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Men’s Tennis: Irish continue arduous stretch against Illini

Gottumukkala, Rama | Thursday, March 17, 2005

Competing against top-tier teams in the country hasn’t been a problem for the Irish this season. With yet another nationally ranked foe knocking on Notre Dame’s door today, the Irish will have another shot to upset a top-5 team.

No. 16 Notre Dame (13-4) will face a stern challenge from No. 3 Illinois (10-1) today in dual-match play, the third top-5 team that Notre Dame has faced this season. The Irish had previously dropped two matches to No. 4 Duke and No. 2 Virginia, the latter in a close 4-3 decision.

“It’ll be interesting because we’ve already played Virginia and Duke,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Illinois, traditionally, has a lot of big guys with huge serves and very aggressive play. Indoors, that’s most effective. So they’ll present a pretty formidable challenge.”

The Illini will come into this match with only a single loss, a defeat at the hands of No. 1 Baylor in the semifinals of the National Indoors competition.

“The only match they’ve lost is to Baylor, who’s the defending NCAA Champions, 4-3 in the National Indoors semifinals,” Bayliss said. “So they’re arguably the No. 2 team, even tough Virginia reached the finals of the National Indoors and also lost to Baylor.”

Although Illinois has suffered from injury problems as of late, they should present a healthy and dangerous lineup against the Irish. Senior Chris Martin, returning from a stress fracture in his foot, should play his first match of the year.

Illinois boasts some impressive individual talent in their lineup. The Illini’s Kevin Anderson, a first-semester freshman, has lost only one match this year and is currently ranked No. 14 in the nation. Junior Ryler DeHeart is ranked No. 1 in the country.

“We’re aware of what they’ll bring to the court – big serves and aggressive play,” Bayliss said. “They have eight or nine guys who can really take it to you. We have to counter that by being really solid, and also emphasizing a higher level of percentage play than anything we’re played to date to make this a competitive match.”

But don’t count the Irish out of this one. The team has transitioned well to outdoor play, winning three of their last four matches outdoors and seven of the last nine overall. They have played some nail biters in five of the last six matches, winning 4-3 decisions in three of those competitions.

While competing at the Blue-Gray National Tennis Classic in Montgomery, Ala., over spring break, the Irish posted two victories over ranked opponents – No. 27 Rice and No. 68 William & Mary.

“The strongest positions for us down south [in Alabama] were Nos. 2, 3 and 4 – Stephen Bass, Barry King and Sheeva Parbhu,” Bayliss said. “Eric Langenkamp stepped in and won a big match for us against Boise State when we really needed it, proving our team depth.”

Playing Illinois will present one more challenge for a Notre Dame squad used to facing some of the best teams in the country. Notre Dame holds a 20-16 lead in the all-time series history between the two teams, but Illinois has won nine of the last 11 matches.

“I think it’s pretty easy to get a team to play up,” Bayliss said. “When you’re playing a higher ranked opponent, you feel less pressure. I don’t think we’ll have a hard time getting our guys ready to play Illinois. Whether we’ll play at their level, I don’t know, but we’ll be ready to play.”

The Irish will get their shot at reversing the trend against the Illini later today. The match is scheduled to play indoors at 4:00 p.m. in the Eck Tennis pavilion, due to expected inclement weather.