Ohio State won its fourth consecutive Big Ten men’s tennis tournament title last weekend, but it was a struggle.

A beneficial struggle, according to senior Hunter Tubert, as the team enters the NCAA tournament.

For only the second time, the Buckeyes are the top seed in the 64-team tournament. Their first-round opponent Friday is Cleveland State in a match that will be played after Notre Dame faces Vanderbilt at Ohio State.

 

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Ohio State (29-2), which won the National Indoor Tournament in February, has won 13 matches in a row since losing on the road to Texas A&M and Texas in March. The Buckeyes were without their top player, JJ Wolf, for those losses.

But last week, they needed to rally to defeat Michigan 4-2 in the Big Ten semifinals and withstood a stiff challenge from Illinois for a 4-1 win in the finals.

“It was definitely needed,” Tubert said. “It definitely keeps us on our toes and shows us what we need to work on.

"It shows us we’re not that much better than every other team. We have to put the work in day-in and day-out.”

Ohio State was the No. 1 seed in 2010 when it lost in the quarterfinals. The Buckeyes have had several agonizing near-misses since then. Last year, they lost to host and top-seeded Wake Forest 4-2.

This will be the 14th straight year the Buckeyes have been hosts for their first- and second-round matches. They are undefeated in them. That is of no comfort to coach Ty Tucker, who views most opponents as if they have Roger Federer clones.

“Cleveland State has had a great year,” he said. “Notre Dame was top 10 at one point in the year. Vanderbilt is an SEC team that’s always good. It’s the tournament. If you don’t play good tennis, you’re going to go home and have a banquet.”

The Buckeyes have all the ingredients to live up to their seed. Wolf spent almost the entire year atop the NCAA singles rankings. He is seeded No. 2 in the singles bracket after losing in the Big Ten finals match against Illinois.

John McNally and Kyle Seelig also qualified for the singles tournament, which will take place in Orlando, Florida, following the final three rounds of the team competition ending May 19. Tubert and Martin Joyce will compete in doubles.

But the Buckeyes’ attention for now is strictly on the team competition and winning the NCAA tournament for the first time.

“That would be huge for our coach,” McNally said. “That’s the only thing he doesn’t have.”

The Ohio State women will play in Nashville, Tennessee, against Georgia Tech on Friday in the first round. Freshman Isabelle Boulais qualified for the singles tournament.

brabinowitz@dispatch.com

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