Around the Oval on Wednesday, February 26th

By John Brandon on February 26, 2014 at 4:15 pm

What a week it was for Buckeye sports - two lady Buckeye swimmers set school records and the women's basketball team sent out their seniors with a convincing win. Meanwhile, the wrestling and baseball teams both went undefeated on the week, each posting wins over ranked opponents.

It was undoubtedly a great week for those teams, but this week I'd like to spend some time examining the historic run by the men's tennis team. After knocking off No. 6 Notre Dame (4-2) and No. 61 Indiana (5-2) on the road this week, the Buckeyes improved to 15-0 on the season - the best start in program history. The win over Notre Dame was Ohio State's seventh over top-25 opponents this season, as the Buckeyes were able to hold onto their national No. 1 team ranking this week. Things won't get any easier, as the Buckeyes upcoming schedule consists of No. 12 North Carolina (home), No. 34 Penn State (home), No. 3 Oklahoma (away), No. 35 Georgia (away) and No. 26 Michigan (home).

Still, if Ohio State's success at home and in Big Ten play under head coach Ty Tucker is any indication, the No. 1 ranking should hold up for a while. The Buckeyes have won an astonishing 181-straight home matches (and an incredible 83 in a row vs. Big Ten teams at home and on the road). Ohio State also hasn't lost a Big Ten match since 2005, which is especially impressive when you consider the fact that four Big Ten teams are in the top-26 and 10 Big Ten teams are in the top 55 nationally this season. Point is, the Big Ten is a strong tennis conference, yet the Buckeyes have been untouchable for eight years.

"I sure hope that any Ohio State fans will enjoy the fact that we do something other than play football and basketball at Ohio State... The excitement surrounding home games here is pretty amazing."

- Ty Tucker, Men's Tennis Head Coach

Most of the Buckeyes success can be attributed to the phenomenal job that Tucker has done at Ohio State, turning the program from historically bad into one of the nation's elite in a short amount of time. Since being hired before the 2000 season, Tucker is 360-58 overall and 120-11 in Big Ten play. Perhaps more impressively, the tennis program has steadily improved each year. 

Success is nothing new to Ty Tucker, who has dominated tennis at every level he's competed in. As a kid, Tucker won nine USTA National Junior titles, and at one time defeated tennis legend Andre Agassi - his roommate at the Nick Bollettieri Tennis Academy in Florida. Tucker's success continued into his high school career at Zanesville high school, where he became the only student-athlete to win a Ohio High School state championship as a freshman in 1985.

Tucker futhered his career at Ohio State, where he earned the team's No. 1 singles spot as a freshman and was a two-time All-American. After his junior year, Tucker tested the professional waters where he was ranked as high as No. 35 in the United States.

Tucker returned to the Ohio State program in 1998 as an assistant coach. The program was struggling, and within two years Tucker was named head coach.

Prior to Tucker's hiring, the Buckeyes had lost 24 consecutive Big Ten matches and were the laughing stock of the conference. Guess who's laughing now? Ty Tucker.

After finishing fourth in 2000, Tucker led the Buckeyes to a second place regular-season finish and a Big Ten tournament championship in 2001 - quite the turnaround I would say. Tucker followed that up with four consecutive second-place finishes from 2002-2005, and has won the conference every season since.

The cornerstone of Tucker's success, he believes, has been keeping the top talent in Ohio - sound familiar?

"I knew I had to build a fence around Ohio," Tucker told the Columbus Dispatch last spring. In fact, five of the Buckeyes' 10 players hail from the state, including top singles player Peter Kobelt.

Kobelt has been at the forefront of Ohio State's success this year, and this week he was recognized as the Big Ten's Athlete of the Week for the second consecutive time. He has been magical this season, but while tennis is generally thought of as an individual sport, the Buckeyes' success has been a total team effort.

Tucker's former players believe the success can be attributed to Tucker's passion, intensity and competitive nature. "His drive and passion are far beyond any coach I've come in contact with, and I wouldn't tell you that if it wasn't true," said former player Chase Buchanon.

The Big Ten success has been impressive, but under Tucker the Buckeyes have transformed into one of the best programs in the nation, reaching tennis' equivalent of the "Elite 8" eight years in a row, including three trips to the national semi-finals and one national-runners up finish.

Nine days ago, Tucker's bunch broke through and captured their first national championship at the ITA Indoors. 

"To be able to win with a group of guys, with three boys from Ohio is pretty nice," Tucker said. "It (Winning the ITA Championships) was nice, but you need to keep focusing on the big goals which are Big Ten championships and to compete for an NCAA outdoor championship at the end of the season."

- Ty Tucker

For the Buckeyes, the goal this year is simple - continue their Big Ten dominance and finally bring home an NCAA Outdoor Championship. The road won't be easy, but for Ty Tucker and his team, the time is now.

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