James Trotter instrumental in Ohio State men's tennis success as NCAA tournament opens
Growing up in Japan, James Trotter had never heard of Ohio State.
Until his final year of high school, he didn’t really think about playing college tennis in the United States.
But then Ty Tucker stumbled on to him at a junior U.S. Open practice. The Ohio State coach had been told about other Japanese prospects, but he liked Trotter’s serve and 6-foot-3 frame. Trotter weighed only about 145 pounds, so Tucker knew it would take time, but he loved his potential.
Tucker’s hunch has proven correct. Trotter was crucial in Ohio State’s Big Ten tournament championship victory against Michigan last week. If the Buckeyes are to win that elusive NCAA team title, the fifth-year senior will likely be instrumental.
The OSU men’s and women’s teams are playing host to the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament this weekend. The No. 3 men (29-2) open at 1 p.m. Saturday against East Tennessee State. If the Buckeyes win, they’ll play Sunday against the winner of the Louisville-Texas Tech first-round match.
The 10th-seeded Ohio State women (20-7) defeated Xavier 4-0 on Friday and will face Vanderbilt at 4 p.m. Saturday.
The OSU men have come tantalizingly close to winning the NCAA Tournament title several times. Last year, the Buckeyes lost to Kentucky in the semifinals.
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This year’s team is deep and experienced. The Buckeyes have five singles players ranked in the top 41 nationally – senior Cannon Kingsley (11th), junior JJ Tracy (22nd), senior Justin Boulais (24th), Trotter (34th) and freshman Alexander Bernard (41st). Three Buckeyes doubles teams – two including redshirt senior Andrew Lutschaunig and another with senior Robert Cash – are ranked among the top 21.
“I think that has been the No. 1 goal for everyone on the team,” Trotter said of winning an NCAA team title. “We’ve been talking about this since last year. I know it’s going to be a very tough tournament. Everyone’s good. But I think we have a very good chance.”
Trotter has played between second and fifth in OSU’s singles lineup this year. He has developed as Tucker hoped, gaining 20 pounds since he enrolled to weigh 175.
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But there was an unexpected twist along the way. In 2020, when Trotter went to Canada to stay with his girlfriend’s family after COVID canceled the season, he switched from a two-handed backhand to a one-handed one. It started as an experiment but became permanent.
At the time, Tucker was not happy.
“I told James many times that if I wanted a guy with a one-handed backhand, I'd have recruited a guy with a one-handed backhand,” Tucker said.
But the change worked.
“The first two tournaments I played after I switched to the one-hander, I won,” Trotter said. “and there were very good players in those tournaments. Those tournaments proved it actually works.”
Tucker eventually came around.
“Now James's one-handed backhand is three times better than his two-handed backhand,” he said. “Don’t tell (OSU athletic director) Gene Smith the player is smarter than the coach.”
Trotter is 25-0 in singles this year and also is a key doubles player.
Against Michigan last week, Trotter came through with several winners in a decisive doubles tie-breaker. He then won his singles match in straight sets in OSU’s 4-0 victory. The Buckeyes lost to the Wolverines in last year’s Big Ten finals.
“As a Buckeye, it’s almost like a religion that you have to beat the team up north,” Trotter said. “It was a massive match for all of us. I just thought there was no chance I’m going to lose to that team in my last Big Ten tournament match.”
The OSU women did fall to Michigan in their Big Ten final, 4-2, and now look to rebound. The Buckeyes have been led by senior Irina Cantos Siemers and sophomore Sydni Ratliff, a Columbus Academy grad. Shelly Bereznyak is 14-1 in dual-match singles, and Lucia Marzal is 18-2, both playing lower in the lineup.
The OSU women are led by senior Irina Cantos Siemers and sophomore Sydni Ratliff, a Columbus Academy grad. Shelly Bereznyak is 14-1 in dual-match singles, and Lucia Marzal is 18-2, both playing lower in the lineup.
“I think we’re playing good tennis,” women’s coach Melissa Schaub said. “That loss doesn’t put any worry in our minds.”
The OSU women have been plagued by inconsistency and injuries, and doubles play also has been an issue.
“Hopefully, we can put it together when we need it the most, which is right now,” Schaub said.
Men: E. Tennessee State at Ohio State, 1 p.m.Women: Vanderbilt at Ohio State, 4 p.m.