Irish open season this weekend at Tom Fallon Invite
Although the chilling weather is making a return to South Bend, the fall season is just warming up for the Irish men's tennis team as it head into the Tom Fallon Invitational this weekend at home.
Coming off an impressive 17—7 record and a season—ending No. 16 national ranking in 2000—01, Notre Dame brings its successful team back nearly intact and ready to show its potential to become one of the top programs in the nation this year.
"We have virtually our whole team back," Irish head coach Bob Bayliss said. "We are pretty talented — we are very deep and very experienced."
With the exception of graduated player Matt Daly, the Irish return a squad that was ranked as high as No. 10, marking the first time since 1993 that Notre Dame held a top 10 spot. However, a few key changes in the Irish lineup might come as a surprise to fans.
Seniors Javier Taborga and Aaron Talarico, a doubles duo that dominated competition throughout the year and finished ranked 20th, will not be playing together.
"We're going to break [Taborga and Talarico] up. We are going to look at sort of splitting our strengths," Bayliss said. "They would have been the No. 3 or 4 ranked team in the country preseason."
While Taborga and Talarico will be erased from the lineup as a doubles team, there will still be excitement in the doubles category. Taborga will pair with fellow senior Casey Smith, and Talarico will most likely team up with sophomore Luis—Haddock Morales or freshman Paul McNaughton. The pairings of Haddock—Morales/Talarico and Smith/Taborga earned spots on the preseason polls with No. 30 and No. 34 rankings respectively.
After struggling in doubles play throughout the year as a team, Bayliss knows that making a switch might be the answer to Irish success this year.
"As we discussed last year the key is going to be the doubles. We have to turn it around better than we did last year," Bayliss said. "If we become really good in doubles I think we are going to be pretty tough to beat, and I think we have a chance to beat everyone we play on the right day."
The singles lineup will also be shuffled to begin the season. Smith, who served as the No. 1 singles player for the Irish last year, will play behind Taborga who is ranked 76th in the preseason polls, while Smith is ranked 38th. The top four is rounded out by Talarico and Haddock—Morales, while Matt Scott, Andrew Laflin, Brian Farrell, and Brent D'Amico are all vying for starting time at Nos. 5 and 6.
Based on intrasquad challenge matches, Taborga earned a spot at No. 1, but the lineup is by no means set in stone.
"The top four players have played off for positions," Bayliss said. "The challenge match positions are simply a starting point, but at this point Javier Taborga won all of his matches and he'll start off at one."
The Irish will certainly get a chance to test their new look this weekend, as they matchup against William and Mary today, and will battle Purdue, Indiana State, Harvard, Ball State and Michigan during the weekend.
Finishing the season with a No. 28 national ranking, Indiana State may pose the biggest threat for Notre Dame, but the Irish know anything can happen early in the season, and that the fall play will help determine lineup decisions.
"There are really a dozen or more people in contention for playing time in doubles, and probably a dozen in singles — not necessarily the same people," Bayliss said. "So I would say between singles and doubles there are maybe 14 or 15 guys who will have a chance to see some action this year. It's really healthy to have Brent D'Amico knocking on the door in singles and Paul McNaughton doing that in doubles, because the older guys can't rest and they know it."
No team scores will be recorded during this weekend's invitational due to rules imposed by the NCAA. Without official announcements of the winners of dual matches, teams will be able to record only one playing date instead of four, giving more opportunity for more season play. However, all individual matches will be recorded and taken into account in the singles and doubles rankings.
All Sports Stories for Thursday, September 27, 2001