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Men’s Tennis: Irish fall to Michigan; Helgeson advances to NCAA singles

Katelyn Grabarek | Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Early season victories and another trip to the NCAA Tournament highlighted another successful season for the Irish, who fell to Michigan 4-1 in the first round last weekend.

Notre Dame finished 13-13 against tough competition, and had defeated the Wolverines earlier in the season. When it counted, however, only senior Brett Helgeson won his point at the NCAA Tournament.

The Irish gained confidence at the beginning of the season with big wins over No. 9 Illinois and No. 12 Texas A&M.

“Against A&M we rallied back from a 3-0 deficit to win 4-3,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “Seeing Stephen Havens serve it out at 5-3 in the third was particularly amazing since he defeated the former U. S. National Junior Champion, someone who played in the main draw of the U.S. Open last September. That is pretty rarified air in which to compete. Brett hit one of the biggest forehands I have ever seen at match point to down Connor Pollock.”

The Irish were able to get big wins from freshman Casey Watt this season as he finished the regular season with 15 victories while splitting time between No. 3 and No. 4 singles for the Irish.

“The most pleasant surprise has been Casey Watt’s ability to compete as we keep moving him up the ladder,” Bayliss said. “He simply plays at a much higher level in matches than we see daily in matches. The trick now is to find ways to force him to practice with the same intensity and focus because that is the best way to be able to add the weapons and improve the areas of concern that will lift him to greater heights.”

The Irish will be faced with yet another senior graduation, losing their No. 1 singles player, Helgeson.

Helgeson was recently named to the 64-player draw of the NCAA Singles bracket that will be held from May 20-25 in College Station, Texas. This will be his second straight appearance at the event. Helgeson has also been named as the fourth alternate with sophomore Tyler Davis to the 32-team field in doubles.

“You cannot really replace a Brett Helgeson,” Bayliss said. “Our team went into every match knowing that we had a chance to win at No. 1 and not many teams can say that. We need to try to find someone – Stephen [Havens] and Casey [Watt] come immediately to mind – who gives us the best chance to win at No. 1 next year. We have pretty good freshmen arriving in the fall, but it is certainly a stretch to feel that any of them is ready to play high in the lineup.”

The Irish will have some of their players around South Bend this summer to hit and train and others will be working on their games at home.