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Men’s Tennis: Team set for doubleheader

Joe Meixell | Friday, January 18, 2008

Notre Dame, ranked No. 12 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association preseason poll, will open its spring season Sunday with a doubleheader against Penn State and Toledo.

“We are very untested, and we will see how the young team handles the pressure of the ranking,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Their perception might change, so we will see how they handle it, and hopefully they will learn from it.”

The team returned to South Bend a week early and started two-a-day practices on Jan. 7. Also, the Irish took part in the Mary Davis Memorial Shootout at the Eck Tennis Pavilion on Jan. 13.

Despite the rigorous practice schedule, the team is fairly healthy.

“We have a few bumps and bruises, but no major injuries,” Bayliss said. “[Freshman Matt] Johnson is the only one who, if we played tomorrow, couldn’t go. He hasn’t been able to serve for a week, but we’re hoping he can get back on court soon.”

The top two singles spots are filled by junior Brett Helgeson, and senior Sheeva Parbhu, but the other four spots are still up for grabs. Bayliss said five freshmen – Johnson, Stephen Havens, David Anderson, Daniel Stahl and Tyler Davis – are competing for the spots along with junior Santiago Montoya and senior Andrew Roth.

Penn State will provide some steep competition for the Irish, especially in doubles, Baylliss said.

“Penn State plays good doubles, and they will challenge us there,” Bayliss said. “They are the ‘Beast of The East.'”

Penn State’s coach, Todd Doebler, was an assistant under Bayliss from 2003-06.

“They have come a long way under Doebler,” Bayliss said. “They have a very talented freshman [Eddie Bourchier] from Australia, and their No. 1, Michael James, hits a very big ball. Brett [Helgeson] will have a tough match against him.”

Helgeson and Parbhu make a very strong doubles tandem for the Irish. The duo returns as well as anyone but they tend to break down at net. Bayliss compared playing doubles to a marriage. Like a married couple, a doubles relationship can go south if not everything goes right, he said, and the pair spends much time together. However Parbhu and Helgeson are good friends both on and off the court.

“Unfortunately with those two, neither likes to take charge,” Bayliss said.

While the Irish lost good players to graduation last season, Bayliss feels his team is deeper than the 2006-2007 squad. Sophomore Sean Corrigan and Montoya were both on the team last year, but didn’t see much playing time. This year, however, both are in the hunt for open positions. They are less experienced than last year, but Bayliss feels the freshmen will grow from their experiences.

After the Irish host Penn State on Sunday, they will also host Toledo at 6 p.m. No. 1 Virginia will come to South Bend to take on the Irish on Jan. 27.