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Sunday, May 26, 2024
The Observer

Irish battle injury bug but receive boost from star freshman

Sofia CrimiVaroli
Irish senior Connor Fu prepares to strike the ball in the Irish’s 4-2 loss to UNC on March 3 in Notre Dame, Indiana.

Notre Dame men’s tennis had an inconsistent 2023, finishing 13-14 (3-9 ACC). That record can largely be attributed to a series of injuries during the spring dual-match season.

“Five starters missed significant matches … it felt like we couldn’t ever really get on track. Fixed one issue and got rolling in one area, then there was a leak that sprung somewhere else,” head coach Ryan Sachire said.

The revolving door of starters never allowed the team to truly gel together, which made for a frustrating season. However, numerous individual players made a huge impact for the Irish this year, led by star freshman Sebastian Dominko.

Dominko’s meteoric rise was the story of the season for the Irish. Currently, he sits at 14th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s (ITA) Singles rankings with a 19-7 record against some of the best competition in collegiate tennis.

“We had a freshman playing number one for us this year, and that’s not an easy task,” Sachire said. “Being in the ACC, there’s an incredible amount of talent in this conference. It was awesome to see Sebastian emerge as [a] competitive leader which is rare to see.” 

Dominko is now recognized as a force on the court. But he wasn’t among the most highly touted recruits in collegiate tennis.

“The ITA does a ranking of the top 10 incoming freshmen, but Sebastian wasn’t one of them. This spring he’s had the best season of any freshman in the country,” Sachire said.

Dominko is guaranteed to play in the NCAA Tournament, which is scheduled to begin May 22 in Lake Nona, Florida. Despite the injuries, Irish tennis did receive another great season from senior Connor Fu. Fu, a senior captain, was one of the few players who stayed healthy the whole year. Sachire praised the captain and his impact on the team. Fu went 18-6 in doubles play over the course of the season, winning 75% of his matches with two different partners. His success alongside Dominko earned the duo the No. 26 doubles ranking by the ITA. The duo will also represent the Irish in the NCAA Tournament.

The singles and doubles tournaments occur after the team championship, which the Irish did not qualify for this season. However, the added time may be beneficial for Fu and Dominko.

“[They can] get through finals, do all the stuff academically. It’ll give us 10 days to lock in and focus. Fu and Dominko need to keep doing what they’re doing.” Sachire said. “They’re a hallmark of consistency, played at a really high mark from the beginning to the end. They have a chance to do some damage.” 

Still, the team as a whole had some bright moments as well. When asked about the best match of the season, Sachire highlighted the team’s 4-3 win on Feb. 27 over Michigan State.

“It wasn’t necessarily the best team that we beat but were down 3-2, and two guys lost the first set. [Matt] Che and [Yu] Zhang battled back and we came back to win 4-3. It was a great comeback win,” Sachire said.

Coach Sachire also thanked seniors Fu, Che, Matt Halpin, Braeden Ho and graduate student Addy Vashistha for all they have done to build the program.

“I love those guys. It’s been quite an experience for any senior at Notre Dame. The ACC did not compete sophomore fall, but all of them stuck through it, battled and had really good moments in their career,” Sachire said. “They are going to do great in life.”

Although the departures are substantial, Coach Sachire remains optimistic about the team’s future.

“It starts with making the right choices over the summer. Putting in the work. Coming back to campus better than they are now,” Sachire said. “We are bringing in some good players. We need to use the fall to really build, to stay healthy, build confidence as individuals and as a group.”