Ohio State could have flown home, but men’s tennis coach Ty Tucker didn’t mind the long drive from Iowa City after another Big Ten tournament title.
He was the driver — of course — of one of three vans on the caravan home, and he cherished being with his upperclassmen.
“I want to spend more time with them,” Tucker said as his team prepares for the start of the NCAA Tournament this weekend. “We’ve got three minivans with 15 people and I always have the older guys. I know it’s my last year with them.”
So he reveled in the laughter and joy with seniors Mikael Torpegaard, Riley Reist and Matt Mendez.
“People are always asking, ‘What’s it like when you win something?’ ” Tucker said. “I say if you sold it at UDF on the corner, a bottle of win would probably cost $100. That feeling you have when you’re leaving a place and you’ve just beaten somebody and you’re feeling good and everybody’s talking about what happened, it would cost a lot of money.”
The Buckeyes would like to have that feeling one more time on the biggest stage. Third-ranked Ohio State (29-2) opens NCAA play Friday at home against East Tennessee State, with the second round Saturday.
>> Video | Coach Ty Tucker talks about the NCAA tournament
The No. 28 Ohio State women’s team (14-8) plays Clemson in its first-round match in Nashville, Tennessee. If the Buckeyes win, they likely will play top-seeded Vanderbilt.
The men have gone 24-0 at home in the first two rounds of the tournament the last 12 years, and they have come close to winning the NCAA title several times without taking home the championship — other than one indoor title. They want to break through this year.
“It’s everything,” junior Martin Joyce said. “We talk about it all the time, since the day I got here. Especially for Ty, it’s been a dream of his since he got into coaching. This year, maybe more than the other few years I’ve been on the team, we really have a chance.”
Torpegaard was an NCAA singles finalist two years ago and is a strong anchor at No. 1. Sophomore JJ Wolf and freshman John McNally, both from Cincinnati, are a combined 38-6 at Nos. 2 and 3 singles. With Kyle Seelig, Joyce and Hunter Tubert rounding out singles, Ohio State is formidable, particularly if it wins the doubles point.
A big question for the Buckeyes is the adjustment they have to make to playing outdoors. Because of the harsh spring, Ohio State hasn’t had much time to acclimate to playing outside in hot weather, which it figures to be when the tournament moves to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, starting with the round of 16.
“It’s hard to practice in 60-degree weather and play in 85-degree weather,” Tucker said.
One of Ohio State’s two losses was 4-0 outdoors at No. 21 Georgia in March.
“It’s a big concern,” Torpegaard said. “It’s probably the biggest concern we have. I’m not going to say we’re not a better indoor team.”
The Buckeyes have played a difficult schedule and have seven victories over teams ranked in the top 22.
Torpegaard, who along with Wolf will play in the NCAA singles championship after the team tournament, believes his team is capable making history.
“Of course, you want to be the first team that says, ‘Hey, we did it,’ ” he said.