OSU women's tennis team faces huge task in NCAA Round of 16

Bill Rabinowitz
Buckeye Xtra
Ohio State coach Melissa Schaub's 15th-seeded Buckeyes won the Big Ten title this year after a season full of challenges.

After Vanderbilt tied host Ohio State at 3 in their second-round NCAA women’s tennis match last weekend, everyone flocked to Court 5 for the decisive battle.

Lucia Marzal knew she had to win for the Buckeyes to advance to Orlando. She had just lost the second set, but her confidence did not waver.

“She just kind of looked at me and smiled like, ‘Here we go,’” Ohio State coach Melissa Schaub said. “It was a confident smile. I think she knew she was ready for that moment and trusted and believed in herself.”

Marzal jumped to a 5-0 lead in the third set and won it 6-1. The 15th-seeded Buckeyes play No. 2 Texas at 1 p.m. Sunday in the Round of 16.

The resolve the redshirt sophomore showed might have to be amplified if the Buckeyes are to pull the upset against the Longhorns. Five of Texas’ six singles players are ranked in the top 76 nationally. The Longhorns' only loss came in the finals of the ITA National Indoors to North Carolina.

The Buckeyes haven’t advanced this far in the NCAA Tournament since 2017, when they reached the semifinals. They lost in the first round in 2018 and ’19. Last year’s tournament was canceled because of the pandemic.

The Buckeyes won the Big Ten title this year after a season full of challenges.

“We've had some injuries,” Schaub said. “We've dealt with some stuff as a team off the court. I think a lot of it is just COVID-related, having to become used to the unknown and having to make last-minute changes and getting out of our routine or finding a new routine.”

The Buckeyes rely on several international players. Marzal and sophomore Irina Cantos Siemers, who has made the jump from No. 5 to No. 1 singles and posted a 19-6 record, are from Spain. Senior Luna Dormet is from France, junior Isabelle Boulais from Canada, and graduate student Lisa Hofbauer from Austria.

Ohio State sophomore Irina Cantos Siemers has made the jump from No. 5 to No. 1 singles and posted a 19-6 record.

Cantos Siemers said that her response to COVID has been instrumental in her success. She decided not to return home during winter break, giving her valuable extra practice time. The pandemic also gave her perspective.

“It makes you be grateful just to be able to play your sport,” she said. “I’m just trying to enjoy myself and enjoy the time I have here. COVID made me realize that there are so many bigger things than losing a point.”

Cantos Siemers said that her rise to being Ohio State’s No. 1 player has come faster than she expected.

“I was expecting to make that jump maybe 2-3 years into college after I gained more experience,” she said.

Schaub is grateful it happened this quickly.

“We're not having this conversation about being in the Sweet 16 if she doesn't make that jump,” she said. “She's done an unbelievable job.”

Marzal’s record is 24-3. Dormet, who plays mostly No. 5 or 6 singles, is 21-1.

“We always say that Luna's the unsung hero,” Schaub said. “She's been doing it for years. She just wins. We've looked to her in the big moments, and she plays knowing that's a spot that we were always counting on.

“She just always steps up and performs, and she's an emotional leader. She’s such an intense competitor and fighter. The team and Ohio State means so much to her that she leaves it all on the court every single day.”

Against a team like Texas, that’s what it’ll take by all the Buckeyes.