Ohio State Men’s Tennis Seeking Revenge Against Michigan, First NCAA Championship

By Dan Hope on May 17, 2022 at 10:10 am
Ohio State men’s tennis
Ohio State Dept. of Athletics

Only two opponents have won matches against Ohio State men’s tennis this year.

The Buckeyes’ path to a national championship could go through both of them.

Ohio State has a 27-3 record this season, but two of those three losses have come against Michigan, who it will face again on Thursday in the NCAA quarterfinals. To advance to the Final Four, the Buckeyes will need to turn the tables on their rivals, who most recently defeated Ohio State in the final of the Big Ten Tournament after each team won at home against each other during the regular season.

After suffering a 4-2 loss to the Wolverines in the conference championship, the Buckeyes know an Elite Eight win won’t come easily on Thursday in Champaign, Illinois, where the final three rounds of this year’s NCAA Tournament will be held this weekend. But they’re excited to have a chance at revenge against the team up north.

“We've still got that bad taste in our mouth from the Big Ten championship,” team captain Andrew Lutschaunig said. “And now we get another shot at them like we wanted. So I'm sure they're just as hungry as we are, but this time we're coming for them.”

Aside from Michigan, the only other team that’s defeated Ohio State this season is TCU, who handed the Buckeyes their first loss of the year in the semifinals of the ITA Indoor Nationals. If the fourth-seeded Buckeyes can beat the fifth-seeded Wolverines in Thursday’s quarterfinals, they’d be in line for a rematch with the Horned Frogs in Saturday’s semifinals if TCU, the No. 1 seed, gets past No. 8 seed Kentucky on Thursday.

The previous losses to both Michigan and TCU underscore the challenge that lies ahead for the Buckeyes this weekend as they look to make a run to a national title. But the Buckeyes believe they’ve learned from those losses and gotten better in the process, and avenging their previous losses would only make a winning weekend for Ohio State that much sweeter.

“We've obviously played them, lost to them. So we have a lot of game planning going on, watching film. Listening to all the notes that the coaches are giving us. And we’ll be well prepared, and we know what we're getting into,” said sophomore JJ Tracy. “And two revenge matches, if we get through them, would be the best feeling in the world.”

While Ohio State has consistently been one of the top teams in the country throughout Ty Tucker’s 23-year tenure as the Buckeyes’ head coach, making the NCAA Tournament every year (except 2020, when the season was shortened due to COVID-19), winning an NCAA championship is a goal they’ve still never accomplished. The Buckeyes have won two ITA Indoor Nationals titles and have made it to at least the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament 15 times since Tucker became head coach, but they’re only made it to the NCAA final twice, coming up short both times.

Tucker believes one reason for that is a challenge they’re facing again this year: Playing outdoors in warm weather in the NCAA Tournament after playing indoors for most of the season, whereas teams in warmer-weather climates play outdoors throughout the year. Due to a particularly cold and wet spring in Columbus and around the Midwest this year, Ohio State has played only five outdoor matches all season.

That said, Ohio State played outdoors in its second- and third-round NCAA Tournament wins over Columbia and USC, so the Buckeyes feel like they’re prepared for matches that will likely be played outside – weather permitting – with the championship on the line this weekend.

“I think most players on our team make the transition outside very well,” Tracy said. “So I think now that we're used to it, we're in a good spot.”

While the final rounds of the NCAA Tournament are often played in southern locations, the Buckeyes will be playing in familiar territory this weekend, as they head just 300 miles west to play at Illinois, where they’ve already played earlier this year. Tucker thinks that could help the Buckeyes this weekend, too, though it won’t offer much of an advantage in their quarterfinal match against a Big Ten school.

“It's nice to see that we'll get to play in some weather that we're used to playing in,” Tucker said. “But on the flip side of it, the team we're facing in the first matchup knows that weather well that's in Champaign since you know, Michigan.”

All in all, the Buckeyes are feeling confident as they head west to Champaign, where they’ll arrive Tuesday to begin on-site preparations for Thursday’s match against the Wolverines. Tucker says the Buckeyes have eight players they feel confident in; every non-freshman on the roster has seen regular playing time this season, and they feel like they can win with a variety of lineups.

“You look down the courts and you have full confidence in any single one of those guys that they can be one of the four points that get us a win,” Tracy said.

While Ohio State could face the two teams it’s lost to this weekend, the Buckeyes have also already earned wins against four of their potential opponents this weekend – Michigan, No. 6 seed Tennessee, No. 7 seed Virginia and No. 8 seed Kentucky – so they have reason to feel like they can beat anyone, although they’re 0-1 against TCU and haven’t played No. 2 seed Florida or No. 3 seed Baylor.

Ultimately, the difference between winning and losing any match this weekend could come down to just a few points – much like the loss to TCU at indoor nationals, where the Buckeyes took a 3-1 lead before losing 4-3 – so Tucker is reminding his players that there will be little margin for error.

“In these matches, you're going to get your opportunity, but you might only get one so you're gonna have to be able to capitalize,” Tucker said. “You’re gonna have to be able to play a quality point; you're gonna have to be able to six, seven, eight times during the match, in a tight, tight situation, be able to play the right point because you might not get more than one opportunity to end each game.”

“Two revenge matches, if we get through them, would be the best feeling in the world.”– JJ Tracy on playing Michigan and potentially TCU again

The Buckeyes also know, though, that they don’t need to overthink things. While Lutschaunig believes the week of practice leading up to the match will be crucial, Tucker also says he doesn’t want to overdo it in practice, knowing fresh legs will be important as they attempt to win three matches in four days. And having won 90 percent of their matches this season, the Buckeyes are entering the final week of NCAA Tournament play in great spirits.

“Coming off of a win against a team like USC at home, obviously the vibes in the locker room are great, the team energy's great and we just know what we need to do,” Lutschaunig said. “We need to string together a few more days of good tennis, and we could be national champions. And that’s not something that everyone can say.”

Thursday’s match against Michigan is set for an 8 p.m. ET start time. The semifinal between the winner of that match and either TCU or Kentucky will start at 11 a.m. Saturday. The championship match will be played at 4 p.m. Sunday. All matches will be streamed live on the TennisONE app.

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