Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics
A member of the Ohio State men’s tennis team is single and looking – for a new doubles partner, that is.
Blaz Rola, a junior from Slovenia, wants to continue the streak of success he had last season into this year.
The Buckeyes (8-1) entered the 2013 season coming off a record-setting 2012 campaign, when then-sophomore Rola and his then-senior doubles partner Chase Buchanan became the first tandem in collegiate men’s tennis history to capture three major national championship titles in a single season.
The then-No. 1-seeded duo finished their season with a 36-4 overall record and a perfect 14-0 run in three major tournament victories – D’Novo/ITA All-American Championships, USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships and NCAA Championships.
“(Blaz and Chase) were two guys who put a lot into their tennis game, and two guys who have a deep appreciation for OSU athletics. It was great to see those guys accomplish (tournament wins),” said coach Ty Tucker.
Rola said the pair’s accomplishments stemmed from complementing one another’s games well.
“I was more of a baseline game guy, staying in the back, and (Chase) was more with the quick hands on the net with the volleys. Our returns worked so well in doubles, and that’s what made us a great team,” Rola said.
After the celebrations had died down and the trophies were placed in glass cases, the partners had to face a certain reality – Buchanan was graduating, and Rola was staying behind.
Rola said that Buchanan, who graduated as one of OSU’s most decorated athletes ever, has gone on to join the United States Tennis Association professional national team in Florida. Buchanan did not provide comment despite multiple attempts to reach him.
The OSU men’s tennis team has since been faced with the task of finding a new partner for Rola in the wake of the All-American talent it had in Buchanan.
“To replace Chase is going to be really, really hard – almost impossible. I don’t think I can find someone that I had such a great chemistry with,” Rola said. “But I’m 100 percent sure that I can find, out of the (11) players we have, a partner that I have chemistry with.”
Tucker said the team ensures its consistent play by learning a universal formation that translates to flexibility in pairing for doubles game.
“We play the same doubles formation on all three courts. You’re going to lose people in college tennis to injury, and you’re going to lose people to graduation, so everyone has to be on the same page,” Tucker said. “We’ve been fortunate enough in doubles to win some points because all three courts play the same system and everyone is taught the same way.”
Even as the team draws close to the middle of its season, Rola said he’s not yet found the new partner for him.
“Changing partners for me at least is not such a big deal … I’ve played with (redshirt sophomore) Kevin (Metka) a couple matches, I’ve played with (redshirt sophomore) Hunter (Callahan) a couple practice sets, I’ve played with (senior) Connor Smith a couple practice sets. With everyone I’ve played with, it’s just been great … (But) I don’t have a specific partner,” Rola said.
Smith, one of Rola’s doubles partners this year, said he has enjoyed helping the team out in doubles play so far.
“(Chase’s) shoes are huge shoes to fill … so I’m not really trying to fill any shoes. I’m just doing my best to help out the team and get a point,” Smith said.
Smith said the team aims to repeat its doubles win at the NCAA tournament this year.
“(To win) is our whole goal. We go (to) a tournament to try and win it and bring something back for our season,” Smith said.
Rola could not repeat his coveted three-peat from last year because he spent the fall playing tournaments in Europe.
As the season continues, Tucker said he is willing to continue experimenting up until tournament time to find the right player combinations.
“You’ve got to make sure that all three doubles spots have the best chance to win, and sometimes you have to split people up,” he said.
The Buckeyes are set to continue tournament play on Friday at the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in Seattle, Wash.