It’s been a tale of two seasons for Indiana men’s tennis. A team that was 9-2 a month into the season now heads into the Big Ten Tournament 12-14 and as a loser of its last six matches. The Hoosiers fell once again on the road this weekend to Penn State and No. 2 Ohio State.
“The Big Ten is a tough conference to win in,” head coach Jeremy Wurtzman said Monday. “I think we learned that quickly once we got into conference play.”
Indiana posted an 11-6 record in non-conference play. However, an inability to win in the Big Ten against ranked opponents and on the road has put the Hoosiers in the position they’re in now.
On the final weekend of the regular season, the Hoosiers were on the road. First up at noon on Saturday was a match against a Penn State team in a similar situation to Indiana. The Nittany Lions were 13-11 and winless in Big Ten play heading into the match with the Hoosiers.
It was a match that lasted a shade over five hours with multiple rain delays during doubles play that forced the match to be moved inside for singles.
“It was a long and crazy day of tennis,” Wurtzman said. “One minute we were playing, then we would break for 20 plus minutes. Having to keep the same level of intensity required for a match like that was difficult but I’m proud of how we handled it.”
Penn State started strong in doubles play, winning at No. 2. That was closely followed by an Indiana win at No. 3. Then, with the doubles point on the line after a handful of rain delays, fifth -year senior Patrick Fletchall and junior Ilya Tiraspolsky won at No. 1, 7-6 (7-4), earning the doubles point for the Hoosiers.
In singles play, Penn State won three consecutive matches at No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 to take a 3-1 lead. Tiraspolsky and freshman Ekansh Kumar got wins for the Hoosiers at No. 4 and No. 6 singles respectively to tie the match up at 3-3. Junior Jagger Saylor was unable to pull through, however, for Indiana at No. 5, losing 7-5, 6-1. With that, Penn State grabbed the narrow 4-3 win.
“I was proud of how we fought back in singles,” Wurtzman said. “It was unfortunate (Jagger) couldn’t pull that one out but I liked our resilience.”
The second match of the weekend for Indiana came against No. 2 Ohio State. With a win, the Buckeyes would wrap up a record-setting 17th consecutive Big Ten regular season title and the No. 1 overall seed in the Big Ten Tournament.
“Simply put, (Ohio State) is a better team than we are,” Wurtzman said. “We aren’t quite at their level, but it’s somewhere we aspire to be in the coming years.”
The Buckeyes showed why they are the No. 2 team in the country Sunday. They came out and took the doubles point with wins at No. 1 and No. 2 doubles, 6-0 and 6-2. Then, in singles play, the Buckeyes continued their dominance, winning every singles match in straight sets.
With the loss, the Hoosiers ended the regular season at 12-14, 1-8 in the Big Ten, and have earned the No. 9 seed in this week’s Big Ten Tournament. Thursday marks day one of the Big Ten Tournament, hosted at the IU Tennis Center. The Hoosiers will take on the No. 8 seed Penn State Nittany Lions.
“It will be nice to get them at home this time,” Wurtzman said. “We just have to take it one match at a time and know that we are playing for our season.”
Indiana’s next match will be against Penn State at 11 a.m. Thursday at the IU Tennis Center in Bloomington.