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Men’s Tennis: Buckeyes pose as Notre Dame’s toughest opponent yet

Peter Steiner | Thursday, March 1, 2012

After dropping a 5-2 decision to No. 29 Indiana on Wednesday, the Irish will attempt to get back on track this weekend when No. 2 Ohio State and No. 58 Maryland come to the Eck Tennis Pavilion.

The Buckeyes (14-1, 2-0 Big Ten) finished as runner-up in the ITA National Indoor championship two weeks ago and enter Saturday’s match as the toughest opponent the Irish (11-5, 1-0 Big East) will face all year.

“[The Buckeyes] have two of the really elite players in the country,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “[Senior] Chase Buchanan, who when he was 18 years old won the US National Junior Championships and the US Open Juniors, and [sophomore] Blaz Rola, who is from Eastern Europe, have been ranked in the top five to 10 in the country off and on all year. It may be the best one-two punch any team in the country has.”

In addition to facing Buchanan and Rola at the top of the singles lineup, the Irish will square off with a strong set of doubles teams that likes to power through their opponents.

“They play great doubles,” Bayliss said. “I don’t think they’ve lost a doubles point all year.

“They have a slightly different style. They really hit the ball big in the backcourt and try to force you into errors at the net. Off the ground, they have several guys that probably hit the ball as big as any thing you’ll see at the college level.”

After playing Ohio State on Saturday, the Irish face another ranked squad in Maryland (3-5) on Sunday. Although the Terrapins are a step down from the Buckeyes, Bayliss said the Irish will still need to play at a high level to overcome an experienced Maryland team loaded with upperclassmen.

“[Maryland] returned all its starters from last year and added a couple of new guys,” Bayliss said. “They are pretty solid top to bottom. They are not as good as Ohio State, but they’ll be a formidable match for us and we’ll have to play our best.”

While senior Casey Watt and sophomore Greg Andrews were both victorious at No. 1 and No. 2 singles in Wednesday’s matchup with Indiana, the Irish were unable to win a singles match in the lower end of their lineup. Bayliss said the entire team needs to perform well for Notre Dame to have a chance to win this weekend.

“We are going to hope to get the kind of play we got from the top of the lineup [Wednesday] in Bloomington and get a little better play at the bottom of the lineup,” Bayliss said. “We feel like we should be stronger at the bottom than any place in our lineup and it just didn’t happen [Wednesday]. But we’ve been pretty darn good in the lower part of the lineup, so we need to see our guys bounce back there.”

With only eight matches remaining before the Big East championships, Bayliss said the Irish are eager to prove themselves against two tough opponents.

“We are ready to meet that challenge,” Bayliss said. “We are excited about it. If you can’t get excited about a weekend like this, you shouldn’t be playing college tennis.”

The Irish will take the courts against Ohio State on Saturday at 11 a.m. and then square off with Maryland on Sunday at 11:00 a.m. Both matches take place in the Eck Tennis Pavilion.