The 7-0 Ohio State men’s tennis team is set to play the University of Kentucky on Thursday and coach Ty Tucker said the Buckeyes will be heading into the match with an almost year-old chip on their shoulders.
“We’ve got to be ready for Kentucky. Last year we ended up losing at Kentucky in April … So obviously the guys are looking forward to getting another shot,” Tucker said.
The No. 5 Buckeyes split matches last year against Kentucky, first winning in Columbus, 4-0, in February but then losing in Lexington, Ky., 4-1, on April 9.
Redshirt-sophomore Ralf Steinbach said OSU wants to beat the Wildcats because of last season’s loss, but also to pick up its 199th home win in a row.
“I’m very excited, same as the other guys on the team. Last time we played them at Kentucky we lost, so we really want to win and want to keep the streak alive,” Steinbach said.
The matchup simply makes the team “more competitive,” Steinbach said.
“You just have to be very focused and I think we are well prepared, just have a good day of practice today,” redshirt-junior Chris Diaz said Wednesday.
Unlike OSU, Kentucky will be coming in to Columbus searching for momentum after starting the season off 2-4, but the Buckeyes are not underestimating the Wildcats.
“They’re a very strong SEC team, usually always in the final six and battle for an SEC title,” Tucker said.
The Wildcats’ record might not paint the most clear picture for the team, as all four of their losses came from teams inside the Intercollegiate Tennis Association’s top 30.
“They’re a really good team and everyone who comes in here always has a lot of motivation to beat us,” Diaz said.
OSU is coming off a weekend where it won the ITA kickoff weekend title for the seventh season in a row. The Buckeyes now get to advance to the ITA Indoor Team Championships, which is set to take place Feb. 13-16 in Chicago.
The team plans on bringing that confidence boost with them for Thursday’s match, Diaz said.
“Definitely helps we beat some good teams, got through some tough matches … but there are definitely a lot of tough challenges ahead,” he said.
Although the tournament brings some confidence, coach Tucker said “it’s always a different day” when talking about bringing that momentum into the match against Kentucky.
There is one player in particular who could be a huge weapon for OSU. Steinbach was named the Big Ten men’s tennis Athlete of the Week after going undefeated last week.
“It was very surprising for me, I didn’t expect it and it’s a great honor,” Steinbach said.
Steinbach went 10-0 and currently holds a team-best 14-3 singles and doubles record this season.