The Ohio State men’s tennis team looks to keep tradition alive this weekend as it searches for its 11th straight Big Ten title.
The No. 5 Buckeyes are currently riding a nine-game winning streak and a perfect home record into their final two regular season matchups against Northwestern and Illinois.
Maintaining the decade-long streak to honor its predecessors is a major focus for the team.
“We want to keep going something that has been started for us. When I came in, I didn’t really know about stuff like that because I’m international, and then we won it and I thought it was cool,” said senior Ralf Steinbach, a native of Germany. “Then I started to realize how important it is and how big it is, and I think it’s very important that we keep this streak and tradition alive.”
For coach Ty Tucker, winning the title would be a culmination and symbol of the hard work put in throughout the season.
“When you get to the end, you obviously want to be getting better, but you want something tangible to hold on to for your season,” Tucker said. “The opportunity to get a big trophy and some T-shirts and hats is a pretty cool thing.”
Sunday’s match against Illinois will also serve as senior day for Steinbach and Chris Diaz. As they look toward graduation, the duo is proud to have been part of the OSU tennis program.
“Being here for five years, I’ve definitely taken it for granted, but now that it’s coming to an end, it’s really hitting me what a privilege it has been to be a part of Ohio State, Ohio State athletics, the tennis team and that tradition,” Diaz said.
A two-time All-Big Ten selection, Diaz said he is excited to have contributed to the team’s legacy.
“I just want to be able to keep the tradition alive that has been paved before us from the other guys, so I just want to be part of that,” he said. “To just know that I was part of something bigger than myself.”
According to Tucker, watching seniors reach their end of the time with the program can be emotional for both the coaches and players.
“It’s been a good ride, the season’s been fun and you get sad when you get to the end,” Tucker said. “Not to sound a little bit corny, but each team is unique and it’s a lot of fun. These guys understand as they get to be juniors and seniors and it’s their last go around, they start to get a little bit sad as well.”
While Sunday might mark the end of the regular season, the team still has a lot of tennis ahead of it.
“We still have the Big Ten tournament and still have NCAA (championships). I don’t want to have the mindset like, ‘Oh, this is the end,’ and I stop competing. I want to compete until the end,” Steinbach said. “It’s been a quick four years, and it’s a sad moment, but at the same time you try to keep the momentum.”
The current roster is one of the youngest that Diaz has experienced.
“I’ve never really had a team like this with a lot of young guys where I’m the oldest,” he said. “It’s definitely a different feel, but I like it. It’s fun, it’s exciting to see what’s coming up for Ohio State and what they’re going to be able to bring to the table after this.”
One of the players coming up for OSU is sophomore Mikael Torpegaard. The Denmark native was recently ranked as the No. 1 men’s player in the nation by the ITA.
“It feels great, it’s been a goal for a while to try to reach that spot at No. 1,” Torpegaard said. “I’ve been No. 2 these last three weeks, and it’s definitely put a lot of pressure on me, and still does. It’s definitely great to finally reach it, and I’m going to work hard to try to maintain it.”
Along with his personal achievements, Torpegaard also is focused on the success of the team.
“I definitely am not happy either if I win my own match and the team loses or if the team wins and I lose my own match,” Torpegaard said. “It is an individual sport, but of course you’re out there representing Ohio State, so you want to do what is best for the team at all times.”
Tucker approaches the current team with the same mindset as ones in the past.
“They’re all just different faces, same sort of strategy, and they all compete hard,” Tucker said. “They’re obviously capable of winning a Big Ten championship, and they’re obviously capable of competing at a high level nationally.”
Torpegaard agreed with his coach about the team’s capabilities.
“It’s important to go in with a mindset of treating every match as if it’s the most important match of your life,” Torpegaard said. “Everybody just needs to bring their energy and work every day, and if everybody really wants to take it to the next level, I’m confident that we can.”
The work ethic that Torpegaard spoke to is something that Steinbach hopes he leaves behind on all of the younger players.
“I hope that I put some impact on the young guys that just came in, that they saw what it means to be a Buckeye. We as seniors can show them that it’s a lot of hard work, and you don’t play for yourself. You play for a team and you play for your school,” Steinbach said. “I hope I taught them that and showed them that it’s a lot of hard work.”
The OSU men’s tennis team is scheduled to take the court at home Friday against Northwestern at 6 p.m. and Sunday against Illinois at noon.