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Men’s Tennis: ND needs youth to step up in fall

Kate Grabarek | Thursday, September 3, 2009

After the graduation of Brett Helgeson, the Irish will look to a young core of returning players to fill the No. 1 singles void over the course of the fall season in preparation for the spring.

Among the potential candidates are juniors Stephen Havens and Dan Stahl, who played No. 2 and 3 singles respectively for the Irish last season. Sophomore Casey Watt also may have an opportunity to prove himself early in the season.

“Last year Havens at times played like that player, but he needs to demonstrate the match-to-match consistency that was missing a year ago,” coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Certainly he has the ball- striking ability to win at the top. Adding a stronger presence at the net will give him a chance to see just how good he can become. Watt had an outstanding record for us, but at a lower lineup slot.”

Bayliss noted that Stahl had success last season in the middle of the lineup and that the team may end up with a No. 1 by committee for the time being.

The Irish will compete in some events this fall that will allow them to shift the lineup around and find the right combination of players. Included in that mix will be sophomores Niall Fitzgerald and Sam Keeton, who each saw significant action last season for the Irish.

“Watt always competes ferociously, but needs to expand his tennis vocabulary by adding some new weapons,” Bayliss said. “Fitzgerald has come back with much greater confidence. He is now able to keep his backhand out of the middle of the court when pulled wide, he recognizes when to come in, and his serve is much improved. His key will be to maintain his poise in match play. Keeton is a terrific ball striker. He has added more coil to his forehand, allowing him to generate pace without risk, become much more proficient at the net, and is beginning to be able to counter on the backhand side with some slice.”

The Irish are also looking for their freshmen to make solid contributions and compete for spots in the lower part of the lineup.

“Our freshmen are quite good,” Bayliss said. “Blas Moros has already reached the quarterfinal of one of the US Futures, quite an accomplishment for an entering freshman. Michael Moore had a very strong showing at the US Junior Nationals. Spencer Talmadge returned from playing and training in the Phillipines during July. Each has a chance to contribute as a freshman. We will find out pretty quickly where they stand, as we open with the Illini Invitational in mid-September.”

The Irish will look to improve their doubles lineup as well as find answers at the top of their lineup this fall before beginning dual matches in the spring.