Tough weekend ahead for Irish
By RACHAEL BIBER
With nearly two weeks of rest now over, the 30th-ranked Irish men's tennis team is all geared up for the beginning of a crucial homestand starting this weekend with matchups against fifth-ranked Duke and Iowa.
"Practice has been going pretty well," Notre Dame head coach Bob Bayliss said. "The guys have worked hard. We did a fair amount of conditioning last week, because this is probably the longest stretch we're going to have without a match."
Notre Dame, which jumped three spots in the rankings this week, will be presented with a big challenge against Duke on Saturday. The Blue Devils opened the 2001 season with a dominating win over 65th-ranked William and Mary on Wednesday, proving they are not short of weapons in their lineup, which consists of four singles players ranked in the nation's top 75, including Marko Cerenko at No. 2 and Ramsey Smith at No. 11.
Duke sent a strong contingent to the Rolex National Indoor Championships last weekend, which is one of the four premiere events of the collegiate season.
Smith advanced to the semifinals of the singles bracket before falling to eventual champion Alex Kim of Stanford, while Cerenko landed a spot in the quarterfinals.
"They're very good," Bayliss noted. "It's certainly a match while I'm sure we're an underdog on paper, it's not a match I go into thinking we don't have a realistic chance to win."
Looking to overcome one of the nation's most elite tennis programs and improve on their 3-1 record, the Irish lineup will be lead by Casey Smith. Smith has raised no doubts about who should lead the Irish by racking up a sparkling 4-0 singles record in the No. 1 position. The combination of Luis Haddock-Morales, Aaron Talarico, and Javier Taborga will fill in the second, third, and fourth slots for the Irish, leaving the fifth and sixth spots open to Matt Scott, Brian Farrell, or Andrew Laflin.
"Casey has sort of, at this point, earned the right to stay at number one," Bayliss said. "Two, three, and four are pretty even between Luis Haddock, Aaron Talarico, and Javier Taborga."
Two of Duke's doubles teams are also highly touted, evidenced by the 23rd and 25th rankings given to the squad's top two pairings. However, the 38th-ranked Irish combination of Taborga and Talarico are sure to not make things easy for the Blue Devils. As usual, the duo will take on the duties at No. 1 doubles, and look to improve on their 3-1 record in dual matches this season.
Sunday's battle against the Iowa Hawkeyes won't pit the Irish against such a star-studded lineup as Duke's, but Iowa's squad isn't without a few weapons itself.
Iowa, which is 1-0 after a season-opening win over Northern Illinois, is led by senior Tyler Cleveland, who took last semester off to compete in individual singles tournaments. Towering at six feet and three inches, Cleveland is known for his powerful game.
"I think Casey feels, and I feel, that he certainly has a chance against Cleveland [at No. 1 singles]," Bayliss said. "But certainly Tyler hits a 125 mile-per-hour serve, he's a big guy, and he can be overpowering at times."
Even though the Hawkeyes do not seem to pose a big threat, Notre Dame will still need to play at its highest level. Bringing their game face to the court on Sunday should assure the Irish a win.
"They are certainly not as strong of a team as Duke," Bayliss said. "It's a match that if we're playing well, I'd certainly hope to win. I think we are going to play a good match, and I expect to play well."
All Sports Stories for Friday, February 9, 2001