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Young lineup leads team into new season

Kate Gales | Friday, January 14, 2005

The racquets are restrung. The lineup is revamped. Eck Tennis Center awaits.

The Irish take the courts for the first time in the regular season after completing what coach Bobby Bayliss called “a great fall.” They will play Toledo and Illinois State on Saturday at 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.

“There were some question marks that we had to address,” Bayliss said. “I’m pretty satisfied with the answers I received.”

Luis Haddock and Matthew Scott, who had dominated the two top positions for the previous two years, graduated in 2004 forcing a number of younger players to step up and fill their shoes. According to Bayliss, the team has more than met his expectations for the challenging rebuilding period.

“Replacing [Scott and Haddock] was a big priority and based on the performance of the guys this fall, I think we are in much better shape than I expected to be,” Bayliss said. “Our team is perhaps the deepest team I’ve ever coached.”

The depth of the team plays into what Bayliss said called the team’s biggest strength – the bottom of its lineup.

“The bottom of our lineup, no matter who plays for us, should be a strength,” he explained.

Bayliss expects to see Irackli Akhvlediani, Patrick Buchanan and Ryan Keckley to fill out the five through seven spots in the lineup.

“They’ve grown, and each of those guys is playing better tennis now than he ever has,” Bayliss said. “They all bring different talents to the table and the lower part of the lineup – I have options I’ve never had.”

Although early-season lineups are subject to change and reworking, after the fall season Bayliss plans to have Steven Bass, Barry King, co-captain Brent D’Amico and freshman Sheeva Parbhu in the top four positions. Although Parbhu, an Omaha native, is playing the first college tennis of his career, he performed well in fall competition.

“He had a great fall,” Bayliss said. “He beat a number of nationally ranked players and probably had as good a fall as any player in the country.”

The freshman joins some of the Irish’s most experienced singles players. However, adjusting to the top spots will be a challenge for them all.

“If we can demonstrate some strength in the top part of the lineup – that’s one if – and if is if we can play better doubles than we did in the fall … then I think we’re going to have a very good team.”

Finding the right combinations for doubles can be a challenge, and Bayliss has experimented with a number of different combinations.

“We’ve gone through a couple of different transition, at this point – and this is early – it looks like Keckley and D’Amico will start together, possibly at No. 1, followed by Langenkamp and Parbhu, [but] third doubles had been problematic.”

The matches this weekend will be an opportunity for the Irish to see where they stand against NCAA competition in the regular season.

“As an opener, I felt like we’re not tired,” Bayliss said. “We’re fresh, we’ve been here since Jan. 3 practicing and I think we’re reading to go.”