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Men’s Tennis

Notre Dame suffer 4-3 home loss to third-ranked Illinois

| Tuesday, March 3, 2015

In a tough match decided by the final point, No. 14 Notre Dame fell to No. 3 Illinois, 4-3, at Eck Tennis Pavilion on Saturday.

The Fighting Illini (12-2) clinched the match on the final singles point to down the Irish (6-3).

With score tied at 3, the winner between Irish junior Nicolas Montoya and Fighting Illini freshman Aron Hiltzik on court 5 would decide the match. The entire team cheered on the sidelines as Montoya managed a narrow 7-6 victory in the first set but lost in the second set, 6-0. In the third set, Montoya pushed his opponent closer and closer to the net to score but fell short, losing the final set, 6-0.

“It was a great college tennis match,” Irish head coach Ryan Sachire said. “We played a ton of matches like that this year — and hats off to Illinois; they just were a little bit better than us today — but we’re certainly proud of the way our guys played and competed and went after it, and we just came up a little bit short. But the process in how we did things was right, so we’re proud of that.”

There were a few shakeups in the lineups due to an injury to junior Eric Schnurrenberger. The No. 19-ranked duo of sophomores Josh Hagar and Eddy Covalschi stepped up to play the top doubles position, while the seventh-ranked pair of senior Billy Pecor and junior Alex Lawson — the only ACC doubles duo in the ITA top-10 rankings — was broken up so Lawson and junior Quentin Monaghan could team up to play the second doubles slot as Pecor and senior Dougie Barnard held down the third slot.

The outranked Hagar and Covalschi clinched their match against the No. 14 pair of Fighting Illini seniors Ross Guignon and Tim Kopinski in a 7-6(4) tiebreaking win. Pecor and Barnard also secured a 6-4 victory.

“I really tried to dedicate this week to getting better and trying to improve a little bit and trying to improve on some technical things, a few strategical things,” Barnard said. “I really worked on my doubles game this weekend in preparation for this match.

“I felt like our mental game was really strong today. A few times, our serve got broken, and we were able to bounce back and focus on the next point of the next game, and I think that’s why we won.”

Though Notre Dame nabbed the doubles point to start up 1-0, the singles round did not go quite as smoothly. Illinois managed the first two singles wins to gain the lead as Kopinski topped Covalschi, 6-1, 6-2, and Fighting Illini freshman Aleks Vukic beat Pecor, 7-6(4), 6-0. Hagar was head-to-head with No. 19 Jared Hiltzik in a close match, but Hagar eventually fell, 6-4, 7-6(4), in the second set. No. 24 Quentin Monaghan and Lawson evened up the score by winning their matches against Fighting Illini senior Farris Gosea and freshman Toshiki Matsuya, respectively, before Montoya fell to Hiltzik, and Illinois walked away with the victory.

Still, the Irish put forth an impressive performance against the higher-ranked Illinois, Sachire said.

“I thought they responded well [to the lineup changes],” Sachire said. “Fortunately for Alex and Nico, they both played in a number of matches to this point in the season, so I don’t think this was a new experience for them.

“Dougie Barnard was a little bit of a different story. This was the first match he’s been a part of, and I think he handled it well and the environment, the emotions and everything that comes with the first match. It’s great to see a senior who’s been on the team for a long time and never had that experience enjoy it and embrace it well.”

Despite Saturday’s loss, the Irish look to move forward with their season by focusing on the positive, Sachire said.

“I think we’re playing okay and doing well and competing well, and this is a long season,” he said. “We’re going to stay the course and keep doing what we do, and if we get another chance to play these guys again, hopefully it will be a different result. But we’re going to stick to what we’re doing, and we believe in ourselves a lot, and I think we’ll continue to have a good season.”

In an action-packed weekend, the Irish will next travel to Blacksburg, Virginia, to take on No. 35 Virginia Tech on Friday and then onto Louisville, Kentucky, to face the No. 38 Cardinals on Sunday.

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