Illini up for challenge

By Amber Greviskes

Two top conference men’s tennis teams will clash Tuesday when the best of the Big East clashes with the toughest team in the Big Ten.

Notre Dame, which won its second consecutive Big East tournament title last year, will take on Illinois, which has won nine of the last 10 Big Ten Championships – the team lost the Big Ten tournament title to Ohio State in 2002.

“We’re hoping to parlay this weekend’s (win over Duke) into a good match,” Illinois head coach Brad Dancer said.

Although the No. 3 Illini are undefeated, the Irish, a team full of athletic tradition, could provide quite a challenge for the team.

The Irish are led by a quartet of talented juniors and sophomore Sheeva Parbhu, who is the 14th-ranked player in the nation. The junior standouts include Stephen Bass, who won the Intercollegiate Tennis Association Midwest Regional singles title in the fall. Bass is the eighth-ranked singles player in the country.

No. 26 Notre Dame will also have the service of junior Barry King. King, a former national junior champion of Ireland, spent the fall studying in Dublin, Ireland, but has made an impressive return to the tennis courts.

During the weekend King and fellow junior Ryan Keckley defeated the nation’s top-ranked doubles team when they beat North Carolina’s Raian Luchici and Brad Pomeroy, 8-4.

Illinois, however, will counter with its own lineup which has been led by sophomores Kevin Anderson and Ryan Rowe. The Illini have not dropped a doubles point yet this season, which Dancer said, he feels is an improvement over last year’s doubles performances.

“We have a few teams going now that are playing well together, and we’ve had a few teams improve since last year,” Illinois sophomore Brandon Davis said. “I think we’re going to do really well in doubles this year.”

Building an early lead in doubles will be important for the Illini, considering they are playing a team with a great athletic tradition, Illinois junior GD Jones said.

Notre Dame head coach Bobby Bayliss is one of the primary reasons for the team’s success on and off the courts. Bayliss is one of only six active head men’s tennis coaches in the NCAA with more than 600 career coaching victories.

The Illini will also have to find a way to focus on their classes throughout the day, leading up to the night’s competition – a hurdle the men usually do not face.

Last season when the men played at home during the week, they lost to Kentucky 4-3. Before that April 7 match, Illinois had not lost at home since Notre Dame defeated the team at the Atkins Tennis Center in March 2002.

“We’re going to be ready for anything,” Rowe said. “We’re excited to get back to our home courts.”