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Men’s Tennis: Team to face three top-10 foes in first weeks of schedule

Kate Gales | Friday, January 20, 2006

Hard work pays off.

That’s the mentality the Irish used going into the fall season, and it paid off with a No. 26 team preseason ranking going into the dual-match season.

Stephen Bass is ranked No. 8 in the country, Sheeva Parbhu is No. 14 and the formidable doubles tandem of Ryan Keckley and Eric Langenkamp debuts at No. 12.

But preseason rankings don’t mean much when it matters most, and the Irish remain focused on the future, which begins with Saturday’s match at Northwestern to kick off the spring season.

“I think we’re ready to go,” coach Bobby Bayliss said. “We’re excited, we’re charged up – we’ve got to come out of the blocks quickly because we have a pretty challenging early schedule.”

Team members returned early from Christmas break to start practicing with two-a-days before class started. Bayliss said they are ready for new competition after intrateam matchups since the fall season concluded.

“We’re tired of butting heads with each other,” he said. “Everyone looks reasonably sharp, we’re in pretty good shape.”

The early part of the Irish schedule features three top-10 teams in as many weeks, with No. 1 Virginia, No. 8 Duke and No. 4 Illinois all on the road.

“We do have tough opponents very early and we’d love to take advantage of some of those … but I think we believe in ourselves,” Bayliss said.

The sense of confidence is helped by new team leaders stepping up.

Bass is one of only three singles players in Notre Dame history to be ranked in the ITA’s Top 10. He finished the fall with a 13-1 record, featuring eight wins over ranked players. He capped it off with a win in the ITA Midwest Championships. His opponent in that matchup was Parbhu, who was 11-2 in fall play.

On the doubles side, Keckley and Langenkamp highlighted their fall season with two wins over Top-25 teams.

The top of the lineup is formidable, which is a huge asset on a team that also has the depth of the Irish.

“I think in the past, I’ve always talked about I think we have great depth. I still think that’s true but this year, I think we have some strength in the top of our lineup,” Bayliss said. “… We have some veterans down below who have been in the trenches and won big matches for us and are very, very capable. There’s a group of four or five guys all of whom I’m very comfortable deciding the match for us.”

Bayliss has said since the fall that this group of players demonstrates a strong team bond.

“I think we’ve done a good job of recognizing issues before they become problems, and I think a lot of guys on the team have learned to take care of those things and I think that’s really helped,” he said. “I’m looking for a year in which we’ve really minimized distractions.”

As the dual-match season begins, the team is prepared for the challenges that will come, beginning Saturday at Northwestern.

“I think we’re going to make it happen this year and I think we’re not apprehensive,” Bayliss said. “I use the old coaching expression ‘guardedly optimistic.'”

The Irish hit the courts at 6 p.m. Saturday.


u Todd Doebler has been promoted to associate head coach of the men’s tennis team – the first person to hold that position in team history.

“It’s simply a statement of recognition that he’s done an outstanding job for these four years here and is the first person ever to have that title,” Bayliss said. “I think it’s a big honor and I think it’s our way of letting him know we’re proud of what he’s done.”

Doebler, a 1996 graduate of Bloomsburg (Pa.) University, coached Bass and Parbhu to the top two spots at the ITA Midwest Championships this fall.

u Junior Irackli Akhvlediani will not play this weekend due to an injury sustained during Christmas break. Bayliss said Akhvlediani stayed in Vienna for rehabilitation but was cleared for practice on Thursday.