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COLUMBUS, Ohio After opening Big Ten play last Saturday with a win over Penn State, the No. 37 Ohio State women’s tennis team (6-5, 1-0 Big Ten) will welcome Rice (9-5, 0-0 C-USA) at 4 p.m. Tuesday at the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center. Live stats will be available through OhioStateBuckeyes.com

The Owls come to Columbus after dropping a 4-3 decision against Western Michigan in Kalamazoo this past Saturday. Rice began the season as the No. 68 team in the country, but was unranked in the latest release of the poll.

Four Rice players have nine or more wins this spring season: Ana Guzman (9-4), Jessica Jackson (10-4), Rebecca Lin (9-4) and Alex Rasch (10-3). Guzman and Julie Chao have been solid at the top of the doubles lineup this season, running off a 9-4 mark at No. 1.

The last time Ohio State and Rice met was March 28, 1986, before any of the players on the Buckeye roster were born. The Owls won that day, 8-1. Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher has never faced the Owls in his career, but is 11-6 all-time against Conference USA opponents.

QUICK HITS
After beginning the season with an assortment of doubles lineups, the Buckeyes seem to have found effective combinations in paired play that look similar to those employed in 2007-08. Christina Keesey and Angela DiPastina play at the top spot, while Cami Hubbs and Julie Blackmore compete in No. 2 doubles. Both duos are 3-0 this spring season. Paloma Escobedo returned to No. 3 doubles, just as in 2008, where she has teamed with Kirsten Flower to go 2-1.

DiPastina’s 69 career singles wins are tied for eighth most all-time at Ohio State with Leann Grimes (1975-78) and leave her three wins shy of seventh-place Michelle Matko (1999-03). Classmate Julie Blackmore is hot on her heels, with 67 career singles wins.

Flower has added consistency to the top of the singles lineup in 2009, running off a 7-4 record at No. 1. She has picked up five singles wins in a row, including four over ranked opponents.

Head coach Chuck Merzbacher captured his 100th career home win as Buckeye head coach and 75th career win over a Big Ten school as a head coach at both Ohio State and Kansas against Penn State last Saturday.  Merzbacher also advanced his record to 9-4 in Big Ten home openers as head coach of the Buckeyes.

BEGINNING THE BIG TEN
A record crowd for a women’s match saw the Buckeyes take down Penn State last Saturday in the Big Ten home opener, 6-1.

Ohio State started the match by taking the doubles point the third-consecutive match they have done so with wins at all three positions.

The Buckeyes kept it going in singles, as Keesey cruised to a 6-1, 6-1, win over Michaela Stracar in No. 6 singles to put Ohio State up 2-0 in the match. Blackmore followed suit from the No. 5 spot, dropping Denisa Zobeideh in straight sets, 6-2, 6-3. Flower locked up the Buckeyes’ first Big Ten win of the season at the top spot, defeating Monika Mical, 6-4, 6-3.

Escobedo picked up her fourth win in six matches over Lauren McCarthy at No. 2 singles, winning 6-3, 6-2. Hubbs rebounded from a 3-0 deficit in the first set to take the set, 7-5, and again fought back from a 2-0 hole in the second to take the match, 7-5, 7-5.

DiPastina was handed just her second loss of the spring season at No. 3 singles by Dorothy Dohanics, 6-1, 6-4.

BIG WINS OUT WEST
Ohio State returned to its winning ways last weekend in Eugene, Ore., where the Buckeyes took down both No. 57 Washington State and No. 46 Oregon by the same score, 5-2.

The Saturday match with the Cougars saw Ohio State dominate the doubles point, as each Buckeye doubles team won its match. Kirsten Flower took down Ekaterina Kamendova at the top singles spot, 6-1, 6-1 to start things off, while Paloma Escobedo followed suit in No. 2 singles, dropping Elisabeth Fournier, 6-2, 6-4.

Cami Hubbs locked up a win in No. 3 singles, while Christina Keesey took care of business from the No. 6 position.

Ohio State was locked in a tight battle in doubles on Sunday against No. 46 Oregon, seeing two matches enter tiebreakers. Keesey and Angela DiPastina escaped in No. 1 doubles with a 9-8 (3) win, while Flower and Escobedo were not as fortunate in No. 3 doubles, falling 9-8 (4). Hubbs and Julie Blackmore pulled out a win from the No. 2 spot to help give the Buckeyes the doubles point.

Flower again won in No. 1 singles, her fourth-consecutive win, while Keesey and DiPastina took home wins in No. 4 and No. 5 singles, respectively. Kelsey Haviland won her first match of the weekend at the No. 6 spot to help lock up the Buckeye win.

TOP OF THE CLASS
The Buckeyes’ 2010 recruiting class of Fidan Manashirov, Kara Cecil and Gabby Steele has been ranked as the 12th-best in the nation, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network. The Big Ten as a whole enjoyed recruiting success, as the Buckeyes are one of four teams ranked in the Top 15.

Steele hails from Cincinnati and Summit Country Day High School. A four-time OHSAA state tournament participant, Steele was the Ohio State Division II champion as a junior in 2007, defeating current Buckeye freshman Kelsey Haviland in the championship match.

Cecil, a native of Plant City, Fla., is ranked as the No. 57 player in the class of 2009 by tennisrecruiting.net. In 2008, she reached the quarterfinals of the USTA national Open Girls 18’s National Open in Naples and Tallahassee and was ranked among the Top 10 in the state of Florida.

Manashirov comes to Ohio State after a distinguished prep career that saw her ranked as the No. 29 player in the class of 2009 by tennisrecruiting.net. The Elk Grove, Calif., native was ranked in the Northern California Girls 14’s, Girls 16’s and Girls 18’s and defeated eight blue chip prospects over the course of her career. The Gorwin Tennis Academy product has been equally stellar in doubles play, reaching the finals of multiple International Tennis Federation events.

ON THE HORIZON
The Buckeyes leave the cold of Columbus this weekend for Tampa, Fla., and a match against South Florida. A home contest with Purdue follows March 13, with a trip to Las Vegas March 23 for a showdown with Utah. The first road trip of the Big Ten season comes up after that, with Iowa March 27 and Minnesota March 29.

JETSETTIN’ BUCKEYES
The spring dual match season will take the Buckeyes all over the United States, including destinations in at least nine different states and nearly 7000 miles of travel.

Date   Location                  Miles Traveled
1/31   Durham, N.C.                  354
2/4     Lexington, Ky.                157
2/21   Eugene, Ore.                 2,060
3/8     Tampa, Fla.                     831
3/23   Las Vegas, Nev.           1,726
3/27   Iowa City, Iowa              462
3/29   Minneapolis, Minn.          245
4/18   Evanston, Ill.                   284
4/19   Madison, Wisc.               112
4/23   Madison, Wisc.               395

Total                                         6,626

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