A tradition of excellence is not something that is easily started. It is something reserved for only those who are dedicated to hard work, whose desire to be the best is unmatched. The Ohio State men’s tennis team is one of the few programs who truly have built a tradition of excellence. In the 101-year history of the program there have been eight players ranked No. 1 in the country (six singles players and two doubles teams). However there has not always been such dominance by the Ohio State program; tradition, like all things, must have a beginning. For the Buckeyes it can be traced back to one man’s decision to coach at Ohio State, Ty Tucker.
In Tucker’s 14 seasons at Ohio State, he has a record of 368-58 (.864). Also, Tucker has coached the Buckeyes to an NCAA appearance every year since 2000. Additionally an individual singles player or doubles tandem has made the tournament every year in that same time span. Tucker coached Chase Buchanan and Blaz Rola (No. 1 ranked doubles team in 2012) to Ohio State’s lone NCAA Division I Doubles Championship in 2012. Despite the successes, Tucker will never take full credit for the accomplishments of the players or teams.
“We’ve had good assistant coaches and great players,” Tucker said. “We’ve done a good job of recruiting and developing guys. We know it is harder to get guys from warm weather states to come to Ohio, so there is a special emphasis on development.”
Tucker’s sentiment was shared by the student-athletes as well. Specifically Peter Kobelt, the former No. 1 singles player in the ITA standings 2013, mentioned the fact that all the coaches work to provide the best possible environment to grow as a tennis player.
“It’s real simple, Ty, Justin (Kronauge) and David Schilling give us all the chances we want to be the best tennis players we can be,” Kobelt said. “They are out here willing to hit balls with us as long as we want to hit."
Tucker and the Buckeye coaching staff is where the lineage of greatness gets its start. It flows from them and grows in every player who walks through the doors of the Varsity Tennis Center and onto the courts clad in scarlet and gray. All eight student-athletes who have achieved the status of a No. 1 ranking in the ITA polls have come under Tucker’s tutelage. This fraternity of student-athletes ranked as the best player or players in the country consists of Kobelt (No. 1 singles 2013), Buchanan and Rola (No. 1 ranked doubles 2012), Rola (No. 1 singles 2012), Buchanan (No. 1 singles in 2011), Steven Moneke (No. 1 singles 2009), Bryan Koniecko (No. 1 singles 2008), Scott Green and Ross Wilson (No. 1 doubles 2006) and Jeremy Wurtzman (No. 1 singles 2004).
Each player reiterated the fact achieving the No. 1 ranking was a testament to the “Ty-Tucker system.” A system Koniecko, the current Ohio State women’s tennis assistant coach, defined as a “grind.”
“Ty’s system is a lot of hard work, it is a grind,” Koniecko said. “You develop a sort of love-hate relationship, but at the end of the day you know he would do anything to help you succeed because you would do anything to help the team succeed. That’s how we all became better.”
Additionally every player touched on the fact that although the desire for the team to win always outweighed the concern for a ranking, to achieve the honor of being ranked No. 1 was a reward for all their hard work. Koniecko put it best, in terms of summing up the feelings associated with the No. 1 ranking; it is very satisfying for the individuals and in some ways surreal.
Part of that surreal feeling can be attributed to the added pressure felt by players who are ranked No. 1. Rola said, the other team always comes out with more energy, pumped, to face anyone with the No. 1 ranking. Wurtzman, the current women’s tennis head coach at Denver, confirmed Rola’s sentiment.
“There is definitely added pressure,” Wurtzman said. “Whoever you play, they are always gunning for that No. 1 guy. You are going to get your opponents’ best effort every time you step on the court, but it makes you a better player.”
The Ohio State men’s tennis team has earned their tradition of excellence through the sweat and hard work of every member of every Buckeye team. This tradition has been especially fostered under the guidance of Tucker and through the combination of skill, ability and determination shown by the members of the fraternity of No. 1’s.
By John W. Samuelson, Athletics Communication