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Men’s Tennis: Right mix of freshmen, veterans lead solid start

Kate Grabarek | Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Notre Dame struggled at the Blue-Gray Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Ala., but with six freshmen intertwined throughout the starting lineup, the No. 30 Irish (10-5) still feel confident through 15 dual matches, especially considering their youth.

“They are a little ahead of our expectations,” coach Bobby Bayliss said of his young squad. “They have shown great poise under pressure, but they are still very inexperienced at this level. Each has taken turns and enjoyed the spotlight.”

Highlighting the rookie crop has been David Anderson, Daniel Stahl, Stephen Havens and Tyler Davis. Takashi Yoshii and Sean Tan have both made significant contributions, as well.

Notre Dame is still led, however, by two veteran forces at the top of the singles and doubles lineups. Senior Sheeva Parbhu and junior Brett Helgeson have been staples at the top of both lineups.

At the National Team Indoors in Seattle, Wash., from Feb. 15-17, Helgeson especially stood out.

“Brett didn’t lose a match,” Bayliss said. “He had a match point against UCLA and had three wins in that tournament.”

Parbhu, a returning all-American, has stepped into a leadership role this year, the Irish coach said.

“It is a great tool to have a senior who has been in tough situations when the match is on the line,” said Bayliss, emphasizing a few close battles Parbhu had against Wisconsin earlier in the year. “When he was a freshman he beat Florida State in a similar three-set match.”

The Irish are trying to maintain the momentum they built early in the season, hoping to start quickly and earn the doubles point more often – which depends heavily, again, on the Parbhu-Helgeson combo.

“Montoya has been more stable on his returns,” Bayliss said. “He has always been good at net, but he has improved his serve, and that is still a work in progress. He is teamed with freshman Tyler Davis who competes like a lion on court.”

Notre Dame has shown its potential in spurts this year, especially with a big win at then-No. 15 Duke on Feb. 3.

“It is tremendously empowering to know you can beat a team like Duke,” Bayliss said. “Tobacco Road has not been kind to us. We have only won half the time there, and we haven’t faired nearly as well at home.”

But the way in which the Irish have won, he said, might be more indicative of good things to come – both this year and beyond.

“We have come up with the really close wins,” said Bayliss, pointing out his team’s 5-0 record in matches decided by a 4-3 score. “Your season is decided by the real close matches. They make a difference, especially with a young team.”