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Men’s Tennis: Deep in the heart, Notre Dame falters

Kate Gales | Monday, March 27, 2006

The Irish battled back from an early deficit in Sunday’s match against Texas A&M, but it was too little, too late for Notre Dame, which finished the weekend 0-2 after a loss at Texas Saturday.

The No. 15 Irish (13-7) fell 6-1 to No. 5 Texas and lost 5-1 to the No. 22 Aggies in a match that was closer than the score appears.

“After playing absolutely miserably in doubles and starting very slowly in most of the singles matches, our guys fought back and I’m very proud of them,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said.

Sheeva Parbhu was the lone star for Notre Dame in Texas, accounting for both points with No. 2 singles victories in each match. Parbhu has played some matches at No. 1 this season, switching positions with Stephen Bass.

“Sheeva’s playing at a very high level,” Bayliss said. “He’s been there for us all year and I’m very encouraged by what I see.”

Against Texas A&M, the Irish went down early with a lopsided loss in doubles. Eric Langenkamp and Andrew Roth lost 8-1 at No. 2 and Ryan Keckley and Parbhu lost by the same score at No. 1. The No. 3 match was abandoned in the interests of time, but Bass and Barry King were trailing 7-4 when the point was clinched.

In singles, Andrew Roth quickly fell at No. 6, losing 6-2, 6-2 to Brett Joelson. Parbhu clinched a straight-set victory at No. 2, defeating Bryan Wooten 6-3, 7-6 (7-3) for the only Irish point. The rest of the Irish forced four third sets but were unable to finish the points.

“Basically all of them fought back and pulled themselves back in the matches,” Bayliss said. “It was really touch and go at the end. This is a match we could have won.”

Barry King lost 6-2, 1-6, 6-3 at No. 4 and Conor Pollock topped Langenkamp 6-0, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3 to clinch the match for the Aggies.

Brett Helgeson, who usually plays at No. 3 singles, was out with a minor injury. Bayliss said that the Aggie players were very close in ability but did not speculate on the effect Helgeson’s injury had on the match.

“You play with what you have and you don’t make excuses,” he said. “We had a good enough team to win the match and we had enough opportunities…. They’re a good team.”

Bass chose to finish his match, but ended up losing 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 to Jerry Makowski at No. 1. Makowski is No. 8 nationally in singles play.

Keckley, who made his debut in the singles rankings in the No. 115 slot, was tied 3-3 in the third set of his match at No. 3, which was abandoned according to an agreement made before the match to conserve time for the traveling Irish.

Although the loss was disappointing, Bayliss praised his team’s grit and determination in fighting back into position against a strong team.

“I was surprised [Texas A&M] beat [No. 2] Illinois, but now I can see why,” Bayliss said. “They’re pretty tough at home.”

Texas 6, Notre Dame 1

The Irish fell to No. 5 Texas on Saturday in a difficult match against top-flight competition.

“Texas just spanked us,” Bayliss said. “They showed me why they are a top-five team and they played very well. We were in a lot of the matches but they were the better team and deserved to win.”

In doubles, the Irish lost all three matches. Bass and King were first off the courts, falling 8-3. They were followed by Keckley and Parbhu, who lost 8-2 at No. 1. Although the point was already clinched, the Longhorns added a victory at No. 2, winning 8-4 over Langenkamp and Roth.

In singles, Keckley lost 6-1, 6-2 at No. 4 to put Texas up 2-0. Parbhu pulled the Irish within one with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over No. 20 Callum Beale at No. 2, but the rest of the outcomes would be dismal for Notre Dame.

At No. 3, Helgeson lost 6-4, 6-3 to Longhorn star Roger Gubser and Eric Langenkamp lost 6-3, 6-4 at No. 6 to clinch the match for the Longhorns.

After the final point, King lost 6-4, 6-4 at No. 5 and Bass lost to No. 20 Travis Helgeson 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 in the top spot.

Although the team was frustrated by the loss, Bayliss pointed out that playing against elite competition puts the Irish in the best position for the postseason.

“The reason we try to play the best teams is to play ourselves [into] a position [so that] at NCAA [tournament] time, we know what it’s like and we know what it takes and we know what areas we have to improve to be at that level,” Bayliss said.

The Irish next play April 8 at home at 1 p.m. against Southern Methodist.