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Irish begin with challenge

Jay Wade | Thursday, September 13, 2007

After losing several key players from last year’s team to graduation, Notre Dame heads into its fall season opener today with a crop of highly touted freshmen, as well as a gaping hole at its No. 1 singles spot. “We’re young and inexperienced, but there’s talent here, and we need to make sure we do a good job of working these guys in,” Irish coach Bob Bayliss said. “Last year with seniors we got to drink wine. This year, we’re going to pick grapes.”The Irish travel to Chicago to compete in the Olympic Fields Invitational today, and they hope the tournament will help sort out who will inherit the top spot in the lineup.Last year’s No. 1 singles player, then-senior Stephen Bass, was ranked in the national top 10 all last season. The burden of that loss will be somewhat eased by senior Sheeva Parbhu and junior Brett Helgeson, who played at Nos. 2 and 3, respectively, last season. The pair will rotate in the top spot throughout the fall season to determine who will lead the squad in the spring.Senior Andrew Roth, who has been repeatedly praised by Bayliss. will fill the No. 3 slot on the Irish roster.While the team returns several experienced players, five of the 10 players slated to make the trip to Chicago are freshmen. David Anderson, Tyler Davis, Dan Stahl, Stephen Havens and Matt Johnson will all get their first taste of collegiate tennis this weekend. And the level of competition will not provide an easy transition for the new players.The weekend’s opponents include Illinois, which beat the Irish last year and finished No. 2 in the country; Miami, a team returning several starters from last year’s ranked squad; and Alabama, which was also ranked highly throughout last season. “[It’s a] great opportunity for our team to get a chance to play some really good teams,” Bayliss said. “Miami and three other teams were in the Round of 16 through the finals in the NCAA last year.”In addition to the tough opposition, the Irish will have to contend with clay courts – not their usual surface.”The tournament is being played at a historic club and it’s the only college event on clay for us all year, which should be an adventure, while it will be a more familiar surface for the other teams,” Bayliss said.