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Men’s Tennis: Irish host Big East tourney

Kate Grabarek | Thursday, April 28, 2011

The No. 28 Irish will host the Big East tournament beginning Friday at the Eck Tennis Center with one goal in mind: to rebound from last season’s Big East title-match loss to Louisville.

“Obviously our hope is to win the championship, but we can’t get too caught up in anything now except for Georgetown, our first opponent,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “If we advance, we know that [South Florida] can be very good, as they beat a strong Florida State team this year and split matches with us last year.”

The Irish fell in the finals of last year’s tournament, also held in South Bend, to Louisville.

Notre Dame has relied on the depth in its lineup this season, as some of its key starters, including junior Sam Keeton, are injured.

The Kansas City native has been out of the lineup for most of this season after having a big impact last year.

“Sam Keeton has a chance to be really good next year,” Bayliss said. “He needs to embrace the concept of holding serve-developing patterns to go with varying serving targets. His convincing straight-set win over Louisville’s Alejandro Calligari came after a six-week layoff and was remarkable.”

With the plethora of injuries suffered by his squad this season, Bayliss has narrowed his roster down to eight players and has started a total of nine off-and-on throughout the year. It is possible that Notre Dame will have one roster for this weekend, and a different one in two weeks when they head to the NCAAs.

Boasting a talented group of seniors and a strong core returning from last year’s squad, the Irish are poised to make a deep run in both competitions. Bayliss said a number of his players are playing good tennis.

“[Senior] Dan Stahl has become a very good upper-lineup player,” Bayliss said. “[Senior] Stephen Havens demonstrated real greatness at times and became a much tougher competitor. [Senior] Tyler Davis gave us solid contributions in singles and doubles as well as being a two-time captain.”

Under Bayliss, the Irish have claimed the Big East title 14 times in 22 seasons. Notre Dame will open the Big East tournament against Georgetown at 9 a.m. Friday.