Irish advance to Sweet 16

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Quentin Monaghan never hesitated when he faced a second serve for match point at No. 3 singles with a trip to the Sweet 16 on the line for Notre Dame.

Monaghan stepped back, nailed the corner of the service box, and then unleashed a blast to the left sideline on the return.

Mississippi’s Stefan Lindmark never had a chance. His attempt at a return sailed wide right to trigger a jubilant Irish celebration on a sunny, windswept day at the Courtney Tennis Center.

Down a break in the third set, Monaghan rallied for a 4-6, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Lindmark to clinch a 4-2 victory against Mississippi in second-round NCAA men’s tennis action and send the Irish to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 2007.

No. 13 seed Notre Dame (21-9) plays Atlantic Coast Conference rival and No. 4 seed Virginia (25-2) at noon EDT on Friday. The Irish are 0-3 against the Cavaliers this season.

Irish coach Ryan Sachire said that reaching Athens, Ga., for the national finals is the pinnacle of college tennis.

“This is huge,” Sachire said of getting back to the Sweet 16. “The guys deserve this because they did a good of positioning us to be in this moment on our home court.”

Monaghan continually frustrated Lindmark with his speed to turn shots that looked like points for Ole Miss into blistering Irish returns. Monaghan fought back to force a third set, and then overcame another deficit to reach match point. Then came the fault.

“There was a lot of pressure on the second serve,” Monaghan said. “It was a little tight, but it turned out well.”

Monaghan said that Notre Dame forged character this season by never giving up on a shot, or a match.

“Battling through adversity has been one of our traits this the whole year,” Monaghan said. “We’ve tried to establish gritty competitiveness.”

Monaghan wasn’t the only player to put fight into the Irish effort Sunday.

Irish No. 4 singles player Josh Hagar, a 5-foot-8 lightning bolt, used his speed to outlast 6-5 Johan Backstrom, 6-4, 7-6 (3).

Sachire called Hagar a superstar for his effort.

“The kid is a winner,” Sachire said. “The competitiveness, the focus, the grit and the confidence to do what he needs to do when the match is on the line … he’s won so many big matches this year, so it’s not surprising he was able to come through.”

Eric Schnurrenberger delivered the third Irish point in singles play, knocking off Vinod Gowda at No. 6 singles, 6-3, 7-5.

Notre Dame No. 1 singles player Greg Andrews led Southeast Conference player of the year Nik Scholtz 6-4, 3-6, 6-5, in a classic battle when Monaghan locked up the victory.

Doubles action was just as intense, with the Irish prevailing thanks to wins at No. 1 and No. 3.

Andrews and Alex Lawson beat William Kallberg and Lindmark, 8-2, and Ryan Bandy and Monaghan beat Backstrom and Joe Rogers, 8-6.

Sachire said that the Irish toughness paid off Sunday.

“We set a goal for ourselves to get to Athens, to get to the Sweet 16 and beyond, back in August in our first team meeting,” Sachire said. “After that, we only talked about the process and what it’s going to take to achieve those goals, and certainly grittiness and toughness is the No. 1 thing we’ve always preached to our guys, and they really displayed that today.”

Notre Dame’s speed took its toll on Mississippi.

“I think it work them down a little bit, mentally, how many balls we got to,” Sachire said. “The fact that we didn’t get tired and didn’t go away, that’s a tribute to our guys’ fitness and who they are as competitors.”

SINGLES: 1. Greg Andrews (ND) led Nik Scholtz, 6-4, 3-6, 6-5, unfinished. 2. William Kallberg (OM) beat Ryan Bandy, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3. 3. Quentin Monaghan (ND) beat Stefan Lindmark, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4. 4. Josh Hagar (ND) beat Johan Backstrom, 6-4, 7-6(3). 5. Ricardo Jorge (OM) beat Eddy Covalschi, 6-4, 6-4. 6. Eric Schnurrenberger (ND) beat Vinod Gowda, 6-3, 7-5.

DOUBLES: 1. Greg Andrews-Alex Lawson (ND) beat William Kallberg-Stefan Lindmark, 8-2. 2. Nik Scholtz/Ricardo Jorge (OM) beat Billy Pecor-Josh Hagar, 8-4. 3. Ryan Bandy/Quentin Monaghan (ND) beat Johan Backstrom-Joe Rogers, 8-6.

Notre Dame No. 1 singles player Greg Andrews returns a shot against Ole Miss in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Division I tennis championships at Courtney Tennis Center. (SBT Photo/MIKE HARTMAN)