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Irish grab four titles in nine years

Kate Gales | Wednesday, May 12, 2004

After collecting the hardware commemorating their fourth Big East title in the last nine years, the accolades will sit and gather dust as the Irish head to Harvard University to play in the NCAA tournament. “We tried to enjoy [the awards] just very briefly,” said coach Bobby Bayliss of his team’s title victory over top-seeded Virginia Tech. Bayliss was named Big East Coach of the Year and Luis Haddock, Matthew Scott and Steven Bass were named to the all-tournament singles team. The Haddock-Scott doubles duo was named to the all-doubles team as well.”I thought we were awesome,” Bayliss said frankly. “I was really proud of the poise that our guys displayed – from top to bottom, in all our positions, we really didn’t have a hole in our lineup. Each day there was a different hero or group of heroes.”Their first match was against third-seeded Miami, a longtime conference rival who enjoyed a home-court advantage in Coral Gables, Fla., “The first day Luis deserves a lot of credit for coming back and beating Josh Cohen, who is a terrific tennis player and a really great competitor,” Bayliss said. Haddock was recently honored with the Kanaley Award, Notre Dame’s highest honor for student-athletes.”Some of the other guys really gave us great efforts,” Bayliss said. “Matt Scott played a great match … he didn’t finish the second set but just the fact that he had won that first set really put a big dent in Miami’s hopes because it’s a match they counted on winning at that position.”There was no rest for the weary, however, as the Irish played in 90-degree heat and heavy humidity at noon April 30 and returned to the oppressive conditions the next day.”Things looked extremely good early on,” Bayliss said. “However, a couple of guys hit a wall physically” later on in the match.Wins came again at No. 2 and 3 singles, with Brent D’Amico and Eric Langenkamp winning 8-6 and Bass and Ryan Keckley posting an 8-5 victory. The No. 1 match featuring Scott and Haddock was 7-6 in favor of Notre Dame before the Irish clinched the point.Keckley, a key player in both the doubles and singles lineups, was cripplingly ill with the stomach flu before departing for Miami, Bayliss said. He joined the team in Florida after spending a night in the health center, but essentially missed two days of practice.It did not seem to affect his play, although he did not compete in the singles matches in the Big East Tournament.Barry King and Langenkamp were first off the courts and put the Irish within one point of victory. However, D’Amico dropped the No. 4 match, and Haddock lost a close-fought battle at No. 1 with a score of 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. With Scott fighting cramps and nausea, the outlook was bleak for the Irish.Except for freshman Steven Bass at the No. 3 position. “The guy just doesn’t know the meaning of the word quit,” Bayliss said of his stubbornly determined freshman standout.”Puranen was serving for the match, and Steven did not lose another point,” the coach recalled. “He changed tactics a little bit … made Puranen supply all the pace and it worked brilliantly.”Bass finished off his opponent and seized the title for the Irish with a devastating backhand.”It was a pretty exciting time for all of us,” Bayliss said. “It was a great achievement for our team to beat two teams … who had beaten [us] during the season.”That speaks pretty well for the character of our guys. We left Miami pretty happy people.”However, the team will not dwell on past achievements. Facing No. 19 Tulane in the first round will be a challenge in what is arguably the country’s most difficult bracket, featuring three top-30 teams and four conference champions.”We play 9 a.m. Saturday, so we’ve been practicing in the morning, and hopefully we’ll be ready,” Bayliss said. “We certainly gathered some momentum [in the Big East Tournament] and we’d like to take advantage of that.”