Irish men’s tennis prepares for tough tests against No. 20 Michigan, No. 1 Ohio State
Matthew Crow | Wednesday, February 23, 2022
Notre Dame men’s tennis faces off against two nationally ranked opponents this week in a critical stretch of their non-conference slate. On Thursday, the Irish play No. 20 Michigan on the road. The Wolverines (4-2) are looking to build on their strong start to the season, as they enter the match on the heels of a 4-1 win against conference rival Illinois. Michigan’s only losses have come in hard-fought road matches against No. 6 Wake Forest and No. 16 Harvard, with both ending in 4-3 defeats.
Though the season is still young, Michigan’s play in the midst of a difficult non-conference schedule has shown that they have the talent to compete with anyone in the country, and they will prove a difficult test for Notre Dame. Michigan is led by sophomores Gavin Young and Jacob Bickersteth, who both rank among the nation’s top 100 singles players, as well as the eleventh-ranked doubles pairing of Nino Ehrenschneider and Andrew Fenty. After starting the year 0-2 on the road, the Michigan squad will look to take down the rival Irish in the safe confines of Ann Arbor, where they have been undefeated this season. For Notre Dame, the match will provide valuable road experience, as they have played just one away match this year (a 5-2 win against Middle Tennessee State).
After Thursday’s match, Notre Dame will return home to take on No. 1 Ohio State on Sunday. Ohio State (11-1) entered last weekend’s ITA Indoor Nationals as the number-one seed before surprisingly falling to eventual national champion TCU in the semifinals, and they will be hungry to avenge their disappointment against the Irish. Up until that loss, the Buckeyes had been enjoying an incredible start to the season, having dropped just two total points in a string of 11 consecutive wins, which included nine shutouts. This dominant stretch of play came against top-tier competition, as five of those shutout victories came against teams currently ranked in the top 10 nationally, including a 4-0 win against No. 2 Tennessee.
Ohio State has a trio of players ranked in the top 16 nationally in singles, in Matej Vocel (No. 6), JJ Tracy (No. 11) and Cannon Kingsley (No. 16). It will not get any easier for the Irish in doubles, either, as the Buckeyes have the top two doubles pairs in the nation with the duos of Robert Cash-Matej Vocel and Justin Boulais-James Trotter. While Ohio State appears to be a difficult matchup for the Irish on paper, their loss on Monday showed that they can be beaten, and Notre Dame will try to take advantage of their weaknesses in the same way that TCU was able to. Playing at home could provide a critical edge for the Irish, as their 5-1 home record is indicative of how tough of a place South Bend is for opponents to play at this season.
Notre Dame enters the week with a record of 7-2 on the back of two consecutive shutout victories. In their last time out, the Irish earned a decisive 7-0 win over Western Michigan while not dropping a single set, and they will look to maintain that excellent level of play this week. Senior Alex Nefve has been a standout for the Irish this season, as the two-time All-ACC honoree’s performance has him ranked as the #81 singles player in the nation. Notre Dame will be counting on a strong showing from Nefve against the many highly-ranked players from Michigan and Ohio State that they will be facing off against. The matches this week offer a chance for the team to make a statement heading into conference play, as they will face Georgia Tech in their ACC opener on March fourth.
Nothing will come easy for Notre Dame this week as they take on two teams currently playing at a very high level, but the Irish’s play in recent weeks suggests that they will be ready to compete as they look forward to an opportunity to grab two big wins.
Notre Dame plays Michigan on the road at 6 p.m. on Thursday before returning home on Sunday to face Ohio State at 3 p.m. in the Eck Tennis Pavilion.