One of the hottest teams in college tennis right now has to be the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. They have started the season 7-0, which is the best start the Irish have seen since the mid 1980’s. Parsa was able to catch up with Notre Dame coach Ryan Sachire shortly after the team’s 4-1 win over Minnesota, setting them up for a bid to the ITA National Indoor Championship. Coach Sachire reflects on how his team has started so well, and what his expectations are for the rest of the season.
Airport interview between Parsa Nemati and Coach Ryan Sachire:
Parsa: Here with Coach Ryan of Notre Dame Tennis. They earned a big couple of wins this weekend. What are you feeling Coach? You’re headed to indoors. Congrats!
Coach Sachire: Thanks, yeah it feels great obviously. We knew coming down that it was four very very high quality teams and we’d have to play very well to win, and we were fortunate to do that a couple days in a row and we’re real proud of our guys, certainly.
Parsa: How are you able to reel the team back in after such a highly emotional win yesterday over a top-10 team that is also the host team, and Minnesota who is obviously still a strong team but a little weaker and some teams might take their foot off the gas a bit but you guys stayed on and got a 4-1 victory?
Coach Sachire: You know, we’ve played Minnesota in fall tournaments the last couple years and we’ve had, actually, some individual battles with those guys and so I think we knew that they’re good. We had a healthy respect for them coming into the match, and like I said there’s some familiarity there. Not a rivalry because we don’t play them during the dual match season regularly, but I think again there’s some familiarity there and again we knew it was going to be tough. And the guys were prepared, they were mature about it and came to work today and did a good job.
Parsa: Notre Dame tennis has some pretty good history but the last couple years have been rough, but so far this season a 5-0 start with a few good wins. Kentucky and then Texas, now Minnesota. How do you feel about hanging in indoors and how confident are you heading into ACC play now?
Coach Sachire: Yeah, you know it’s a testament to our young guys. You know, we’ve gone with a lot of young guys in the first several matches of the year so far and they’ve done a great job. The theme has been literally take one day at a time, one match at a time, and the schedule we play out of conference now with team indoors and then ACC play, we’re going to be playing a lot of really really good teams and if you look too far ahead it can be a daunting task. I think our plan is to stick to what we’ve done and take one day at a time, get a little bit better in practice and compete as hard as we can in each match and let the results happen.
Parsa: Alex earned the big win yesterday at 1. And a few weeks ago, while I was out in SoCal, he did well at the USC and Long Beach Futures. He quallied and reached the quarters in one, and then doubles he had some success with (Collin) Altamirano. Nowadays college players are playing a lot more futures tournaments, and especially sometimes they even travel as teams. So a lot of teams are now traveling together like A&M went out to Long Beach or like Wake goes out to some tournaments in Florida. What do you see the benefit of pro tournaments and not just individually, but also going as a team and using it as your dates?
Coach Sachire: Yeah, you know I think each coach probably sees that a little differently in college tennis. I don’t think there’s a right answer or wrong answer. Certainly, playing pro events exposes you to different players, maybe a little bit higher level once you reach a certain level at a future or challenger. But again it’s really benefitted Alex and the confidence he took from his results out in Cali in early January have been significant, and he’s ready I think to have a great dual match season which he’s started to this point with. Again, certainly some of that can be traced back to that trip and I think that’s a good move for a lot of guys but college tennis is a darn good product too and there’s some good competition, you know, at our level as well. You know, again, it’s a great move and Alex really benefitted from it.
Parsa: You have a really good relationship with your assistant coach Mr. Adam. How are you able to work with each other and, I don’t know if you’ll have him for much longer. He’s a great assistant. He can be a head coach pretty soon, so how do you balance that out, the different responsibilities you guys have?
Coach Sachire: You know, when Adam and I went through the hiring process four and a half years ago I told him it was going to be a partnership and he was going to have a say and a role in every aspect of our program. I couldn’t respect a coach and a person more than I respect Adam. I trust him explicitly, we work great together. Certainly, like every person, there’s difference of opinions and we work those out when they’re there, but he does a tremendous job and he will be a head coach at a major program very very soon, and he’ll do a great job when he gets that opportunity.
Parsa: The future of Notre Dame tennis is looking good. Since he hasn’t signed his NLI I won’t mention him by name, but a strong, lefty blue-chip recruit has committed to Notre Dame recently. He chose Notre Dame over some other top teams. What do you think that says about the program and how excited are you about the future of the program?
Coach Sachire: Yeah, you know I think it says that we have a really good culture I think within our program. Our guys do a tremendous job of working hard and getting better and improving and being about the right things. And I think it’s great that other guys wanted to join that. Clearly we have a great group this year and he’s only going to add to that mix when he gets on campus next year.
Parsa: How important is it for programs to have alumni on tour, such as Alex Lawson who has had such great success on tour now in doubles. He’s winning a lot of futures; he’s moving up to the Challenger level, Mr. ATP, what do you guys call it, ATP University?
Coach Sachire: Hahaha.
Parsa: So, he actually didn’t play much singles even until like late junior season of college but it just shows how much doubles, if you just focus on it, can give you a good career on tour. How do you market that and get guys to come to college tennis, especially foreigners that might not realize how important of a tool it is?
Coach Sachire: Yeah, it’s huge and Alex has done a great job. Josh Hagar is out playing now. He’s had some good results in the last couple months and, clearly, Notre Dame is a top academic school and I think we’ve had a lot of guys graduate who probably could’ve done okay on the tour but decided to pursue opportunities outside of tennis and that’s a fantastic thing. You know, because of the education they receive, but clearly we support our guys playing and we want them to do a great job when they leave Notre Dame and feel prepared to succeed at the highest level. Just like a lot of other programs do a great job of player development, I put ours up with anybody, and it is a tool that we try to sell to recruits that hey, you can come here, play high level college tennis, get a good education, and develop to be a pro.
Parsa: What are attributes you look for in a recruit?
Coach Sachire: I think first and foremost is the fit at our program, and at Notre Dame. And again, we really value that in terms of the work ethic, in terms of guys that want to improve and want to get better and have high aspirations, and a lot of times that does translate into wanting to play after college. And beyond that I think two: being a good guy and fitting in with our guys socially and personally because they’re together so much and it is a team sport. If you have the right culture and the right chemistry you can do some great things.
Parsa: It’s been a few years now since no-ad was implemented, and there were a couple other scoring changes as well, such as doubles being shortened. What benefit or cons do you see to these rule changes and what are your thoughts on them right now?
Coach Sachire: I’ll tell you what, a 2 hour 40 minute dual match feels like 8 hours. I mean every point matters, every point is big. I actually think from a player development perspective it’s good because there’s more pressure involved with every point so I see a lot of the benefits. Certainly it’s a different scoring system than at the pro level, you know, which may be a knock and that’s justified and valid but like I said I do think it’s been tremendous in terms of creating excitement, creating a buzz, probably creating a few more upsets in college tennis than there used to be, and from a player development perspective you’ve got to be ready to go every single point and I think that’s a great lesson that the kids learn at the age of 18-22 that they can take with them to the tour because at that level too, even though it’s regular scoring, if you give an inch to a top player he’s going to take a mile and I think no-ad trains you to be on-point, every single point.
Parsa: Unfortunately there’s a lot of cheating in college athletics as a whole. In college tennis it’s not as rampant because it’s smaller teams and smaller programs but there’s still a lot that goes on with between offering certain things that are not allowed or getting guys eligible, especially foreigners. There’s a lot of foreigners, unlike in football and basketball, tennis has a lot. What do you see as possible solutions to it and do you see it as a real problem that needs to be addressed?
Coach Sachire: You know, I think my mantra and philosophy has been to take care of our own program and focus on what we do and not get too wrapped up into what other coaches and other programs are doing. So maybe I’m naïve with some of that stuff but, you know, what we have in college tennis is an awesome awesome product. I’d be shocked if you could find a more exciting sport where you have action literally going on in 6 different places, and big points, and big moments all over the place. That’s what I want to focus on and that’s what we talk to our players and our recruits about and again, anything else that goes on is probably outside of what I’d like to comment on.
Parsa: Finally, what are you looking forward to most with the rest of the season and do you have any goals for this program? It’s a young team and making indoors, that’s one big step I’m sure was one goal you guys just checked off. What are you looking forward to next?
Coach Sachire: You know again, I think with this group it’s staying grounded and staying involved in the process and taking a few days off and going back to work and getting ready for our next couple matches, and then heading out to indoors hopefully 5 or 10 percent better than we are right now as a team. If we’re able to do that, and systematically continue to get better throughout the course of the year, we’ll have a chance to have some really great moments. I think what you want, what any coach wants, is to build on this weekend. Whether you won, whether you lost, I think the message is the same to your teams and that’s — we’ve got to be better in a month from now than we are now, and we’ve got to be better in April than we were in a month from now. So just going about it the right way and continuing to improve.
How high is the ceiling for this Notre Dame team? Let us know in the comments below.