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Men’s Tennis: Irish look to Havens, Watt to replace seniors

Chris Masoud | Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Irish are hoping for significant contributions from a talented cast of incoming freshmen, but the returning players know they can count on the tried-and-tested nucleus of upperclassmen to lead the way to the NCAA Championships.

This year’s squad features 11 returning juniors and seniors, an element that last year’s team missed sorely down the stretch.

“We have a new group of leaders, but it’ll be more of them this year which will be nice because we’ve had a young squad the last two years,” junior captain Tyler Davis said. “This is a year we think we can do some things.”

Because of the departure of ITA All-American Sheeva Parbhu and Big East all-tournament player Brett Helgeson, the Irish have significant holes to fill before the start of the season. The No. 1 singles spot, held by Helgeson for the past two seasons, will likely be a question mark until the start of tournament play.

But the Irish are confident that the team’s leadership and experience will have a positive impact leading into postseason play.

“Casey Watt was pretty much unbeatable last year, he’s pretty much a leader just by how he plays on the court,” junior Stephen Havens said.

Watt, a sophomore, posted a 28-5 overall record last season as a freshman, going 8-2 in No. 3 singles play. Havens, who contributed 10 wins in No. 2 singles, is the leading candidate to take over the No. 1 singles spot, along with Watt.

Watt and Havens were named as two of the top 100 players in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s preseason poll. Watt is No. 90 and Havens is No. 98.

Notre Dame’s greatest asset, however, may be the one sitting on the sideline. Irish coach Bobby Bayliss, a two-time national coach of the year, brings a wealth of knowledge and a set of intangibles that every team needs to be successful at the collegiate level.

“As far as stroke instruction goes, you really can’t beat him anywhere,” Davis said. “From that aspect, just getting the most out of players’ talent, that’s his specialty. He also develops a tight bond with the players, which goes a long way.”

Yet in spite of the positive signs leading into this season’s action, the Irish realize that they still have to prove their worth before they can silence the critics.

“We had a pretty disappointing end of the year last year and we lost Brett Helgeson, who was pretty much an automatic point most of the time,” Havens said. “I think a lot of people are going to doubt how we are going to do this year. I think we have a lot to prove.”

Havens and the Irish will face their first test of the season on Sept. 18 at the Olympia Fields CC Invitational, a three-day event that will feature 11 Irish players.