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Irish travel to Chicago to face No. 37 Northwestern

Kate Gales | Friday, February 20, 2004

The No. 50 men’s tennis team joins the JPW-induced exodus from campus this weekend, traveling to Chicago for a match at No. 37 Northwestern before returning to host No. 40 Southern Methodist University.

“All we’ve done is to hold serve,” head coach Bobby Bayliss said, reflecting on his team’s performance through the dual-match season. “We haven’t done anything exceptional, but we haven’t stumbled, either.”

This weekend and the coming weeks will be telling for the Irish and their postseason destiny.

“It will certainly be a challenge,” Bayliss said, calling his team “guardedly optimistic.”

“Our next six matches are extremely important for our postseason plans, as far as where we finish and where we might be seeded [in the NCAA Tournament],” he said.

The Irish face a quick turnaround, playing at Northwestern at 4 p.m. and returning to face SMU here at noon the next day.

“Our guys will have a limited social life that evening, hopefully,” Bayliss said, but he remained optimistic despite the tight schedule.

“Sometimes you play your best tennis when you’re in a screwy situation,” he said.

The 8-3 Wildcats are 5-1 at home, with four of those wins against ranked opponents. Junior Chuck Perrin has been a key factor for Northwestern this year as they claw their way up the rankings.

“Northwestern has beaten teams in the top 25, and Arkansas, who was No. 25 last week,” Bayliss said. “We know they’re playing at a pretty good level.”

“Notre Dame is a better team than its ranking indicates,” Wildcats head coach Paul Torricelli said in a Northwestern press release. “They always are one of the strongest teams in the region. I think we bring out the best in each other every year.”

The Southern Methodist Mustangs are 2-3 this season after dropping a close match last weekend to No. 20 Texas. Led by senior Gwinyai Chingoka, a 2003 All-WAC selection, the Mustangs will be a challenge for the Irish. The noon match on Sunday comes only hours after the team returns from Chicago.

“SMU hasn’t played as extensive of a schedule yet,” Bayliss said. “Both teams beat us 4-3 last year, both matches were close, and we’d like to reverse those scores this year.”

A key point of the match will be doubles, an area that has plagued the Irish through the dual-match season. Freshman Ryan Keckley and senior Luis Haddock have comprised the No. 1 doubles team ranked No. 18 nationally, and senior Matthew Scott and junior Brent D’Amico have played consistently at No. 2. In last weekend’s match against Wisconsin, Bayliss switched Keckley and Scott, giving the team a quick win at No. 2 but losing close matches at No. 1 and No. 3 with the duo of Eric Langenkamp and Paul Hidaka.

“No. 3 has been our question mark,” Bayliss said. “They’re all sort of competing for the ability to play in that third doubles slot.”

Bayliss is leaving the option of breaking up the top two teams open to debate.

“Our switched teams [at No. 1 and 2 against Wisconsin] stayed in the nucleus of four people,” he said. “If we have to break up one of the teams and split them in order to strengthen us at the bottom, it may be something we’ll consider.” The Irish face Northwestern at the Combe Tennis Center in Evanston, Ill., 4 p.m. Saturday and Southern Methodist at 12 p.m. at the Eck Tennis Pavilion.