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Cavaliers pose challenge for Irish

Rama Gottumakkala | Friday, February 25, 2005

When facing the No. 2 team in the nation on the road, any extra edge is always welcome. Luckily for the Notre Dame men’s tennis team, Irish coach Bobby Bayliss knows the lay of the land on this road trip.

No. 24 Notre Dame (10-2) will head to Richmond, Va. and take on No. 2 Virginia (8-1) on Sunday. Originally scheduled in Charlottesville, the match has been moved to the Country Club of Virginia – where Bayliss, who hails from Richmond, worked as the assistant tennis pro while in graduate school.

“It’s a big challenge but it’s a great opportunity,” Bayliss said. “It’s going to be fun to play in front of a vocal and knowledgeable crowd at the Country Club. There’re a great number of UVA alums who live in Richmond as well as some Notre Dame alums, so I think we’ll have a good following.”

Notre Dame is coming off a 4-3 road victory against Michigan State last Tuesday that came down to the wire. On a four-match winning steak, the Irish will face a difficult test against a powerful Cavalier squad.

“Their lineup is loaded from top to bottom,” Bayliss said. “For example, their No. 6 player, Darrin Cohen, is ranked No. 36 in the United States among all college players. That gives you an idea of their depth. Their No. 1 player is ranked No. 7 in the nation. Straight on down, they have a very loaded lineup.”

Although the Irish have stayed close to home this spring, playing only two matches on the road, Notre Dame is undefeated on the road thus far. Their last victory against Michigan State allowed the team to test its mettle in a pressure situation on the road. Although the team dropped the doubles point, they bounced back and pulled out the win. That experience should prove valuable this Sunday.

“I think that anytime you’re in a close match – like the one at Michigan State – and you’re fortunate enough to win it, you grow a little into your confidence to handle tough situations,” Bayliss said. “I think that’s going to benefit us as the year goes on.”

Virginia is coming off a dominant week of competition at the USTA/ITA National Team Indoor Championship. Entering the competition as the No. 9 seed, the Cavaliers defeated three top-10 opponents to reach the final – No. 7 Stanford, No. 2 UCLA and No. 6 Mississippi.

Although the Irish dropped their only match against a top-10 team this year – No. 9 Duke – they’ll get another shot this weekend.

“It’s a big challenge but it’s a great opportunity,” Bayliss said. “We’ve had the best success lower in the lineup and I think any team we play – on paper – that’s where we have the greatest chance of success. I think we have chances to do well but we’re going to have to be pretty focused.

We have to play our best match of the year to have a chance to win.”

The Irish face off against the Cavaliers on Sunday at noon.