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Irish set for tough weekend

Douglas Farmer | Friday, February 27, 2009

When you are ranked as the fifth-best team in the country, most teams will see you with a target on your back. As Notre Dame has steadily risen up the rankings this season, the Irish are used to the feeling. This weekend will simply be more of the same.

Notre Dame (9-1) hosts two top-25 teams in three days. On Friday at 3 p.m. at the Eck Tennis Pavilion, No. 12 North Carolina (9-2) faces the Irish, and on Sunday at noon the Irish host No. 23 Wake Forest (8-1).

Notre Dame has faced quite a bit of top competition this season, defeating No. 5 Stanford and No. 4 Baylor at the ITA Indoor Team National Championships before losing to No. 1, and eventual national champion, Northwestern. This past weekend the Irish defeated two more top-50 teams in BYU and Utah, both on the road. Three more Irish victories this season have also been against top-50 opponents, two of which were in the top-25.

The benefits of such a strong schedule are obvious, especially with seven of the team’s nine victories coming against such stiff competition.

“Almost every match we play for the next two or three weeks is just going to be a tough match. But that is good for us. Our kids want to play better teams,” Irish coach Jay Louderback said.

“Every match we play we know as we go out we have to be ready because it is going to be a tough one. Because of that, our team knows that there really can’t be a let-up as we go out,” he said.

Notre Dame shares one interesting characteristic with North Carolina: both teams faced both Stanford and Baylor at the National Championships. The difference between the Irish and the Tar Heels though, is that Notre Dame defeated both Stanford and Baylor, while North Carolina suffered its only losses on the season against the two teams.

“We always have really tight, good matches with North Carolina,” Louderback said. “They lost a couple of really close ones at the National Indoor, 5-2 and 4-3. So they are good; they are one of the teams that will be battling for the NCAAs this year.”

The Irish success at the National Championships, playing three matches in three days and winning two of them, bodes well for this weekend. The quick turnaround between Friday and Sunday should have little unforeseen effect on the team.

“We do it every year,” Louderback said. “We have a few stretches like that during the year, but it helps us get used to the end of the year. When you get to the final 16 teams at the NCAAs, you could have to play four top-15 matches in five days.”

Two matches in three days against top-25 competition would faze most teams, but to Notre Dame, this is just another average weekend of tennis.