Mark Batke / Lantern reporter
The Ohio State men’s tennis team captured its eighth-straight Big Ten conference title in style over the weekend – with a pair of victories against both conference rivals from Michigan.
The 6-1 home victory against Michigan State (13-12, 6-5) on Friday, paired with the 4-0 road win against No. 26 Michigan (14-8, 9-2) on Sunday was enough to push the No. 5 Buckeyes (28-2, 11-0) to an outright conference title and solidified them atop the Big Ten standings for the 11th time in program history.
The Scarlet and Gray won the regular-season conference title in 1915, 1931 and 1943, and eight more times under coach Ty Tucker from 2006-13.
“(The title) feels good. The first goal of the season was to get a Big Ten title in the regular season, and we were able to accomplish that and to go undefeated, and have to beat Illinois and Michigan on the road feels good all the time,” Tucker said, following the win in Ann Arbor, Mich., on Sunday.
In the clinching match against the Wolverines, OSU captured the doubles point for the 27th time during the 2013 season, led by the No. 38-ranked tandem junior Blaz Rola and redshirt sophomore Kevin Metka and No. 18-ranked redshirt junior Peter Kobelt and senior Connor Smith winning matches 8-3 and 9-7, respectively.
In singles play, OSU cruised to three consecutive singles wins to clinch the match against Michigan. OSU redshirt freshman Chris Diaz, ranked No. 82 nationally, rallied a 6-3, 6-4 victory followed by No. 11 Rola and No. 62 Smith winning their matches 6-3, 6-2 and 6-4, 7-5, respectively.
OSU’s squad is set to host the Big Ten Tournament in Columbus for the first time since 2002. The Buckeyes are eight-time champions of the event (1991, 2001, 2006-11).
The regular-season conference title gives OSU the No. 1 seed in the tournament, in addition to a first-round bye. The Buckeyes is scheduled to face the winner of No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 9 Purdue in the second round on Friday.
Tucker said his team will be on the lookout for a possible semifinal matchup against rival and No. 4-seeded Illinois, which OSU beat 4-3 on April 12 in Champaign, Ill.
“It’s nice to be able to play at home, the No. 1 seed is nice, but Illinois is the No. 4 seed, and they probably played us the tightest match of anyone in the Big Ten,” Tucker said. “It was a tough match last time, and if we are both fortunate enough to get through (the quarterfinals) I’m sure it would be another tough match.”
Tucker said that whatever matchups occur in the tournament later in the week, his players will have the same level of intensity as they have all season.
“We’ve got very good players and we’ve got hardworking players … everyone seems to be on the right page with how we’re going to play the game. It seems to be when you have some blue-chip players like we’ve been fortunate enough to have, they fight hard and they’re prepared to play,” he said.
The Big Ten Tournament is scheduled to begin Thursday at 9 a.m. at the Varsity Tennis Courts, with OSU set to play Friday at 9 a.m.
Additional tournament information is available on the Big Ten’s website.