Notre Dame set for NCAAs
Greg Hadley | Tuesday, April 29, 2014
When No. 13 Notre Dame takes the court May 9 to play Green Bay at home, the Irish will begin a new era in the program’s history. For the first time ever, Notre Dame will play in the NCAA championships without coach Bobby Bayliss, who retired last season.
The Irish (19-9, 7-4 ACC), who advanced to 22 NCAA tournaments in 23 years under Bayliss’s leadership, were selected Tuesday as the No. 13 seed in this year’s tournament and will host a regional for the first time since 2007. The tournament’s top 16 seeds host the first two rounds, after which the remaining 16 teams finish play in Athens, Ga.“[Hosting a regional] is great just because it’s indicative of the great season we’ve had and all the hard work we’ve put in,” Irish coach Ryan Sachire said. “We’re excited to keep playing into May.”
For Sachire, who took the program’s reins from Bayliss, the satisfaction of making the NCAA tournament in his first season as head coach is secondary to the excitement he feels for his players, he said.
“It’s all just about the players,” he said. “We have great players and great leaders and great young guys who have done some good work this year. [The assistant coaches and myself] view this all as a partnership, but really it’s all about the players, and they’ve done a hell of a job.”
In the first round, the Irish face Green Bay (18-7, 6-0 Horizon) for the first time since Sept. 15, when both teams played in the Vredevelt Invitational in Kalamazoo, Mich. Even though no team scores were recorded and the Irish were missing most of their starting lineup, Sachire said the experience will be helpful in the team’s preparation.
“We played them in the fall, and they have some really good players,” he said. “From here on out, starting with Wisconsin-Green Bay, every game will be a battle every single time out there on the court because there are only good teams left.”
The Phoenix have won eight straight, including the Horizon League championship, which gained them an automatic bid into the tournament. They are led by junior Michael Tenzer, who was named Horizon League player of the year, and sophomore Leo Gomez Islinger, who is 20-2 this spring season, including a 14-1 mark from the No. 2 spot.
Notre Dame last played at the ACC tournament, where its bid for a conference championship came to an end in the semifinals with a 4-0 loss to eventual champion No. 4 Virginia. The loss snapped a five-match winning streak and was Notre Dame’s third loss on the year to the Cavaliers (22-2, 11-0).
On Feb. 14, the Irish nearly upset Virginia, 4-2, in the ITA national indoor championship, but two weeks later on March 1, the Cavaliers trounced Notre Dame, 6-1, in Charlottesville, Va.
In order to compete with top-five teams like Virginia, the Irish have to enter each match with confidence in their ability to win, Sachire said.
“We respect our opponent, but at the same time, we have to have the feeling and the knowledge and the belief that we’re going to be successful when we walk on the court,” Sachire said.
While the first round is still over a week away, Sachire said he plans to return to the lineup he used at the beginning of the season, with the exception of senior Ryan Bandy, who will play in the No. 2 spot ahead of sophomore Quentin Monaghan.
The combination of senior Greg Andrews and sophomore Alex Lawson will play in the No. 1 doubles spot, after not playing together since April 11. In that time, Andrews won four of his five doubles matches with freshman Josh Hagar. Against Virginia, Hagar and Andrews abandoned play after Notre Dame lost the doubles point.
If the Irish advance past Green Bay, they will play the winner of the No. 35 Northwestern-No. 43 Ole Miss match, which will also take place at the Eck Tennis Pavilion on May 9. Ole Miss (15-13, 4-8 SEC) has advanced to 21 straight NCAA tournaments, while the Wildcats (21-10, 7-4 Big Ten) are making their third straight appearance. Notre Dame and Northwestern have already faced one another once this season, in Evanston, Ill., on Feb. 11. The Irish emerged with the 4-1 victory, the first time the Wildcats lost at home this season.
Before the Irish and the Wildcats can meet for a rematch, however, both teams must advance past the first round. Notre Dame plays Green Bay and Northwestern plays Mississippi on May 9. Both matches will take place at the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The winners advance to the round of 32, which takes place the next day, also at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.