Apr 27, 2013, 3:30 PM EDT
I was asked by FIDM to start covering Notre Dame men’s tennis for Irish UNDerground back in late January. Since then, I’ve been to every home match and racked up around 45 hours at the Eck Tennis Pavilion watching the men play. I can honestly say too that I enjoyed every single one of those forty-five hours, because this was a fun team to watch and write about. (It’s too bad tennis isn’t a watch-and-learn sport, otherwise I’d be a lot better at it by now I might add.)
Along with those 45 hours spent on the bleachers in the gallery came a personal investment in the team. Granted, as a current Domer I have a personal investment in every Notre Dame team simply because they’re from Notre Dame, but my investment in Irish men’s tennis is quite a bit more intense now than it was in those first few snowy months, which is why I couldn’t have been more ecstatic to see them win their last BIG EAST Championship not only at home, in head coach Bobby Bayliss‘s last year in the position, but also against Louisville, a BIG EAST rival of many of our sports teams on campus. The men’s tennis squad is a team made up of funny, friendly, personable, dedicated, hard-working, upstanding guys, and nobody deserved to win this tournament more than they did. (I must also mention the managers, who work extremely hard and deserve to share this win with the team, or else they may pelt me with tennis balls the next time we cross paths.)
Junior Ryan Bandy was the first to finish in both his No. 2 doubles match (with senior Spencer Talmadge) and his No. 6 singles match. Almost speechless, Bandy said “[Winning this] is awesome. It’s really special to go out this way, and send off Coach Bayliss and the three seniors. It’s just something special that I’ll always remember and look back on with great memories. We put in a ton of work, and it’s just great to see that it paid off.” Bandy defeated Van Damrongsri of Louisville, which made the win even more poignant for Bandy since he had lost a long, close match to the Cardinals ace the week before at Louisville’s Bass-Rudd Tennis Center.
The win was especially rewarding for junior Billy Pecor, who was looking for some redemption from past BIG EAST Championship meets. “It’s a great feeling because I wasn’t able to play freshman year [since] I had knee surgery, so I had to watch as we lost to Louisville here. And then last year, I was [in] the deciding match and lost against South Florida, and that was pretty devastating too. So this year, [with it being our] last BIG EAST, Coach Bayliss’s last year, and [we were] at home again, it’s just something special. It’s a pretty amazing feeling,” Pecor said. In contrast to this season being a year of lasts, next year’s will be a season of firsts: the first year competing in the ACC, hopefully the first ACC Championship for the Irish, and soon-to-be head coach Ryan Sachire’s inaugural season at the helm of a program he’s been assisting for the past eight seasons.
Even though this is Coach Bayliss’s last year as head coach, he didn’t try to make this tournament any different than conference tournaments of the past. I asked him what he told the team before the match started, and he humbly replied, “I said ‘Win it for yourselves. This isn’t about me.’ I think they felt extra pressure, because they knew this was it for me, and they wanted to send me out the right way. I just thanked them for being a pretty easy group of guys to work with.
“I’m pretty excited. I thought we played a great match. We played well all weekend, and I’m really happy for the guys. We’ve worked pretty hard,” Bayliss added. “This has been a special team to coach. It’s made it really great for me in my last year because the team culture has never been better. They work hard, they don’t complain, and I’m just very happy for them.”
Coach Sachire, who stood alongside court Nos. 2, 4 and 6 during singles, said when the guys were starting to feel discouraged he simply reminded them, ” ‘Focus on playing tennis. Don’t worry about consequences, don’t worry about the situation, and just believe in yourself. Just keep playing tennis.’ And when we do that, we’re good…and they were today.”
Junior Greg Andrews went undefeated over the weekend, and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the championship as a result. He’ll add this most-recent award to the five BIG EAST Player of the Week accolades he’s received over the season.
This BIG EAST win was the team’s ninth in a row as well as the ninth BIG EAST Championship in men’s tennis history. (For some reason however, unbeknownst to myself and others the Irish dropped in the ITA rankings from No. 28 to No. 31.)
The season isn’t over yet, and Bandy isn’t the only one who knows it. “We still have some unfinished business to take care of and we’re looking forward to that challenge. We know if we take these next two weeks seriously to prepare and work hard, we can make a run in the NCAA’s and do well,” he said.
In parting, his last words to this newly-minted tennis aficionado were simple:
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