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Watt leads Irish in senior season

Sam Gans | Thursday, September 15, 2011

Many athletes fall in love with a sport by chance or random opportunity. For Irish senior Casey Watt, however, becoming a tennis player was only natural.

“I mainly got into [tennis] because my mom played in college,” Watt said. “So I picked it up and I liked it a lot.”

Family roots helped get Watt started in the game at age 7, but it was ultimately his own talent and skill level that transformed him into one of the top junior players in the country in high school, leading to interest from Notre Dame.

A variety of factors led to Watt choosing the Irish.

“I was looking at the end [of the recruiting process at] Notre Dame, Duke and Virginia and I just fell in love with Notre Dame, he said. “Everything here seemed like a great fit and I loved the coaches so it was a pretty easy decision for me in the end.”

Upon arriving in South Bend, Watt made an immediate impact on the Irish squad, earning all-Big East honors his freshman season. He is now entering his third year as the No. 1 singles player for Notre Dame, a position that requires him to face each opposing squad’s best player.

“It’s tough playing No. 1 every day,” Watt said. “You play the best guys from each team, but each day I want to get better.”

He’s done that so far, gaining a slot in the NCAA tournament last season, and earning a preseason No. 28 national ranking by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association entering this year’s campaign. With that comes seemingly high goals, but right now, Watt is simply focused on playing to the best of his abilities.

“I basically want to have the best season [I can], because it’s my last year,” he said. “I want to surprise people and do better than I have the last two years.”

In order to surpass previous season’s results, Watt has worked hard to get better at different aspects of his game. In particular, his serve has shown marked improvement in his time on campus.

“The last two years or so, I’ve developed a serve that I’ve never had before,” he said. “I’ve never been able to win points on my serve, but now I’ve developed a pretty good serve that’s allowed me to make things a lot easier on my service game. I’m able to attack the ball now, which is something I wasn’t able to do when I came in my freshman year.”

Being a senior marks Watt’s last chance for individual success, but it also increases his role from a leadership standpoint for the rest of the team.

“As a senior, I remember when I was a freshman, I always looked up to the seniors and I realized that when I’m a senior, the younger guys will be looking up to me,” Watt said. “We’ve got to set a positive example and lead by example on the court and off the court and be the backbone for our team.”

With Notre Dame’s season opening this weekend at the Illini Invitational, Watt gets the chance to open his year on a strong note — something the coaching staff is looking forward to seeing.

“[Watt] is certainly in the elite pack of players that will be there this weekend,” Irish associate head coach Ryan Sachire said. “He has been training hard and preparing very well. He knows he can compete, so now he just has to worry about playing.”

Watt also has placed high expectations on himself for this weekend’s event.

“It’s the first tournament of the year and I want to play well. And I know if I play well, I can beat anybody out there,” Watt said. “That’s basically my one goal: just go out there, have fun and play well and see where everything falls.”