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Doubles teams lead charge

Jay Wade | Friday, May 18, 2007

The No. 5 Irish had quite the journey to the NCAA Tournament round of 16.

The Irish (26-3) played one the nation’s toughest schedules – littered with top-20 opponents – but they battled through it all, starting the season outside of the top 10 and advancing to the fifth-overall seed in the Tournament.

This impressive run by the Irish began on a sour note in January, when they lost their first team match 4-1 to Virginia. But the Irish won 17 of their next 18 matches, before they fell to No. 3 Ohio State March 30.

After the Ohio State match, Notre Dame evaluated its situation, and decided to mix up its doubles the next weekend against Ball State, a position that had been weak for the team all season. The switch paired seniors Stephen Bass and Ryan Keckley, junior Andrew Roth with senior Barry King and sophomore Brett Helgeson with junior Sheeva Parbhu.

All three pairings had not played with each other prior to the match, but the Irish rode this lineup to eight straight wins to date, including the Big East tournament and two opening rounds of the NCAA Tournament.

Prior to this switch, the Irish had won only four out of eight doubles points – the team has won every doubles point since, and Bass/Keckley have yet to lose, going 8-0.

Tournament season for the Irish has gone just as well.

Notre Dame easily handled the best the Big East had to offer and won the conference tournament championship by beating Villanova, St. John’s and Louisville all by 4-0 shutouts. It was the second league championship for the Irish in the last three years.

The team will now face No. 12 Southern California to try to advance to the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals after defeating Butler and Wisconsin in the first two rounds by scores of 4-0.

Individually, the Irish have excelled as well. Senior leader and No. 8-ranked Bass has accumulated a 35-9 overall record and is a finalist in the National Senior Player of the Year Award. Roth earned a record of 26-11, Helgeson went 30-7, and Parbhu had 22 dual-match wins.

“As far as the season goes, we had a number of goals, and so far we have met all of them,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “I am as proud of these guys as much as any group, because they push one another to greater heights than we have seen. Team-wise we have been one of the two or three consistent teams in tennis, we’ve played and learned from some great opponents.”

The Irish do not plan on stopping now, however.

“We’re excited to be here. We beat a very good Wisconsin team,” Bayliss said. “Everyone has risen to the occasion at the appropriate time. We’re very excited about playing Southern California and keep moving forward.”