The Penn State men’s tennis team will enter the toughest part of its schedule this Saturday, as the Nittany Lions will square off with Ohio State to open up Big Ten play.
The No. 4 Buckeyes are 13-2 this year, with their lone losses coming to No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 1 Virginia. .
However, this is not the first time this season Penn State has played a ranked team. The Lions are 1-6 against ranked opponents so far this year, with their lone win coming against 59th-ranked New Mexico in late January. Assistant coach Chris Cagle said that the tough schedule the team played to start the year is only going to benefit them for the remainder of the season.
“All of our losses have been against ranked teams,” Cagle said. “We’ve beefed up our schedule quite a bit so once the Big Ten season starts, we’ll be accustomed to playing against this type of competition.”
The Lions hope to have better success in the Big Ten season than the last few years. In Big Ten play, the team went winless in 2011 and won only one time in 2012. This year, the coaching staff has higher aspirations heading into conference play.
“Because our guys have been in our system for another year and played an improved schedule, we feel like we’ve improved quite a bit this year,” Cagle said. “We expect to be competitive in all of our Big Ten matches.”
The team is stressing the importance of doubles play this year. In a regular match, there will be six singles matches and just one doubles match. However, Cagle said that about 70 percent of the time, the team that loses the doubles match goes on to lose the match as a whole.
“That one point is really crucial for us,” sophomore Tomas Hanzlik said. “I feel like it paid off last week against William & Mary because it makes the rest of the match easier when you go up 1-0 early.”
Winning the doubles point will be important this weekend if Penn State hopes to knock off the fourth ranked Buckeyes, but head coach Jeff Zinn also said he wants to make sure the team stays even-keel. He said he does not want them to stress about playing such a highly ranked team, despite realizing what an accomplishment it would be to defeat Ohio State.
“It would be an ESPN moment,” Zinn said when talking about what a win would mean for the team. “Tennis is about staying calm and staying poised. If we put more emphasis on the bigger matches, from my experience, that hurts a team.”