March 19, 2014
EAST LANSING, Mich. - The Michigan State men's tennis team gets into full swing in conference play this weekend as it has a pair of matches on tap. MSU (6-8, 0-1 Big Ten) will travel to State College, Pa., on Friday to square off with the 27th-ranked Nittany Lions at 3 p.m. MSU bounces back after Friday to return home and host No. 2 Ohio State at 12 p.m. on Sunday inside the MSU Indoor Tennis Facility.
MSU split the two non-conference matches it had last week. The Spartans defeated Western Michigan, 6-1, on March 12 and then lost to No. 32 Louisville on the road, 7-0, on March 15.
The match against Louisville was held outside, placing MSU's spring record to 0-1 when competing outdoors.
"The elements played a factor but we still could have competed a lot better," head coach Gene Orlando said about the loss to Louisville. "As the match went on, we should have been more on top of it, but Louisville only got stronger and made us more uncomfortable and that led to a more convincing win. I'm excited we at least got an outdoor match in before Big Ten play, and we will be sharper next time."
As a team, MSU is 44-33 (.571) in singles play, paced by nine wins apiece on courts two and five. Freshman Brett Forman has a team-high nine wins.
In doubles, MSU is 20-18 (.526), paced by an 8-5 (.615) record on court two.
"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, ranked wins come. MSU has been highly competitive in each and every match its played, with the winning points literally just match points away. Orlando is keeping his team focused on the next match, keeping a winning mentality, and making sure his team is doing everything they can in practice to stay on top of their game.
"We have to bounce back, it's definitely gut check time for us," Orlando said, "We have to really regroup, refocus in and look at it as an opportunity. We've played the whole season to be ready for the Big Ten season. We need to use that experience from the season going forward, and if used the right way it will be a good advantage for us."
About Penn State
The Nittany Lions head into Friday's Big Ten matchup posting a 13-2 overall record and an 0-1 mark in conference play. Penn State is ranked No. 27 in the latest Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll. The Nittany Lions began the spring dual season unranked, but have been on a continual rise up the rankings. Penn State is 4-2 against ranked foes, including wins over then-No. 33 Virginia Tech, then-No. 33 VCU, then-No. 50 Princeton and then-No. 62 UCF. Jeff Zinn is in his third season as head coach.
In singles play, sophomore Leonard Stakhovsky is likely to start on court one. Stakhovsky has an 11-2 mark on the top court and is ranked No. 47 nationally. Senior Russell Bader is likely to start on court two, where he is 12-2 on the season. As a team in singles, Penn State is paced by 13 overall wins on court two.
In doubles, the duo of Stakhovsky and Bader have a good chance at starting on the top court. The tandem is ranked No. 45 nationally and have a 9-3 record on court one. As a team, court three leads the team in wins with 12.
In the two teams' last meeting on April 21, 2013, the No. 45 Spartans took down the Nittany Lions by a final of 5-2, in East Lansing. Senior Aaron Pfister, sophomore John Patrick Mullane, and juniors Gijs Linders and Harry Jadun picked up singles wins for MSU.
The last meeting in State College, Pa., came on April 22, 2012, and the Spartans won by a final of 5-2. Pfister and Linders are among the current Spartans who contributed to that win.
MSU has won its last three meetings over Penn State.
"Coming off of a tough loss, we'll find out what we're made of," Orlando said. "These seniors, they know what we have to do and will help get us to where we need to be going. We'll take this one first and it's a great opportunity. We've got to believe from the first point that we're going to get it done."
About Ohio State
The No. 2-ranked Buckeyes are likely to be the highest-ranked team the Spartans will face all season. Ohio State comes into East Lansing on Sunday with a 17-2 overall record and a 2-0 mark in the Big Ten. Ohio State will also host No. 44 Michigan on Friday evening.
After winning the ITA National Team Indoor Championship in February 2014, Ohio State claimed the national No. 1 team ranking. The Buckeyes held that position for four consecutive weeks before losing back-to-back matches to top-20 opponents and slipping down to No. 2 in the latest poll.
Of Ohio State's 17 wins, 12 have come against ranked opponents.
In singles, senior Peter Kobelt has played every match this season on the top court, and posts an 11-1 mark. Ranked No. 9 nationally, Kobelt was also named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2014 ITA Men's Team Indoor Championship. As a team, the Buckeyes are 68-19 (.782) in singles, paced by 15 wins apiece on courts five and six.
In doubles, Kobelt pairs with redshirt junior Kevin Metka on court one and the duo have tallied a 10-3 mark. Kobelt and Metka are ranked No. 4 in doubles. The Buckeyes have 24 combined doubles wins between the top two courts, but are just 7-7 on court three.
In the last meeting between the two teams on April 19, 2013, No. 5 Ohio State defeated No. 45 Spartans by a final of 6-1, in a match held in Columbus.
In the last meeting held in East Lansing, Ohio State shut out MSU, 7-0, on Feb. 12, 2012.
This will be the third time out of the last eight matches against the Buckeyes that Ohio State will be ranked No. 2 when facing MSU. Ohio State has been ranked in the ITA Top 10 in each of the last 10 meetings with the Spartans.
In the past year, MSU has had success on an individual level against the Buckeyes. In August 2013, senior Drew Lied defeated OSU's Chris Diaz 7-5, 6-3, to win the men's singles draw at the ITA/USTA National Summer Championships. In October 2013, senior Aaron Pfister defeated OSU's Kevin Metka 6-4, 6-4, and advanced to the quarterfinals at the ITA Midwest Regional Championships.
"The whole team agrees that not much separates the best teams in the nation," Orlando said. "It's a matter of trusting your stuff and competing to the end. There really isn't any team we fear, but at the same time we have to play our game and play it well. We've been right there with every team, it's a matter of time before things fall our way."
MSU will stay at home for a full weekend, as it hosts No. 60 Nebraska on March 28 and No. 68 Iowa on March 30.