Men’s Tennis: Bayliss directs Irish to another tournament bid
Matt Unger | Friday, May 20, 2011
This season has been another feather in the hat for Irish coach Bobby Bayliss. The team finished second in the Big East and earned a berth as a No. 2 seed in the 64-team NCAA tournament for the 20th time in 21 years.
Team depth and versatility allowed the Irish to prolong their season May 13 in a first round match against East Tennessee State before losing the following day to fourth-ranked Ohio State.
The match against the Atlantic Sun champion Buccaneers in Columbus played out in nail-biting fashion.
The Irish (18-13) earned a come-from-behind 4-3 victory, with No. 4 singles freshman Greg Andrews winning the final two sets over Charles Bottoni in the final match. After the Irish fell behind 1-0 in doubles play, they rallied to win four of six singles matches, with junior Casey Watt, senior Daniel Stahl and sophomore Blas Moros all winning in straight sets at the No. 1, 3 and 6 singles positions, respectively. After falling in his first set 2-6, Andrews rallied to win the final two sets 6-4, 7-5 to secure the victory.
This win set up a second round rematch against the Buckeyes, in which the Irish hoped to avenge a 5-2 loss from April. The Buckeyes, however, proved championship-worthy in a 4-0 win, in which they swept two doubles matches and three singles matches, all in straight sets to advance to the round of 16.
Nevertheless, on the season, the Irish’s challenging slate of matches prepared them well for the rigors of tournament play. The team faced 23 nationally ranked teams, including the then-No. 1, No. 2 and No. 4 teams in the nation in Virginia, Ohio State and Illinois.
“Our depth and balance have been our greatest strengths,” Bayliss said. “In looking back, we had injuries to [freshman] Billy Pecor and [junior] Sam Keeton who were projected starters and still finished with three top-20 wins.”
The team’s depth shined in one of the season’s signature wins March 8 against No. 4 Illinois at the Eck Tennis Pavilion. The Irish clinched the doubles point with strong play from their No. 2 and No. 3 teams, each posting 8-2 victories. In singles play, No. 1 Watt earned a victory in three sets, while No. 5 junior Niall Fitzgerald and No. 6 Moros earned decisive victories to give the team a 5-2 win. The Illini were the highest-ranked opponent Notre Dame has defeated in nine years.
Strong play in the No. 3 through No. 6 singles positions in the regular season also displayed the versatility of the Irish lineup as the team compiled a combined 71-31 record in those positions. This depth also applied to No. 2 and No. 3 doubles play, with a .709 winning percentage in those slots.
Contributions came from all classes of players, from freshman Greg Andrews, who quickly became a dominating player with his 25-9 mark in doubles play, to seniors such as Stahl, Sean Tan and Tyler Davis.
The program will graduate seven seniors, including Stahl, who plans to pursue aspirations of becoming a professional tennis player. He compiled a 24-11 record in mostly No. 3 singles play.
“[Stahl] has become our go-to guy,” Bayliss said. “He has rock-solid ground strokes, and he just keeps getting better.”