Irish tennis overcome key injuries, qualify for NCAA Tournament
Dominic Gibson | Friday, May 13, 2022
Despite a series of challenges and setbacks during the season, the Notre Dame men’s tennis team found ways to be resilient and find success this year. The team faltered a bit during conference play, going 5-7 in the ACC. However, the Irish finished with a 16-12 record and picked up some extremely important wins to earn an NCAA bid. There, they pushed higher-ranked Columbia, falling just short of the win and claiming a 4-2 first-round loss. Notre Dame head coach Ryan Sachire highlighted a few exceptional performances that came during the season, all of which provided confidence and experience for the team.
The first big match Sachire recalled was the 4-3 win versus SMU. “This was our first big win in a last match on court scenario,” Sachire said. “[Senior] Axel Nefve came back to win after being down 7-6, 5-2. Once you succeed in a tough, hotly contested match, you can take confidence and draw on that experience the rest of the season.”
The other memorable match was a particularly important one that came in the middle of conference play against Miami. “This was our first big win outdoors against a high-quality team,” Sachire said. “[Junior] Connor Fu did a remarkable job to win his match 7-5 in the third set with the team score tied 3-3. Again, this was an experience our guys have been able to draw on since.”
Irish battle through injuries
One of the biggest challenges the Irish faced this season was losing Nefve to injury. While losing a top-end piece is often a worst-case scenario for any team, Sachire found a silver lining in all of it. “Clearly the biggest obstacle was losing our best player…for half of our ACC schedule. During that stretch, we played five Top-25 teams,” Sachire said. “While it was a challenge, I believe our guys benefitted from that experience. All of them played at higher positions in our lineup than they otherwise would.”
The Irish were no stranger to being shorthanded this season. They were also without Conner Fu for a major ranked matchup against Middle Tennessee State. Despite the tall task, Notre Dame displayed resiliency, something that Sachire very proud.
“This was our first big road win. It was the first tough win when we were missing one of our key contributors,” Sachire said. “The mental toughness and resiliency our group showed that day was awesome. To beat a top 20 team, on their home courts, in front of a huge crowd, and down one of our best players? It was a great day for the Irish.”
Irish return strong core
Sachire was also very proud of the growth his players displayed this season. “The growth made by returning players Matthew Che, Connor Fu, and Jean-Marc Malkowski really stands out,” Sachire said. “Each of these guys took on a significantly bigger role this year than in past years, and each stepped up to the plate for our team. The mental and physical improvements shown this year by these three will continue to pay dividends heading into next year as well.”
Looking ahead to next season, Sachire is excited to be returning a strong core of players. After a year of growth, he looks forward to how they will continue to progress.
“I am really excited to build on what we have done to this point this year,” Sachire said. “We will return the vast majority of our team’s core, and I am excited to see how they continue to mold the culture within our program.”