April 26, 2006
Ty Tucker considers himself lucky to be an alumnus of The Ohio State University and to now coach the team he once starred for as a player.
A glance at the accomplishments the Buckeye men’s tennis team has reached over the last seven years seems to indicate luck has little to do with the successes enjoyed by the program in recent years.
Tucker, a two-time All-American and three-time All-Big Ten honoree from 1989-91, knows what it takes to win at the collegiate level as a student-athlete and has been able to bring that same winning attitude to the court as a coach.
For example, Ohio State has been to six postseason NCAA team tournaments, all under Tucker’s direction. A seventh appearance, all in succession, is looming this season for the Buckeyes, a squad currently ranked No. 7 nationally.
Coaching on the Ohio State campus, a short drive from Zanesville, Ohio, Tucker’s hometown, has its benefits for the Buckeye mentor, who will turn 36 just before Ohio State begins play in the 2006 NCAA Championships.
Tucker, a 1998 Ohio State graduate with a degree in anthropology, struggles to pinpoint the reason coaching at his alma mater suits him so well professionally.
“It is hard to narrow it down to one thing,” Tucker said. “You can’t get much luckier than to be able to play and coach with your family and friends just 45 minutes away. I have friends who live near my home that I’ve known all my life. I don’t have to go far to have dinner with my family and then be back the next morning on the court.”
Proximity to Columbus has been a factor in the rise of Ohio State’s program the last several years as well, he said. The fulfillment of developing student-athletes also tops the list of why he remains a Buckeye.
“It’s great to be around Ohio State 52 weeks a year,” Tucker said. “It’s pretty easy to keep a program going that way. Another plus is watching these guys come in and reach their goals. The thing we are most proud about is getting better every year as a program. The players are getting better each year.” Several key components have come together since Tucker took over the men’s tennis program as the head coach for the 1999-2000 season after two years as an assistant to John Daly, who coached Tucker and countless student-athletes for 28 seasons.
Tennis is primarily an individual sport but college tennis is as much a team game as any of the other 35 varsity sports at Ohio State. That team atmosphere is what drew Tucker away from the professional tennis tour to the collegiate ranks, the only level of tennis where the coach is allowed to interact with his players during a match.
Nine matches make up a college tennis dual match; three in doubles and six in singles. A point is awarded when one team wins two of the three doubles matches and for each singles victory. A team wins a dual competition by earning at least four of a possible seven points.
When Tucker took over the Ohio State program, he first looked for student-athletes with a passion for competition and players who would be a teammate first.
“My first two years as an assistant we did not win a Big Ten match,” Tucker said. “At first I wanted our program to get competitive. I wanted to bring student-athletes here who wanted to be competitors. You need to get guys who want to compete as a team. We have done a good job of that. We want to play as a team and provide energy to one another in an individual sport. Things are looking good now. We see guys out there pulling for one another. That’s what it’s all about.”
From the onset, a Big Ten regular season title has been the goal each season for Tucker’s Buckeyes. It was reached for the first time this season after five-consecutive years finishing No. 2.
Tucker said there were signs early in the 2005-06 campaign the team would be special. The Buckeyes enter Big Ten tournament play this week in Minneapolis with a 22-1 record after finishing the conference season 10-0.
“Any time you win any sort of Big Ten title it’s a good year,” Tucker said. “The season has gone better than expected. We finished second for the last five years and were able to beat Illinois (5-2 April 2 in Columbus) and go undefeated in the conference and win a championship.
“We knew five matches into this season we were going to be tough to beat,” Tucker said. “I knew early on we would be good in doubles. Plus, we have balance from the 1 to 6 positions in singles. We are pretty even all the way down.”
In all 23 dual matches this season, the Buckeyes have won the all-important doubles point, a feat that allows a team to win half the six singles matches to secure victory.
A significant part of practice each day is spent with the doubles teams. Tucker said the team component of doubles, two individuals working as a unit, is one of the most enjoyable parts of coaching college tennis.
“I’ve enjoyed teaching our guys how to play doubles,” Tucker said. “It’s the one area of tennis where you can coach to play as a team. Each guy has to be on the same page. We’ve done a good job through the years at doubles. Doubles play is a big key to our success, especially when you don’t have the dominating singles player like we’ve had with Jeremy Wurtzman (2002-04) and Vince Ng (2000-03).”
Wurtzman was ranked nationally as the No. 1 singles player during the 2004 season. He finished his three-year Ohio State career ranked No. 5 in career singles victories with 108. Ng is the Ohio State career leader with 132 career singles victories.
The emphasis has been to win the doubles point each match while stressing the value of singles wins, regardless of the position in the lineup, Tucker said.
“Our success in doubles and that the Nos. 5 and 6 singles spots are as tough as our Nos. 1 and 2 has been our strength,” Tucker said. “We made a good effort to realize how important the doubles point was. We started working on doubles for an hour and 20 minutes of each three-hour practice.
“(Assistant coach) Chris Garner has done a great job of letting me work with the doubles teams in practice while he works with the other players who primarily play singles,” Tucker said.
The team mentality and the success it reaps has brought on a steady increase in national recognition, evidenced by the team’s record No. 4 ranking, a program high, following the Illinois win in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association poll.
“We were in the ballpark before,” Tucker said of the lofty national ranking. “We’ve been on the move. We played a good schedule this year and have continued to improve in that area.”
Other factors have contributed to Ohio State’s rise to the level of the country’s elite tennis programs.
“The Top 5 ranking can be attributed to practice, recruiting and playing a better schedule,” Tucker said. “It’s only going to get better next year when we have Pepperdine (currently ranked No. 2), Washington (No. 20), (No. 8) Miami (Fla.), (No. 21) LSU, Tennessee, (No. 19) Notre Dame, (No. 13) VCU and Kentucky on the schedule.
“We’ve put ourselves in position to remain among the nation’s best because even if we can split against those elite programs we’ll have a Top 20 team.”
Eugene Smith, now in his second year as director of athletics at Ohio State, has been impressed with Tucker’s abilities.
“Ty Tucker is one of the premier master teachers in higher education,” Smith said. “He recruits talented young men and develops them into championship performers.
“The entire team embodies Ty’s character and attitude,” Smith said. “They play with passion and fire and are never out of a match. It has been a joy to watch their inner strength along with their great athletic skills and ultimately win a Big Ten championship. This team is special and all Buckeyes are proud of them.”
Student-athletes have applied themselves to Tucker’s philosophy as the program has prospered. This year several have gone above and beyond expectations.
Seniors Ross Wilson and Scott Green, both Ohio natives, anchor the doubles lineup, playing at the No. 1 position. The two are familiar with being No. 1. They are currently the top-rated doubles team in the country with a 27-2 record in 2005-06 and three indoor national championships to their credit over the last two seasons.
“I was surprised Wilson (Toledo) and Green (North Canton) have gone through the season like they have,” Tucker said. “Anytime those two compete there is a lot on the line. Other teams know that if they win it’s a ticket to Stanford (site of the 2006 NCAA singles, doubles and team championships). Watching those two fend off everyone’s best shot was nice.”
Newcomers to the program also have caught the coach’s eye.
“Our freshmen – Bryan Koniecko (Long Island, N.Y.) and Steven Moneke (Alten-Buseck, Germany) – also have been a pleasant surprise,” Tucker said. “To see Moneke come in from Germany and quickly get used to U.S. tennis has been fun. It’s amazing to see how fast he picked everything up. He had to get used to classes, living in a dorm, the weather and a variety of factors. It’s amazing he has won 75 percent of his matches.”
Wilson and classmate Dennis Mertens, a native of Braaschatt, Belgium, said the coaching and recruiting has been integral to the team’s performance in recent years.
“Coach Tucker has brought in some of the best talent in the country,” Wilson said. “(Junior) Chris Klingemann, (freshman) Bryan Koniecko, (redshirt freshman) Ty Schuab, and now (freshman-spring 2006) Justin Kronauge were all ranked (among the top players) while in high school. To get them all to come here is fantastic.
“The coaching staff has improved a lot too in my time here,” Wilson said. “(Volunteer assistant) Will Schilling has been coaching for over 20 years, (assistant Chris) Garner played professionally and Coach Tucker has gotten wiser as he has gotten older too.”
Wilson said each member of the coaching staff has a role that meshes well together to form a single coaching unit.
“(Coach Tucker) is really intense and high energy all day, especially on match day,” Wilson said. “The assistant coaches are more laid back so they make a good mix. I think that’s one of the main reasons we have been successful this season.”
Mertens echoed Wilson’s assessment of Tucker and his staff.
“The coaches have really helped us do well this year,” Mertens said. “Coach Garner has brought a lot to our program. He helps the players with their technique. He played professionally for a while so it is great to have him as a resource for us. (Coach Tucker) provides the motivation and the tactics and Coach Schilling has been really great for us too. I think that’s one of the main reasons we have been successful this year.”
With recruiting going well, Kronauge, a Dayton, Ohio, native, was ranked the No. 1 junior player nationally before joining the Buckeyes this spring, the 2006 regular-season Big Ten title secured and a team ranked among the nation’s best, the outlook continues to be bright for Ohio State tennis.
“When I first got here (Jeremy) Wurtzman was winning titles and doing really well for the program,” Wilson said. “(Tucker) has to recruit the best players in the country to achieve his ultimate goal and that is to win a national championship.”
Noting the Tucker Era (as of April 26)
Ohio State …
has had 21 Academic All-Big Ten honorees and a two-timeAcademic All-American (Vincent Ng in 2002 and ’03) has 11 All-BigTen selections has earned the program’s first Big Ten Men’s TennisAthlete of the Year (Ng, 2003), Big Ten Freshman of the Year (JoeyAtas, 2004) and Big Ten Coach of the Year (2001) awards is rankedNo. 10 nationally as a team with a 22-1 record (10-0 in the BigTen) attained program’s best ranking (No. 4) April 5, 2006 has won40-consecutive home matches (4/6/03 to present) has won18-consecutive home Big Ten matches has won 13-consecutive dualmatches overall earned 10 regular-season Big Ten Conference dualmatch victories for first time in program history has the No. 1ranked doubles team (27-2 overall in 2006 and 3 national indoortitles from 2004-06) has 6-consecutive 20-win seasons (a schoolrecord) with Tucker as the head coach has 12 20-win seasonsall-time, half with Tucker as head coach has been to six NCAA teamtournaments in history, all under Tucker had the No. 1 rankedsingles player — Jeremy Wurtzman in 2004 won the 2001 Big TenTournament won the outright 2006 Big Ten Championship has gone69-16 (.811) in Big Ten dual competition has won 150 dual matchesagainst 42 defeats (.781) has a coach with an average record of21-6 per season (2000-present) has the best single season winpercentage (2006) in school history (.957/22-1) had a player setschool career singles win record (132, Ng from 2000-03) has aplayer set the school career doubles win record (113, Ross Wilsonfrom 2003-present; also Scott Green with 112 from 2003-present)