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Men’s Tennis: Maize and blue set to show ND’s true colors

Kate Gales | Friday, February 17, 2006

Notre Dame travels to Michigan tomorrow at 6 p.m., nearly four years after the Wolverines pulled a stunning upset of the Irish in a match at the William Clay Ford tennis facility.

Not a single player from that match remains on either team, but tennis coaches have long memories.

It was March 2002, and the Irish were No. 4 in the national team rankings. The team was traveling to Ann Arbor to play the Wolverines, barely in the national top-50.

“We had just moved up to No. 4 in the rankings, which is the highest we’d been in a while,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Michigan had beaten us there two years prior [in 2000] with pretty much the same team … These guys knew each other pretty well.”

The Irish prepared for a tough match, knowing that any team playing a regional rival like Michigan would have to battle for every point.

“While we had had the upper hand of late, I remembered that they were very capable of playing a great match at home and they certainly did,” Bayliss said.

The Irish fell 4-3 in a match that had a severe negative impact on their NCAA Tournament seeding, dropping the team to the lower part of the top-10.

Although the Irish would beat Michigan in the first round of that year’s NCAA Tournament at the No. 14 rank, Bayliss still remembers that crushing loss.

“I’ve got a lot of memories of going to Ann Arbor,” he said.

The Irish return to the scene of those memories tomorrow, taking on the Wolverines in an evening match in Michigan to continue the streak of Big 10 teams in the schedule. After a loss to Illinois on Feb. 7, the Irish have posted dominant wins over Northwestern, Purdue, Wisconsin and Michigan State. They play Ohio State at home on Feb. 24 and travel to Indiana on March 7.

“I want to play the better teams in the Big 10 every year,” Bayliss said. “I want to play the very best teams in the country.”

Bayliss said the team’s almost-uninterrupted stretch of Big 10 teams from January through the beginning of March is the result of scheduling around mid-semester breaks.

“The Big 10, of course, has mandatory round robin scheduling that begins in late March and goes through late April,” Bayliss said. “Because of our spring break and most other schools’ spring breaks taking up two weeks in March … those dates are usually not available.”

The Irish are riding a four-match winning streak going into Ann Arbor, improving to 6-4 with Wednesday’s win over Michigan State. Notre Dame’s doubles teams have been playing particularly well, as they have won the point in each of the past four wins.

In singles, Stephen Bass and Sheeva Parbhu have alternated in the top two spots of the lineup. Ryan Keckley, Barry King and Brett Helgeson have been consistent in the third-through-fifth positions, and Eric Langenkamp, Irackli Akhvlediani, Patrick Buchanan and Andrew Roth have also seen time in singles.

The team will be forced to focus in Ann Arbor to beat 5-2 Michigan.

“They fill their place up and have a pretty raucous crowd,” Bayliss said.