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Men’s Tennis: Trio continues to compete for Irish in postseason

Peter Steiner | Wednesday, May 16, 2012

While the Irish found a great deal of success this season, the team also experienced some heartbreaking losses against top-ranked teams and in the Big East and NCAA championships.

After finishing their spring regular season with an 18-7 record, the Irish lost a long, grueling match to South Florida in the semifinals of the Big East championship. Heading into the match, Notre Dame (21-9, 3-1) had won seven straight, but the Bulls took down the Irish 4-3 for the second time in the spring season. The Irish quickly rebounded against St. John’s in their next match to take home third place in the Big East tournament.

“Our biggest team goal was to win the Big East championship, and that was pretty heartbreaking when we fell a bit short of that,” sophomore Greg Andrews said.

The Irish also notched key wins against top-ranked opponents. Away 4-3 victories against No. 22 Michigan and No. 34 Texas A&M highlighted the team’s season.

“Beating Michigan on the road [is one highlight],” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “That’s a tough place to win, and it was a good match.

“Beating Texas A&M at Texas A&M is also a significant achievement. They don’t lose at home very often.”

While these close wins headlined Notre Dame’s accomplishments, narrow losses to top-20 ranked teams were some of the team’s biggest disappointments. The Irish faced off against then-No. 17 Illinois on Jan. 22, and although Andrews took down No. 24 senior Roy Kalmanovich, the Irish left Champaign, Ill., with a close 4-3 defeat. Three weeks later, the Irish were spurned by No. 6 Kentucky in another narrow 4-3 loss.

“We had a real opportunity to beat Illinois in Champaign and lost a really close, long 4-3 match,” Bayliss said. “Against Kentucky … we did the same thing.”

Andrews and seniors Niall Fitzgerald and Casey Watt led the Irish this season, as all three finished with winning records at their respective singles positions. At No. 1 doubles, Watt and Fitzgerald have been selected to compete in the NCAA doubles championship beginning May 24. Meanwhile, Andrews emerged this season as a premiere singles player, being named the Big East Player of the Year with a 34-8 overall record. The sophomore will represent Notre Dame in the NCAA singles championship starting May 23.

“[One highlight of this season is] seeing the maturity of Niall Fitzgerald, who has become a real go-to guy for us and has won a lot of important matches, a lot in three sets, which used to give him difficult times,” Bayliss said. “Seeing Casey Watt [having] a winning record at No. 1 singles and develop that way is rewarding. Maybe most of all, seeing Greg Andrews become a premiere, national-level player who has beaten guys who are top-20 in the country is also very rewarding.”

After defeating No. 40 Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAAs, the Irish finished their team season with a loss to No. 5 Ohio State in the second round of NCAA regionals. Andrews and the doubles team of Fitzgerald and Watt will compete in the NCAA individual championship beginning May 23 in Athens, Ga.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu