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Spartans present tough test for ND

Kate Grabarek | Saturday, February 14, 2009

After evening their record at 4-4, the No. 25 Irish will head to East Lansing on Saturday to take on the Spartans of Michigan State.

“Michigan State has historically played us pretty tough at their place,” head coach Bobby Bayliss said. “It is difficult to pick up the ball on return of serve from one of the sides where the receiver is looking into the audience. Their courts are faster than ours, which will require an adjustment.”

The Irish are coming off of two big wins over Duke and Toledo this past weekend at home.

Notre Dame has found a pretty steady No. 1 doubles team in senior Brett Helgeson and sophomore Tyler Davis who are currently ranked No. 37 in the nation.

“Tyler (Davis) and Brett (Helgeson) have become a pretty good tandem,” Bayliss said. “The differences in their respective games has helped them tremendously. They combine the classic ingredients of many successful teams. Brett has stronger returns and a bigger serve, but Tyler is a more instinctive volleyer and covers the net like a blanket. Each has the ability to compensate for the other’s weaknesses and the chemistry between them is growing with each match.”

Helgeson and Davis are 4-4 as the No. 1 Doubles team for the Irish, with wins over the No. 52 team in the nation from William and Mary, the No. 23 team from Florida State, No. 38 from Duke, and the win over Toledo on Sunday.

The Irish have gotten some great play from their freshmen this season including Casey Watt.

The freshman is 5-3 while splitting time between No. 4 and No. 3 singles with his most recent victory coming over Nulth Liktikumchorn of Toledo at No. 3 singles.

“Casey’s strengths are his speed, ability to make shots, and a very real loathing of losing,” Bayliss said. “He is learning to do some things that were previously uncomfortable for him, like closing out points at the net and taking more balls on the rise. He now understands that many of the things that he got away with in junior tennis are no longer viable at this level and has made some good adjustments in his game style.”

Sophomore Dan Stahl has also been outstanding for the Irish this season making the jump from No. 6 singles to No. 3 this season.

Stahl who is currently ranked No. 112 has had some hard fought battles with half of his matches going the distance.

Bayliss noted that Stahl has a strong work ethic and has continued to improve on shots that were weaknesses last year.

Against Duke, Stahl faced Dylan Arnould, who was playing in the US Junior Open, while Stahl was playing in the sectionals in high school.

Stahl won the match 6-3, 7-6 over Arnould.

The Irish will face the Spartans on Saturday with first serve set for 12pm, then the Irish will host Northwestern on Thursday, Feb. 19.