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Men’s Tennis: Irish head to Alabama to play nation’s best

Kate Grabarek | Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Irish will face tough competition this weekend as they travel to Montgomery, Ala. for the Blue Gray National Classic. The invitational features a number of perennial powerhouses, including Arizona, No. 15 Texas Tech and No. 20 Oklahoma.

“We obviously want to do as well as we can,” Irish coach Bobby Bayliss said. “We want to win the tournament. We feel we can be competitive with any of the teams in the draw.”

The Irish will take on Middle Tennessee State in the opening round and then face the winner of No. 22 Fresno State and Boise State. If the Irish fail to advance, there will be a consolation draw for the matches, allowing each team to play a minimum of three rounds in the tournament.

Sophomore Casey Watt has come on especially strong for the Irish this season at the No. 1 singles position. Watt is currently ranked No. 19 in the country.

“Casey has a top-20 ranking because he beat several of the country’s better players in the Midwest Regionals, and he deserves it,” Bayliss said. “Now he will become a target rather than a hunter and we will see how he handles it, as plenty of players have trouble with expectations. It is good that we have four players in college tennis’s top 100, and I hope that we will have that kind of balance this year.”

The Irish will also turn to their doubles teams to help get on the board early.

“We made a switch at doubles,” Bayliss said. “[Junior Stephen] Havens and Watt are now together as well as [junior Tyler] Davis, and [sophomore Niall] Fitzgerald. We are coming off our best match of the year from last Sunday when we beat Florida State. We are adjusting to being outdoors. We have made a smooth transition but are still working to maintain our patience.”

Junior David Anderson and sophomore Sam Keeton played big roles for the Irish last weekend and will likely do the same in Alabama. Anderson put the Irish in great position by winning a critical third set to bring the score to 3-3 against the Seminoles. Bayliss said Keeton responded with poise.

“[Keeton] handled the pressure very well, breaking serve three consecutive times to clinch,” Bayliss said. “He played aggressively the entire match and was able to finish at the net often.”

The Irish will need complete performances from both the singles and doubles teams as they compete against the nation’s best.