The Ohio State Buckeyes celebrate winning the 2018 Tennis On Campus National Championship.
There have been four different Tennis On Campus national champions in the past four years. It’s been five years since a team successfully defended its title, and it’s been more than a decade since a school won three in a row.
Ohio State University is hoping to make the next run at a club tennis dynasty.
The reigning national champions have been in fine form the second half of the season, winning the USTA Midwest section championship and claiming the Big 10 Showdown, held at Michigan State University.
Seven of the 10 players on the Buckeyes’ roster for this week’s National Championship in Surprise, Ariz., were on the title-winning team from 12 months ago, and captain Wesley Piekarski knows that as hard as it was to win its first title last year, it will be even harder to defend the crown.
“Even though we do have a target on our backs and people are gunning for us, teams know that lineups can change drastically,” Piekarski said. “But now people do know some of our bigger names because they made such a splash last year at Nationals.
“I would like to say [we will win the championship], but I’m biased because I’m so close to these kids. But we’ve been working hard, and we’re hoping for a repeat.”
Joining Ohio State in the 2019 field are last year’s finalists University of North Carolina, as well as 15 teams that qualified by winning their section tournament and 47 of the other best club tennis teams from across the country.
The USTA section winners are: Cornell University (Eastern), the University of Miami (Florida), Air Force (Intermountain), the University of Virginia (Mid-Atlantic), Pennsylvania State University (Middle States), Washington University (Missouri Valley), Dartmouth College (New England), the University of Minnesota (Northern), the University of California - Berkeley (Northern California), Oregon State University (Pacific Northwest), UCLA (Southern California) and the University of New Mexico (Southwest).
The University of Georgia earned an automatic bid to Nationals by virtue of winning the 2018 Tennis On Campus Fall Invitational, while the University of Texas - Austin punched its ticket last March at the Spring Invitational before also winning the Texas sectional championship.
There are seven schools making their Tennis On Campus National Championship debuts. They are: Lone Star Cy-Fair and the University of Texas - Dallas, from the Texas section; the U.S. Air Force Academy and Naval Academy, representing the Intermountain and Mid-Atlantic sections, respectively; Valley City State University and Winona State University, from the Northern Section; and Wesleyan University, from the New England section.
The winners of the 2019 National Championship will automatically earn a spot at the 2020 championship, which will be held at the USTA National Campus in Orlando, Fla., April 2-4.
In total, 11 different schools have won the title in the 19-year history of the National Championship. Texas A&M University leads the way, with five titles between 2002 and 2007.
Should Ohio State repeat as the winner on championship Saturday, the team will have to replicate the form that saw it go a perfect 7-0 at the USTA National Campus last April.
In 2018, Ohio State’s path to victory included pool victories over Colorado School of Mines, San Diego State University and Columbia University. The Buckeyes beat Washington University in St. Louis in the first round of the gold bracket and defeated Midwest rival Illinois in the quarterfinals.
Ohio State defeated UC San Diego in the semifinal before claiming its first national title with an upset of UNC. The Buckeyes’ championship-winning team included one graduating senior, three juniors, three sophomores and four freshmen.
The nucleus of that team has returned, led by junior Gavin Aten and sophomores Noah Stern and Paige Carmichael.
Ryan Worthan, Lily O’Toole, Alicia Nahhas and Rohith Koneru all return to defend the title, but Michael Beatty, Adrian Young and Natasha Birze are all absent from the 2019 squad. Those absences have opened the door for three new freshmen: twins Anne and Maria Zizick and Josh Cole.
“Our team is excited after last year, when we won it for the first time,” said Canton, Ohio, native Piekarski, a marketing major with a general psychology minor.
“Our freshmen are very strong, even though they are inexperienced in club tennis on a national level, so that’s definitely going to ease the pressure on us.”