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ND Men’s Tennis: Irish begin Big East title defense

Kate Grabarek | Thursday, April 17, 2008

The No. 33 Irish will look to retain last year’s Big East title as they open the tournament in Tampa, Fla. today.

The Irish earned a hard fought victory over conference rival Louisville on Sunday by a score of 4-3. The match featured the top two teams in the Big East. While the Irish clinched the match early, they lost a couple of close three-setters.

“I am optimistic that we can play consistent and aggressive doubles,” coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Couple that with a strong middle lineup presence, and if we achieve this we will be tough to beat.”

Freshman Dan Stahl came up with two big wins this past weekend, and will continue to be relied on to help even out the balance in the lineup Bayliss said.

“The talent level of the freshman is pretty good,” Bayliss said. “They remind me a lot of last year’s seniors at this stage.”

Early in the year the Irish won many close matches but lately struggled in several matches down the stretch. Bayliss noted that the squad beat a number of quality teams early in the season and now the close matches have added losses to its record. He also noted that the team has regained some confidence now heading into the tournament.

Because of the unpredictable South Bend weather, the Irish have not had much experience playing outdoors this season. This weekend’s tournament will be played in Tampa where the Irish players are not accustomed to the weather.

“When you throw in the wild card of 85-90 degree heat, it is difficult to predict how any of the teams will do,” Bayliss said. “Naturally, South Florida will be tough at home.”

With the exception of Louisville, the Irish have yet to face any Big East opponents this season. Bayliss noted that South Florida is tough team with many experienced players and Louisville is talented and capable of winning the tournament. He also feels the Irish are in a position to recapture the title.

The Irish lost to Michigan this past weekend, who had been ranked in the top 10 nationally throughout the season.

“I believe we responded to the loss to Michigan very well,” Bayliss said. “They are a veteran squad with good balance top to bottom. We played a strong match but lost all the three setters.”

Overall Bayliss is pleased with this year’s team and the way the season has played out. Bayliss noted that the freshman came in and formed a very strong bond with the rest of the team.

While the Irish will look for the freshman to pull out some close matches and show some maturity this weekend, they also have some reliable veterans to help pull through.

“We are counting on our veterans to lead the way,” Bayliss said. “Sheeva [Parbhu] is playing at a consistent level, and Brett [Helgeson] has made some great strides. On top of them Andrew [Roth] played as well against Louisville as he has all year.”