The No. 1 Ohio State men’s tennis team (17-0, 2-0) finally solved the riddle that is Penn State athletics, defeating the No. 34 Nittany Lions (10-1, 0-1) Sunday afternoon after topping No. 12 North Carolina (11-2) Friday night.
For the third time in four matches, the Buckeyes lost the doubles point Sunday against the Nittany Lions. Redshirt-sophomore Chris Diaz and redshirt-freshman Ralf Steinbach rolled to an 8-1 victory over Penn State freshman Christian Lutschaunig and sophomore David Kohan, but the Nittany Lions were not deterred.
Senior Russell Bader and sophomore Leonard Stakhovsky upset the Buckeyes’ No. 3 ranked duo of senior Peter Kobelt and redshirt-junior Kevin Metka, 8-6. Fellow Nittany Lions, senior Chris Young and junior Michael Reilly then followed it up with a 8-7 (7-5) win against redshirt-junior Hunter Callahan and freshman Herkko Pollanen to give the Nittany Lions a 1-0 advantage to begin the match.
Coach Ty Tucker said he was not pleased with his team’s effort at the start.
“We were as flat as we’ve been in 15 years,” Tucker said. “We looked like a deer in the headlights. Performance wasn’t very good from the coaching to the playing. Everything was below average.”
The Buckeyes woke up in singles play, however, winning five of six first sets. Kobelt and Pollanen came out on fire, both winning in quick, straight sets. Kobelt was off first beating Stakhovsky 6-2, 6-2, and then Pollanen took care of Bader 6-1, 6-1.
Metka got the Buckeyes within striking distance, defeating sophomore Matt Barry 6-4, 6-3. Callahan, playing right next to Metka, realized the match was his for the taking and took full advantage with a 6-3, 6-4 win in front of a large crowd that included athletic director Gene Smith.
“I’ve been in that situation once before. I like it,” Callahan said of knowing he was playing for the match. “I don’t think it adds any pressure, just because we were up 3-1. There was no pressure for me today.”
Not only did the win keep the top-ranked Buckeyes undefeated, but it also puts them one home victory away from tying the NCAA record for most consecutive home wins by a program (Stanford women’s tennis- 184).
Friday night against the Tar Heels, the Buckeyes won the doubles point after dropping their previous two. Tucker said he thought about changing up his lineup, but keeping it the same worked out that night.
“We were 50-50 whether we were going to switch Metka and Kobelt,” Tucker said. “We thought about it … We definitely have to do a better job in doubles, that’s for certain.”
Diaz and Steinbach finished their match first after cruising to an 8-3 upset over Tar Heels junior Esben Hess-Olesen and sophomore Brett Clark. It was the duo’s first victory over a ranked opponent.
Callahan and Pollanen had their serves broken consecutively and eventually fell to freshmen Ronnie Schneider and Brayden Schnur, 8-6. Kobelt and Metka stayed on serve all match with senior Nelson Vick and junior Oystein Steiro. In the tie break, Kobelt and Metka jumped out to a quick 4-0 lead and ended with an 8-7 (7-3) victory.
Steinbach and Callahan got the Buckeyes off to a strong start in singles play with both winning in straight sets.
Diaz lost his match against Clark, 6-3, 6-1, while Kobelt and Pollanen both dropped their first sets to give the Tar Heels a glimmer of hope.
Metka seemed to have control of his first set against Hess-Olesen as he was up 5-2, but then lost three straight games and ended up playing in a tiebreak. Momentum seemed lost as he was down 4-2 in the tiebreak, but he regained his composure to come back and take the first set. In the second set, he broke Hess-Olesen’s serve once and held his serve the rest of the way to clinch the match with a 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 win.
“We were neck-and-neck the whole tiebreaker,” Metka said. “He was up on me. I don’t know what happened, I got lucky and pulled it away. I won three in a row and went crazy.”
The Buckeyes are next scheduled to play at No. 5 Oklahoma March 7. First serve is set for 6 p.m.
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