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Irish take care of business in season opener

Kate Gales | Monday, January 23, 2006

After a stellar fall season, the Irish began the dual-match season with a resounding 6-1 win over Northwestern Saturday.

No. 26 Notre Dame improved to 1-0 going into Friday’s match against No. 1 Virginia, with strong play in both doubles and singles.

“It’s always good to start with a win, and Northwestern was a team that in our last couple of year we’ve had close matches with,” coach Bobby Bayliss said. “We were certainly prepared for a close one. The doubles point was pretty hotly contested and we eeked it out by the narrowest of margins at No. 3.”

Despite an upset of No. 1 doubles team Ryan Keckley and Eric Langenkamp – which debuted at No. 12 in the national rankings – the Irish started the match up 1-0.

Barry King and Sheeva Parbhu won 8-2 at No. 2 doubles, scoring six unanswered points after a 2-2 deadlock.

“That put a little more pressure on Northwestern,” Bayliss said.

However, the Wildcats were back in it with an 8-6 upset win at No. 1 doubles.

“First doubles was disappointing because we hit enough good shots to win but we didn’t hit them at the most opportune times,” Bayliss said.

However, Stephen Bass and Brett Helgeson clinched the doubles point for the Irish, heading into the singles portion of play with a 1-0 lead.

“It gave us a real sense of confidence going into the singles,” Bayliss said. “Once it started our guys closed them out pretty quickly.”

At No. 5, Keckley gave the Irish a 2-0 lead, winning the first set of his match 6-2 before his opponent retired due to injury. No. 4 Helgeson won his dual-match debut 6-0, 6-3.

“For a guy making his debut Brett Helgeson was absolutely flawless in his first set,” Bayliss said.

Langenkamp, ranked No. 65 in the nation, fell 6-3, 6-0 at No. 6, effectively ending his 10-match winning streak – dating back to last season – in dual-match singles.

But Parbhu clinched the match for Notre Dame at No. 2, winning 6-1, 6-4.

“Sheeva beat a pretty tough competitor who extended him to a tiebreaker in last year’s match,” Bayliss said. The sophomore, who ascended in the rankings after going 11-2 in the fall, had no problem racking up his third match-clinching win.

Barry King, back from a semester at University College in Dublin, won 6-2, 6-3 in play at No. 3.

With the match outcome already decided, Stephen Bass fought valiantly for a win at No. 1. Ranked No. 8 nationally, the junior outlasted Christian Tempke 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) to end the match with a decisive win.

“Stephen played well and really fought well from behind,” Bayliss said, noting that Bass was forced to adjust his game.

“It came down to a matter of discipline and toughness. and Stephen has those qualities in spades,” Bayliss said. “I really respected the poise and the presence that he showed, he didn’t get rattled and was able to come up with a plan that seemed to work.”

The Irish started off the season with a win over a quality opponent – good before their Friday match against the Cavaliers.

“I think the guys felt good about [the win],” Bayliss said. “When Patrick [Buchanan] and Eric [Langenkamp] were freshmen, Northwestern beat us 4-3, and the last two years we won 5-2 matches that were very close. Now to beat them a little more decisively reaffirms that we’re a little better and that some of our guys have made big strides, and hopefully we’re ready to take it to another level.”