by Kevin Craig
Conor Somers, a five-star recruit from Virginia Beach, Virginia, will be fulfilling a childhood dream when he heads to Notre Dame in August to play tennis.
“Ever since I was a kid, my dad was a big fan. We watched the football games together and from there it blossomed into a school I wanted to go to,” said Somers, who will be a major part of the 5th best recruiting class in the nation when he arrives at Notre Dame in August.
When Somers decided to pursue the idea of playing tennis in college early on in his high school career, attending camps at Notre Dame is what got him in the spotlight of head coach Ryan Sachire. By his junior year of high school, the interest in Somers from the Fighting Irish had grown large enough to the point where they offered him a spot on the team, thanks, in part, to a few good performances in national tournaments.
“Of course I was going to take that,” said Somers of his offer from Notre Dame.
One of those good performances came in the USTA 18 & Under National Championships, one of the most prestigious events of the year for young American tennis players. In 2015 at the national championships, Somers was able to make a run in the doubles tournament with a partner who he had never even met.
“My partner, I didn’t even know him before we played…but we paired up and made a little run,” said Somers. “That was a great experience.”
That run saw Somers and his partner take on a team composed of Reilly Opelka, a 6’11” player known for his big serve who had just won the Wimbledon juniors title a few weeks earlier, and Taylor Fritz, a player who would go on to win the US Open juniors title a few weeks later and is now currently ranked inside the Top 70 on the ATP World Tour.
“We had a pretty nice crowd,” said Somers of his match against Fritz and Opelka. “Definitely up there for the most people I’ve played in front of for a juniors match…The pace of play was tough to adjust to, but I felt we held our own.”
Somers not only valued his opportunities on the court at the national junior championships, but also the opportunities that came off the court.
“They really make it like a pro tournament for junior players. The organization is top class,” said Somers. “The best players in the country come to play it, so it was an awesome experience for me.”
Now that his days of playing junior tournaments are done, Somers is excited for the new opportunity that sits in front of him; contributing to one of the best tennis teams in the nation.
“I know it’s a very competitive team. They’re losing some good seniors this year but also the class coming in is very strong,” said Somers.
The Virginia Beach native will be joined in the freshman class at Notre Dame by two blue chip players, Johnathan Small and Matthew Gamble, as well as an international player from Peru, Guillermo Cabrera.
“I’m going to get there and I’m going to compete with all of them…My goal is to play top six singles this first year and be in the doubles lineup,” said Somers. “There’s really no guarantees when you get there…it’s big boy tennis in college.”
While Somers is eager to contribute to the team and earn a spot in the starting lineup, he is aware of what he needs to work on to ensure he puts himself in the best position possible to do so.
“What I’ve really been trying to work on is holding my ground on the baseline, not really backing up unless I’m forced to,” said Somers. “In college, everybody hits a big ball, so really just making sure I’m committed to each ball I hit and not leaving any meatballs up there for the opponent to step in.”
Somers has not only been working on the physical aspect of improving his game, but the mental aspect, as well, citing the importance of “playing fearless out there.”
“Sometimes people freeze up in the moment mentally and I just want to make sure I go out there every time focused on the things I can control. Not winning or losing, but just having fun,” said Somers.
One aspect of the game that won’t be an issue for Somers is his level of fitness as he was also a soccer star for his high school, Cape Henry Collegiate.
“I also played high school soccer which I actually thought contributed to my tennis game…it was just a great experience playing for a great coach and the support of the school was great.”
In 2016, Notre Dame qualified for the national team tournament and had a doubles team of two seniors, Quentin Monaghan and Alex Lawson, reach the semifinals of the national tournament, but Somers has some lofty goals of his own for the Fighting Irish.
“By the time I graduate, my goal is to be number one in singles at Notre Dame,” said Somers, who also wants to “make it to the final four in the team championships and qualify for the [individual] tournament in singles and doubles.”
While Somers will be travelling halfway across the nation to play his collegiate tennis, he is looking forward to the few opportunities he will have to play in his home state.
“Now that they’re in the ACC it’s pretty cool because I’ll get to play a couple matches close to home,” said Somers, who is looking forward to playing matches at the University of Virginia and Virginia Tech.
While tennis will be a major priority for Somers the next four years, he certainly won’t be forgetting about the academic side of the college experience as he hopes to set himself up for the future, whether tennis is in the picture or not.
“I’m going to major in science business at Notre Dame. They have a really good business school so I applied to that and we’ll see where that takes me,” said Somers. “You never shut off the professional [tennis] options…I love tennis so I’d pursue it if I had the opportunity.”