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Thursday, June 20, 2024
The Observer

Irish continue ACC play at home against NC State, Wake Forest

Nearly a month after their last home match, Notre Dame women’s tennis will return to South Bend this weekend for a pair of ACC matchups with No. 8 NC State and No. 25 Wake Forest. The No. 27 Irish (11-6, 1-4 ACC) will look to improve their conference record as they continue navigating a challenging stretch of their schedule.

Notre Dame enters the weekend on the heels of back-to-back ACC road series that they completed with a 1-3 record. The Irish traveled south in the first week of March and were defeated by top 10 teams Duke and North Carolina. They were more successful last weekend when they hit the road again and split matches against No. 9 Virginia and No. 64 Virginia Tech.

The Irish put up an impressive effort against a strong Cavaliers team. In doubles, the No. 29 duo of junior Julia Andreach and sophomore Carrie Beckman earned a 7-5 win on court No. 2. Notre Dame claimed the doubles point and a 1-0 advantage when freshman Rylie Hanford and junior Yashna Yellayi followed with a 6-2 victory on court No. 3. In singles, Irish senior Page Freeman was dominant in a 6-1, 6-0 win on court No. 1 and Notre Dame led 3-1 after freshman Bojana Pozder emerged victorious on court No. 5 (6-3, 6-3). But Virginia battled back with three consecutive singles wins and ultimately did just enough to pick up a 4-3 victory.

Armed with confidence after evenly playing a highly-ranked opponent, the Irish made the short trek to Blacksburg two days later to try to get back in the winning column. Notre Dame’s doubles play was decisive again. The two pairs that won against the Cavaliers did the same against Virginia Tech, and Freeman and sophomore Maria Olivia Castedo added a court No. 1 victory to complete an Irish sweep in doubles. Freeman started singles play with another straight-set win on court No. 1 (6-2, 6-4). With singles wins in both matches, Freeman improved to 9-5 on the year and rose to No. 59 nationally ahead of Notre Dame’s matches this weekend.

Andreach’s 6-1, 6-2 win on court No. 3 was bookended by a pair of Virginia Tech victories to push the score to 3-2 in the Irish’s favor. Just one win away from snapping its three-match losing streak, Notre Dame got more than enough. Pozder (7-5, 6-3) and freshman Akari Matsuno (7-5, 1-6, 6-4) won on courts No. 4 and 6, respectively, to cap off a 5-2 Irish victory.

Notre Dame will look to build on its strong play in both matches in its return to Eck Tennis Pavilion. The ACC standings are tightly bunched and Notre Dame’s matches this week provide a key opportunity to get back in the mix with the conference’s top tier. To do so, they will have to find success against top 25 opponents, something that has eluded them thus far in the season.

After falling to Virginia, the Irish are 0-6 against teams currently ranked in the top 25 and 11-0 in all other matches. However, Notre Dame has beaten talented teams like No. 38 USC, No. 34 Illinois and No. 33 Clemson. The Irish hope that continued improvement will help them close the gap with the ACC’s and the nation’s best teams.

NC State (12-2, 4-1 ACC) enters the match playing at a very high level. The Wolfpack is 10-1 in its last 11 outings, holding opponents without multiple points in eight of those wins. NC State has not yet faced the ACC’s highest-ranked teams (North Carolina, Virginia and Duke) but has coasted through most of its conference matches and will represent a challenge for the Irish. Five Wolfpack players sit in the national top 125 in singles, led by Alana Smith (No. 9) and Diana Shnaider (No. 19). They also have two doubles teams ranked in the top 20 that Notre Dame will look to match up well against after seemingly hitting its stride in doubles wins against Virginia and Virginia Tech.

Wake Forest’s (11-7, 2-3 ACC) season has been similar to Notre Dame’s up to this point. Like the Irish, the Demon Deacons have played well for much of the year but have struggled against the ACC’s elite and find themselves in the middle of the conference standings. Both teams could be grappling for ACC tournament seedings down the stretch and will look to take advantage of the chance to get ahead this weekend. Wake’s Casie Wooten (No. 41) and Anna Brylin (No. 52) are among the nation’s best singles players. The Irish will need Freeman and Andreach to be at their best if they hope to come away with a team win.

Notre Dame will host NC State on Friday at 3:30 p.m. and Wake Forest on Sunday at 11 a.m. Both matches will be in Eck Tennis Pavilion and will be live-streamed on the Notre Dame Athletics website.