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Men’s Tennis: Irish hit the road to face No. 7 Kentucky

Peter Steiner | Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Exactly one year ago, Notre Dame played in possibly its most exciting match of the 2012 spring season, losing a 4-3 thriller to then-No. 6 Kentucky at the Eck Pavilion.

This year, the No. 29 Irish (5-3) will attempt to finish on the winning side, against another top-10 Wildcats squad, but will have to do so in Lexington, Ky.

“We played one of our best matches last year against Kentucky in a 4-3 loss,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Hopefully we’ll be able to find that same level.”

To take down No. 7 Kentucky (6-1), Notre Dame will need to compete with the strong top half of Kentucky’s singles lineup, which includes two top-100 singles players.

“[Kentucky] has a pretty aggressive team,” Bayliss said. “They’re very good at the top half of their lineup. They’ve got some new players in the bottom half with whom I’m not as familiar, but those top three guys bring a lot of fire-power and they’ll play very aggressively.”

While the Irish must match the Wildcats at the top half of the singles lineup, the last three singles slots will also be critical to Notre Dame’s success. Irish junior Billy Pecor and sophomore Wyatt McCoy occupy the No. 4 and 5 spots, respectively, and have been inconsistent so far this spring season, Bayliss said.

“We’ve been up and down this year at No. 4 and 5,” Bayliss said. “Each of those guys, Billy and Wyatt, has played extremely well at times and has had a bad match or two. I really don’t know how they’ll match up with who they are going to play.”

This week stands as one of the toughest stretches in Notre Dame’s spring schedule, as the Irish will play three matches in eight days. However, Bayliss said the grind is something that goes hand in hand with college tennis.

“It kind of goes with the territory [of playing college tennis],” Bayliss said. “Some of them have been through it and they understand it. But one of the things that we have to remember is we can’t schedule longer practices and we have to get right to the point and work on the things we need to achieve and maybe let some things go.”

The match against Kentucky represents Notre Dame’s fifth match against a top-40 opponent this spring. The Irish are currently 1-3 in these matches, but have four more matches against top-25 opponents, including Kentucky, in the next month to improve their record against top competition.

“You’d think that playing strong teams makes you stronger because you are forced to meet the competitive level that you’ll see and generally that’s the truth,” Bayliss said. “But I think there’s a limit – everyone has a limit – and you don’t want to take too many losses because your confidence begins to suffer. We need to beat somebody at this level soon and hopefully it can come relatively quickly.”

The Irish will face off against the Wildcats today at 1 p.m. in Lexington, Ky.

Contact Peter Steiner at psteiner@nd.edu