Ohio State men’s tennis came up one match short of winning its first NCAA championship.
No. 5 seed Virginia defended its NCAA men’s tennis title on Sunday by sweeping the third-seeded Buckeyes, 4-0, in the national championship match at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Florida.
Virginia took the early 1-0 lead by winning the doubles point as the Cavaliers’ team of Inaki Montes and William Woodall defeated Ohio State’s Robert Cash and Justin Boulais and Chris Rodesch and Jeffrey von der Schulenberg took down Andrew Lutschaunig and James Trotter.
The Cavaliers quickly took full control of the match as Rodesch, Montes, von der Schulenberg and Ryan Goetz all won opening sets for Virginia. Alexander Bernard and Jack Anthrop were the only Buckeyes to win opening sets in singles. By the time Anthrop won his first set against Mans Dahlberg in a tiebreaker, Virginia had already taken a 3-0 lead as Von der Schulenberg cruised to a 6-2, 6-1 victory over JJ Tracy and Rodesch followed that up with a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Boulais.
Bernard dropped his second set to Alexander Kiefer, nullifying Ohio State’s best chance to get a point on the board. James Trotter battled back to force a third set against Goetz. But the Buckeyes’ hopes ended when Montes finished off a 6-4, 6-2 victory over Cannon Kingsley to clinch the championship for Virginia.
Because teams are not allowed to change their lineups during the NCAA Tournament, Ohio State coach Ty Tucker said after the match that he knew the Buckeyes would have a difficult path to victory even though Ohio State had beaten Virginia twice earlier in the season.
“I'm sure every coach in the country at night – before every match, it doesn't have to be a big NCAA match – but before every match, everybody's figuring out their math before, and I was struggling to find four (points) last night,” Tucker said. “The longer I stayed up, the more I didn't find it.”
While Ohio State has consistently ranked among the nation’s elite men’s tennis programs since Tucker became the Buckeyes’ head coach in 2000, making every NCAA Tournament in his coaching tenure and winning 17 consecutive regular-season Big Ten titles dating back to 2006, an NCAA championship has eluded the Buckeyes, who are now 0-3 all-time in NCAA final appearances. The Buckeyes previously lost to USC in the 2009 final and Wake Forest in the 2018 final.
Despite coming up short again, Tucker had an upbeat attitude when talking about Ohio State’s run to the final after the match.
“I'm not disappointed at all,” Tucker said. “People don't know how hard it is to get here. I mean, obviously you'd like the gold one (first-place trophy). This one (the second-place trophy)’s silver, you'd like the gold one. But you know, what can you do? It's a long season. We’re not happy to take home a second-place trophy. But, you know, it's tough ... you'd like to get to the gold trophy, but it wasn't meant to be this year.”
Ohio State has twice won the ITA Indoor National Championship, but Tucker will enter his 25th season with the Buckeyes still chasing the sport’s top prize. As the Buckeyes are set to return their entire lineup from this season except Trotter, Tucker is optimistic about Ohio State’s chances to contend for the national title again next year.
“Obviously losing James Trotter is a big piece. He was undefeated (in singles this season),” Tucker said. “But you look at Bernard and Anthrop, both top 20 in the world juniors doing well at five and six (in the singles lineup), both of those guys with a summer time of development and those guys committed to doing what we do, we feel darn good.
“We're in a good spot, and we're gonna get a little better this summer, and we hope to be back.”
The Buckeyes finish the 2022-23 season with a 34-3 overall record, having won 19 straight matches before Sunday’s season-ending loss.
Several Ohio State players will continue on to compete in the individual singles and doubles NCAA championships this week. Kingsley, Tracy, Boulais, Trotter and Bernard are all in the 64-man singles bracket while the teams of Boulais and Cash and Lutschanig and Trotter both qualified for the 32-team doubles bracket.