Lantern file photo
The No. 7 Ohio State men’s tennis team will begin its pursuit of an eighth-straight Big Ten title as it kicks off conference play this weekend at Penn State.
The Buckeyes (13-2) will begin Big Ten play against the Nittany Lions (5-6) for the third-consecutive year in 2013, having recorded 7-0 shutout victories in each of the previous two meetings. The match in State College, Pa., over the weekend will also mark the 29th all-time meeting of the two programs, with OSU holding a commanding 22-6 lead in the series.
Since 2006, OSU has been perfect against Big Ten opponents, rattling off a 71-0 conference record and holding a reign of seven straight conference titles under coach Ty Tucker. This year, Tucker said the team goals are no different.
“The first goal every year is to get that Big Ten title … people want to keep the streak alive of winning Big Ten championships and having something tangible at the end of the season and going through life that they did some pretty amazing things,” he said. “But the competition is tough, the coaching is great and we’ve got to be ready.”
“It’s kind of a pressure for us, because we have (seven) years’ pressure on our shoulders, so it’s kind of a pressure thing, but also kind of a good thing to come out knowing that we are kind of a favorite,” junior Blaz Rola said. “We still have to come out and give 100 percent for us to go off the court with a win.”
This season, the Buckeyes have struggled on the road, with both regular season losses coming from away matches (No. 11 Texas A&M, No. 1 Virginia). In conference play, the Buckeyes face many of their toughest opponents at venues away from Columbus, including No. 17 Illinois, No. 20 Northwestern and No. 21 Michigan.
Improved road performance is something Tucker emphasized as a key to success as the season continues.
“You’ve got to be 10 percent better than the team on the road to get the road win, so we’ve got to know the competition that we play, and we’ve got to go in there and understand that when we’re at home, you have two or three chances to win a set. But on the road, you get one chance, and you’ve got to take it,” he said. “On the road, you’re not going to get the calls you get at home, and it’s not going to be nearly as familiar.”
During the 2012 campaign, OSU’s 4-3 championship match loss against Illinois in the Big Ten Tournament was the team’s only stumble in conference play. This season, many Buckeye players are looking forward to the April 12 rematch with the Illini.
“That final (in the tournament) really hurt us. We can’t wait to play (Illinois) again. Last year, I guess it was a really bad day for OSU, and we’re really, really looking forward to playing them again, and hopefully we can come out on top,” Rola said.
OSU will also face several strong conference rivals on its home court this season. The Scarlet and Gray will attempt to defend their 160-game win streak at the Varsity Tennis Center as they face off against Indiana, Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan State squads – all of whom are ranked within the top 75 teams nationally.
With a target clearly painted on their backs, the leaders on this year’s Buckeye squad said the team has what it takes to send a message to the rest of the conference.
“(We have to) show what we’ve got in the Big Ten season, and show the other top teams that ‘Wow, they’re beating everybody pretty good,’ so that’s our goal,” said redshirt senior Devin McCarthy.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to begin their match against PSU at noon on Saturday.