MACOMB, Ill. - Western Illinois men's tennis opens its spring 2013 schedule by traveling to #30 Notre Dame (Saturday), Chicago State (Sunday) and Valparaiso (Sunday).
The Leathernecks' nonconference schedule is especially tough, as Western will take on three teams ranked in the top 45 nationally in the preseason poll, four teams who participated in the 2012 NCAA Tournament, and a total of six schools from the BCS conferences.
Western will first take on the No. 30-ranked Fighting Irish for the first time in program history, as third-year head coach Chris Kane returns to his alma mater where he was a top singles and doubles player during his collegiate career.
"I'm excited to get back to Notre Dame, and a big reason is because they're a school we try to model our program after," Kane said. "Not only are they successful athletically, but they're a great academic program and we've really tried to emphasize academics in our program, too."
LIKELY LINEUP: Freshman Christoph Haertel enters as the likely top singles player. The Germany native was a top junior player overseas and all-state at Quincy High School as a foreign exchange student.
At No. 2 singles, senior Patrick Hammers brings the most collegiate experience to the Leatherneck lineup. As the only senior on the roster, Hammers is a two-time All-Summit League selection.
Another freshman, Bradley Holt, will likely be slotted at No. 3 singles. Just the second four-star recruit in WIU men's tennis history, Holt was a two-time all-state honoree in high school and is ranked as the No. 107 player in the United States.
Junior Ben Yue also brings collegiate experience into the Leatherneck lineup, likely at No. 4 singles. Yue had a team best 9-8 record at No. 2 singles in 2011-12.
Western's No. 5 singles player, sophomore Mitch Granger, is currently ranked by the ITA as the No. 17 singles player in the NCAA Division I central region. Granger ended the fall season on a strong note at the ITA Midwest Regional, beating players from Minnesota and Southern Illinois.
The sixth singles slot, as well as the doubles lineups, are yet to be pencilled in.
A LOOK AT THE FIGHTING IRISH: After ending the 2011-12 season ranked 29th, Notre Dame opens 2012-13 ranked 30th in the nation...The Irish boast three of the top 10 players in the midwest, including reigning BIG EAST Player of the Year Greg Andrews, who's also ranked 80th in Division I...The Irish finished 2011-12 with a 21-9 overall mark, including 12-2 at home...Notre Dame fell in the NCAA Second Round to Ohio State after topping Vanderbilt in the opener.
A LOOK AT THE COUGARS: Chicago State also opens up its season on Saturday, traveling to UIC before hosting Western...The Cougars finished 2011-12 with an 0-26 record, including a 4-3 loss to the Leathernecks...Chicago State hasn't won a dual since the spring of 2009.
A LOOK AT THE CRUSADERS: Valparaiso was predicted to finish seventh in the Horizon League in 2012-13...The Crusaders finished 2011-12 with an 8-14 record...Chris Baum, a North Carolina State transfer, was second on the team with 14 singles wins as the top singles player last year.
PRESEASON POLL: The Leathernecks were tabbed to finish fourth out of six teams in the Summit League preseason poll...Kansas City is the favorite to win the league, receiving four first-place votes...Western Illinois was projected ahead of South Dakota State and Omaha.