Competing against big-time programs in Division I tennis results in experience. Now, for the Penn State men’s tennis team, it is time for that experience to pay off.
Big Ten tennis has some of the stiffest competition in the country. The conference has 10 teams ranked in the 75-team Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll, including No. 5 Ohio State and No. 31 Michigan. The Nittany Lions are No. 69.
The team has played top-30 opponents Virginia Commonwealth, Wake Forest and Alabama. Now, the Lions are ready to square off with their conference rivals.
“Heading into the Big Ten is considered a second season for us,” senior Bryan Welnetz said. “We see these teams every year so we know their players, their coaches and their styles. We’re just ready to get started.”
Welnetz also said that everyone is always a little more focused come Big Ten play. For Penn State, every match from here on out is in-conference. These matches hold a little more meaning than the ones played out of conference. There is more to play for when bragging rights are involved.
“These are our rivals. It gives us more of an edge when we play them,” freshman Matt Barry said. “We don’t want to lose to any team, but especially not anyone in the Big Ten.”
The Lions head into this weekend with home matches scheduled against Indiana on Friday and No. 63 Purdue on Sunday. Both teams will prove tough tests for the Nittany Lions. The Hoosiers (8-8) have the No. 31 doubles pair in the country in Sam Monette and Isade Juneau. Purdue has only been defeated three times this spring and is coming off consecutive 4-3 wins against Fresno State and Santa Clara.
Welnetz will most likely face Szymon Tatarczyk of Purdue on Sunday in the No. 1 singles spot. Tatarczyk has posted an 8-3 record this spring.
“It’s been a big challenge but I’ve loved every minute of it,” Welnetz said when discussing his role as the team’s primary No. 1 singles player. “You have to stay focused, make sure your shots are on point and be as positive as you can.”
The matches this weekend will be played at the Indoor Tennis Facility, next to Holuba Hall. Barry is glad to compete at home this weekend and hopes to have a lot of fans in the stands cheering the team on.
“We know [Indiana and Purdue] are going to bring their A-game so we have to bring ours,” he said. “We need a big crowd there to get us pumped up.”
Barry said two victories this weekend would be huge for the program, as the team is coming off back-to-back losing seasons in the Big Ten.
“If we come away with two wins here, it will show the other teams in the Big Ten that the culture has changed, and Penn State is here, ready to play,” Barry said.