Despite not having any seniors in this year’s lineup, the Ohio State women’s tennis team has fared well, winning a program record of 10 of its 11 Big Ten matches this spring.
The No. 18 Buckeyes’ only loss in Big Ten play came on Friday when the Scarlet and Gray faltered at home against the then-No. 14 Michigan Wolverines.
With the loss, the Buckeyes let a share of the regular-season Big Ten title slip away, but after defeating Michigan State two days later, OSU has re-routed the ship heading into the Big Ten Tournament.
“We know that we’re very well prepared,” junior Grainne O’Neill said. “We’ve put in the work on and off the court and I think that shows. We’re just excited to get started and see how it goes.”
The Buckeyes will be seeded in the two slot this weekend in Evanston, Ill., with a first-round bye as they await the winner of Purdue and Wisconsin.
OSU has not been at the top of the Big Ten standings since winning the conference in 2000. Coach Melissa Schaub said she is happy with where her team is, and added that the key to winning is to simply keep working for it.
“I think we compete really hard,” Schaub said. “I think college tennis is a lot about really good energy, coming out and competing every day, you’re not always going to play your best.
“I tell these guys you can probably count on one hand the amount of times they’re going to walk off the court thinking they played unbelievable. The rest of it is just trying to gut it out and find a way.”
O’Neill, who won her individual match in two sets against Michigan State, said she is excited for the tournament because it is a chance to be on a big stage and compete in a pressured and sometimes nerve-wracking environment.
But her excitement for the challenge wasn’t there in years past.
“I think mentally I’ve gotten a lot stronger,” O’Neill said. “And knowing that maybe in years before I might have gotten a little nervous in tight situations but just from playing so many matches I’ve gotten more confident and I know that I can pull off a win eventually if I just keep plugging away.”
Schaub said she is proud of O’Neill’s ability to step up in pressure situations, given she is one of the older members of a youthful team.
“We are a very young team,” Schaub said. “And for Grainne, who doesn’t know whether she’s going to be in there playing or not until sometimes the day of, she has stepped up huge.”
However, in order to go far this weekend in the tournament and possibly get a chance to avenge their only Big Ten loss, it will be a team effort, Schaub said. And she added that she is proud of how the whole team has followed O’Neill’s lead.
“I think they’ve all stepped up,” Schaub said of her team. “Certain matches, we’ve had certain people out and other people have had to jump in and step up, and they’ve done that really well. It’s just unbelievable for them and shows the kind of heart they have and the kind of team they are.”
Michigan has won the Big Ten regular-season title for six consecutive years after beating the Buckeyes a week ago. But now it is tournament time, and OSU is excited to possibly get a second shot at the Maize and Blue, O’Neill said.
“This year we are really, really prepared and we’re excited to play,” O’Neill said. “It’s always been a rivalry. Every time we play Michigan, we’re pumped up, and we just want to get that win and end that streak.”
OSU is set to play its first Big Ten Tournament match on Friday at 2 p.m. against the winner of Purdue and Wisconsin, who play at the same time on Thursday.