Feb. 21, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. - Having been on the road for two consecutive weekends, the 53rd-ranked Michigan State men's tennis team returns home on Saturday to square off against Xavier. The first serve is scheduled to begin at 12 p.m., inside the MSU Indoor Tennis Facility and admission is free.
MSU is coming off a road loss last weekend at the hands of No. 34 Tulsa by a final of 4-3. It was the second consecutive loss for the Spartans and dropped their overall dual season record to 4-5.
In a match that took just over four and a half hours, MSU jumped out to a 3-0 lead after winning the doubles point and claiming the first two singles matches. Tulsa rallied and came back to tie it up at three-all, and the final point would be decided on court three in a match between sophomore John Patrick Mullane and Alejandro Espejo. Mullane rallied to win a second-set tiebreaker and send the match to a third set. The third set, too, was to be decided in a tiebreaker that went in favor of Tulsa.
The loss to Tulsa was the Spartans' fifth loss on a court away from East Lansing this season and their fifth to a ranked opponent. MSU has certainly come close to upsetting some of its opponents, including a 5-2 loss to then-No. 17 Kentucky and a 5-2 loss to then-No. 29 Notre Dame.
Head coach Gene Orlando said of all the losses this season, the one to Tulsa may sting the most, simply because the match was in the Spartans' grasp at several points throughout the day. Nevertheless, Orlando was impressed with his team's play and continual maximum effort they give to each match.
"We competed at a high level at Kentucky," Orlando said. "We did it against Tulsa as well and we took it to another level. The effort was another level. We're not getting the results we want, but the level is pretty good. We're concerned about the things we need to do. We're like a dam, we're ready to go over. Once we put it together, watch out."
"Breakdown Before the Breakthrough"
Coach Orlando has used the phrase multiple times this season as a way to keep his team motivated and prepared for the moments when the big-time wins come.
"We've got to keep putting ourselves in that position and we'll get a break sooner or later," he said. "Breakdown before the breakthrough. I've told my team to get ready to go over that dam because we've had enough opportunities."
With a loaded Big Ten schedule on tap for MSU following its rugged non-conference slate, Coach Orlando is not letting his team lose its focus after just a few losses. He is keeping his team on track, focusing on each upcoming match, and focusing on reaching the team's goal of returning to the NCAA Tournament for the second-consecutive season.
"We'll evaluate ourselves at the end of the season," he said. "Don't worry about where we are now. Let the chips fall where they fall. You can't get caught up in where we are today, it's where we are in April."
Forman Continues to Impress
Six matches into his freshman campaign, Brett Forman is a perfect six-for-six on the singles court. Forman has evenly split his matches between the fourth and fifth courts and has proved to be a steady winner and competitor this season. His resume includes wins on the fifth court over then-No. 29 Notre Dame and then-No. 34 Tulsa.
Forman is also partners with senior Aaron Pfister in the alleys. The duo is 4-3 this season, including a win over then-No. 34 Tulsa.
"Forman's been our consistent winner," Orlando said. "He's a relentless worker and is always putting more time in. He takes care of business and is very diligent."
Musings about the Musketeers
Under seventh-year head coach Eric Toth, Xavier comes to East Lansing unranked, with an overall record of 5-5. Xavier also will travel to Western Michigan Friday afternoon for a 4 p.m. match. MSU will be the third and final Big Ten opponent of the year for the Musketeers, having already lost to Ohio State and Indiana. Xavier has won its last three matches in a row.
Senior Jimmy Roebker leads the way in singles for Xavier. Roebker is 5-6 in singles this season with the majority of his matches coming on the top court. He was recently named the Big East Player of the Week, as announced by the conference on Feb. 18, for his combined 4-0 record in singles and doubles against St. Joseph's and Temple last weekend. Senior Mesa Mei has spent most of his matches on the second court.
The last meeting between these two schools dates back to Feb. 14, 2004. MSU defeated Xavier, 6-1, in a match held in Columbus, Ohio.
In the Polls
Senior co-captain Aaron Pfister remains ranked No. 125 in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association singles poll that was last updated Feb. 11. Pfister is 5-4 on the season and has won four of his last five. Pfister is no stranger to the rankings as he appeared in the final three rankings to end the 2013 dual season. He was also ranked No. 77 in the 2013-14 preseason poll.
Wrapping up Non-conference
Not including Saturday's match, MSU has just three non-conference matches remaining on its schedule. Only one of those will be home as MSU welcomes in in-state foe Western Michigan for a midweek matchup on March 12. MSU also travels to No. 24 Harvard over the university's spring break on March 8 and will make its second trip to the state of Kentucky this season as it faces No. 48 Louisville on March 15.
Big Ten Rankings
A conference match will be next up, as MSU will travel to Ann Arbor, Mich., Feb. 28 to face off with its rival, No. 33 Michigan.
Conference play will again be a gauntlet this season as the Big Ten has 11 of its 12 members ranked in the top 71 in the nation. Ohio State was recently moved up to the No. 1 ranking in the polls released Feb. 18 after winning the ITA National Men's Team Indoor Championship last weekend. Illinois is also ranked No. 14 and Penn State has moved all the way up to No. 43 after being unranked in the initial Jan. 2 poll.
Looking around the country, the ACC also posts 11 of its 12 members in the top 62, the SEC has 12 of its 13 teams in the top 68, the Pac-12 has six of its eight teams in the top 50, and the Big 12 has all six of its members in the top 55.