Dame's first All-American since 1994 when he advanced to the third round at the '98 NCAA championships and was one of 16 seeded players in the draw. Sachire was ranked as high as 13th in the country before ending the season ranked 20th with a 34-14 singles record and 18-6 dual-match record.
"Ryan is a tremendous ambassador for Notre Dame," says Bayliss. "He has an enthusiasm that shows right through. He's a big strong kid who just bears his soul, gives 100 percent everyday and doesn't leave anything on the court. He has a bright future as a person and as a professional tennis player down the road."
In addition to his success at No. 1 singles, Sachire compiled a 21-6 doubles record a year ago and will team with Patterson to form Notre Dame's top team. The pair enters the season ranked 28th in the country.
"We are excited to see Brian and Ryan play doubles together because they each bring something to the court that the other needs," says Bayliss. "We anticipate their being an outstanding No. 1 doubles team. It might be a perfect match."
Senior Andy Warford (Bismarck, N.D.) has developed his aggressive, all-court game and is ready to solidify a spot in the lineup. Warford was inserted into the lineup last year and went 6-4 in singles.
"Andy is a very charismatic, special person and was a far from finished product when he arrived here," says Bayliss. "He's worked really hard and achieved a lot and would be a likely candidate to fill one of the starting spots. Andy has really high expectations for himself in the classroom, on the court, in his life in his future. He is one of those guys that will excel in everything he does, and I think he'll do that this year."
Warford, a Dean's List student who will be nominated by the University for a Rhodes Scholarship, will join Patterson as one of the two captains of the 1998-99 Irish.
"The combination of Andy and Brian as captains will be positive for our team," says Bayliss. "They have different personalities, but have two common ingredients in the respect the team has for them and in the hard work they put into in their games."
Junior Matt Horsley (Lisle, Ill.) overcame wrist surgery last year to finish with a 7-1 record at No. 6 singles and a 10-6 overall dual-match record. He teamed with Sachire to win 18 of 22 matches at No. 3 doubles.
"Matt Horsley came in and did a great job for us last year," says Bayliss. "As a regular in the lineup, he won some pretty big matches for us, especially with his win at Duke in the last match on the court to clinch the match. A second surgery was successful and his recovery will be important to us. He has a chance to be an impact player for us."
Junior Trent Miller (San Diego, Calif.) saw limited action in the fall last season. With his great serve and forehand and his aggressive, competitive play, he could have a significant impact on the lineup.
"Trent could be a big spark for us," says Bayliss. "He is sort of an x factor for us right now."
Juniors Rob Warn (Minneapolis, Minn.) and Tim Morey (Grand Rapids, Mich.) also could contribute. Warn brings a strong lefty forehand to the court and finished with a 7-4 record in doubles last year.
"Rob made a commitment this summer and played a lot of tournaments," says Bayliss. "He needs to find ways to finish points and flatten out his forehand, moving up in the court when possible."
Morey joined the team in the spring of 1998 but did not see action.
"Tim is a scrappy player who plays intelligently and doesn't quit on anything," says Bayliss.
Sophomore Matt Daly (Wellesley, Mass.) recovered from knee surgery to post a 4-3 singles record in open matches. He played in four matches at No. 3 doubles with both Patterson and Sachire.
"Matt Daly has the ability to dominate with his groundstrokes and has an absolutely terrific return of serve," says Bayliss. "He needs to continue to develop the rest of his game, and he's shown a lot of technical improvement in the last year. Matt worked hard and had a great summer with good tournament results. He has the ability to be an impact player and win a lot of matches."
Mark Overdevest (Bradenton, Fla.) is another sophomore whose game has reached the point where he is capable of moving into the lineup. He went 7-4 in open matches as a freshman and won two matches at the Rolex Regional championship with one of the wins coming against Purdue's No. 2 player, Cris James.
"Mark is a player of enormous physical talent and has shown he is capable of playing at a high level and beating good players," says Bayliss. "He has great weapons with his forehand and serve and has made progress in his slice backhand and volleys. Mark needs to develop a better awareness of playing percentage tennis and needs to move up in the court and take advantage of good shots. If he will play with some controlled aggression, he's as good as anyone on the team."
Sophomores Ricky Buhrman (Lighthouse Point, Fla.), Ashok Raju (Morgantown, W.V.) and Luke Warford (Bismarck, N.D.) also could give the Irish solid contributions. Buhrman joined the team in the spring but did not play any matches after transferring to Notre Dame from Holy Cross Junior College.
"Ricky has a great forehand and an improved serve and is one of the team's hardest workers," says Bayliss. "He adds a lot to the team."
Raju's game is built around solid fundamentals which will benefit his development further along in his career.
"Ashok's coach did a great job of preparing him with a game for the future," says Bayliss. "He lacked consistency last year but has made technical improvements in his serve and is hitting the ball hard with more consistency. He could be a surprise and earn some playing time."
Luke Warford, the younger brother of Andy Warford, saw limited action as a freshman in the fall and looks to continue his development. He was a quarterfinalist in the National Amateur Championships in Pittsburgh, Pa., last summer.
"Luke has big groundstrokes and a very good first serve but needs better transitional skills," says Bayliss. "As his volleys, slice backhand and second serve improve, Luke will be able to do damage."
Among the freshman class, Andrew Laflin (Tampa, Fla.) and Casey Smith (Leawood, Kan.) have been highly ranked in the junior rankings, while Javier Taborga (La Paz, Bolivia) has international experience with Bolivia's Davis Cup team. Laflin won the Florida state high championship as a senior at Jesuit High School where he was a four-time team MVP and three-time captain.
"Andrew capped a great junior career by finishing in top eight at the USTA 18-and-under National Clay Court Championships and at the USTA 18-and-under National Junior Championships at Kalamazoo," says Bayliss.
Smith finished fifth at the Clay Court Championships and was seeded 13th at the Kalamazoo championships in 1997. He bypassed the junior tournaments this past summer and played on the professional satellite tour where he beat a number of established college players.
"Casey had some great wins on the satellite tour which shows that he is ready to play right away," says Bayliss. "He and Andrew will threaten to play in our lineup."
Taborga joined Bolivia's Davis Cup team while only 18 years old, playing in numerous qualifying matches. He was the top-ranked player in four age groups in Bolivia and brings a left-handed serve and volley game to Notre Dame.
"Javier is a big question mark because we don't know much about him," says Bayliss. "He has trained regularly with some of the top 150 pros in the world so he will be an asset to us. He has a big game and can play solid all-court tennis."
Adrian Hidaka (Tokyo, Japan) comes to Notre Dame after a standout junior career in Japan at St. Mary's International High School. Also a talented doubles players, he was ranked No. 6 in Tokyo.
"We saw Adrian on video and are excited to see for ourselves what he can," says Bayliss. "His hands at the net may be the best on our team. Adrian is a very good, natural serve and volleyer."
James Malhame (Douglaston, N.Y.) is coming off a year in which he won three matches at the National Clay Court championships and four matches at Kalamazoo. He also reached the quarterfinals in doubles at Kalamazoo.
"James is a really good athlete whose best tennis is ahead of him," says Bayliss. "He has terrific instincts and a great future here. He brings great intensity to the court each day."
Aaron Talarico (Laguna Beach, Calif.) is coming off a senior high school season in which he advanced to the finals of the Southern California state singles championship. He followed up that performance with six wins in the consolations at Kalamazoo.
"Aaron has shown a lot of ability," says Bayliss. "He's capable of playing in our top six as well. He is very quick and plays aggressively with the ability to attack.
"How the freshmen fit in with the team environment and their ability to win matches will go a long way in determining the type of season we will have. Having a deeper team will help everyone, because they are going to feel the pressure of having to compete for spots. This will force everyone to play their best every day."
Starting with a fall dual match with Stanford and spring matches with Duke, Miami and Texas along with the usual regional opponents, the Irish once again will face a difficult schedule.
"Our schedule is going to be highly competitive for our team," says Bayliss. "It is going to be an exciting season because we may not blow many teams off the court, but we'll be able to hang with anyone we play."