After different path than usual, Buckeyes men's tennis team returns to final 16 of NCAAs

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
The Ohio State doubles team of Robert Cash, left, and John McNally celebrate after winning their match in a second-round NCAA Tournament victory over Wake Forest on Saturday.

When the draw for the NCAA men’s tennis tournament was announced on May 3, Ohio State coach Ty Tucker was displeased that his team was unseeded and sent on the road despite a 20-3 record.

He knew he wasn’t the only one.

“To get a terrible draw and get sent to play a team that's legitimately a top-six team in the country, it's tough,” Tucker said. “But it was much tougher on Wake Forest. The only person that was more mad at the draw was the Wake Forest coach.”

After beating Virginia Commonwealth 4-1 in the first round, Ohio State defeated the host Demon Deacons, who were seeded 10th, in the second round by the same score.

Excluding last year when the tournament was canceled, the Buckeyes have reached the NCAA round of 16 every year since 2006, each year winning the first two rounds at home.

Ohio State will play seventh-seeded TCU on Monday in Orlando, Florida. The 15th-seeded Ohio State women’s team will play No. 2 Texas on Sunday.

The Buckeyes got shafted in the seeding because they were confined to playing Big Ten opponents almost exclusively. Tucker has always scheduled elite programs in nonconference play. The inability to do that this year crushed Ohio State’s ranking, particularly in the computerized poll. Cannon Kingsley, for example, is unseeded in the NCAA singles tournament despite a 27-0 record.

The lack of a nonconference crucible probably affected Ohio State in its losses. In the Big Ten tournament final against Illinois, the Buckeyes let the match slip away despite having three players on the cusp of winning.

“Guys start looking at the big, pretty scoreboards and they realize, ‘Oh, my goodness, we've got one more point to get,' and they started hoping somebody else gets it. All of a sudden, you get a little more tight,” Tucker said,

The Buckeyes didn’t flinch against Wake Forest. Sixth-year senior Kyle Seelig clinched the match with a 7-5, 7-5 win at No. 5 singles.

"it was a goal at the beginning of the year to make it to Orlando and make a big run in the NCAA Tournament," Seelig said.

Ohio State is seeking its first NCAA team title. The Buckeyes have come close several times, including a loss in the 2018 final to Wake Forest.

Tucker believes Ohio State has a realistic shot this season. The key as always, he believes, is to win the doubles point. That’s something at which the Buckeyes have traditionally excelled. This year, it’s been less of a given.

Ohio State won the doubles point against Wake Forest, and he believed it propelled them into the singles matches. That needs to be the formula, he said.

With Kingsley and accomplished senior John McNally at the top of the lineup and solid depth below them, Tucker likes his team’s chances.

“We've got a darn good team,” he said. “You've got All-Americans in McNally, (Robert) Cash and Kingsley, and you've got the (Big Ten) freshman of the year in JJ Tracy. You've got our sixth-year senior captain in Kyle Seelig. James Trotter's been doing a great job. (Justin) Boulais in doubles has been doing a great job. We've probably rotated in seven or eight guys, and they're all darn good.

“We can win it all, with the doubles point. There are not too many teams that will dare say today they're taking four out of six singles matches from the Buckeyes.”

The Buckeyes hope they're peaking at the right time.

"That win against Wake Forest meant a lot to us," Seelig said. "Against TCU, we have another good opportunity. I think we're as good as every other team out there. We just have to take care of what we can take care of. We're ready to fight."