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COLUMBUS, Ohio The No. 35 Ohio State women’s tennis team (11-6, 4-0 Big Ten) return to Columbus this weekend for home matches with No. 23 Michigan (9-5, 4-1 Big Ten) Friday at 3 p.m. and Michigan State (8-10, 1-4 Big Ten) Sunday at noon.

The Buckeyes enter the weekend as one of two teams undefeated in conference play, joining No. 1 Northwestern, with wins over Penn State, Purdue, Iowa and Minnesota.

Friday’s match with Michigan will be played at the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center due to poor weather conditions in Columbus. Sunday’s match against Michigan State is scheduled to be played outside at the Stickney Tennis Center, but will be moved inside in the event of inclement weather.

 Live stats will be available for each match this weekend on OhioStateBuckeyes.com.

A LOOK AT MICHIGAN
The Wolverines come to Columbus as one of the premier teams in the Big Ten this season. After running out to a 4-0 start in conference play, Michigan was cut down by No. 1 Northwestern, 6-1, last Sunday. In fact, four of the five losses for the Maize and Blue in 2009 have come at the hands of the Nos. 1, 3, 4, and 5 teams in the country.

Senior Chisako Sugiyama and sophomore Rika Tatsuno pace the Wolverines, anchoring the top of the singles lineup. The 59th-ranked Sugiyama has 14 wins this season, while the 111th-ranked Tatsuno has a team-high 18.

The No. 23 ranking in the latest poll is the lowest for Michigan in 2009, who had been as high as 16 previously. The Buckeyes and Wolverines met last year at the Varsity Tennis Center in Ann Arbor, where Michigan came out a 6-1 winner. The match was closer than the score would indicate, however, as doubles was decided by a pair of super tiebreakers and four singles matches entered three sets.

The Buckeyes have had a tough time against the Wolverines historically, going 13-33 all-time against Michigan. Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher has fared better against them in his career, going 5-8 against UM in regular-season matches.

THAT OTHER SCHOOL UP NORTH
Michigan State enters play Sunday after first traveling to State College, Pa., Friday for a match with Penn State. The Spartans, ranked as high as No. 65 in 2009, have struggled to find consistency this season but remain a threat in a deep Big Ten Conference, picking up a 4-3 win over No. 70 Wisconsin last weekend and narrowly falling to No. 69 Iowa, 4-3, the weekend before.

Freshman Elena Ivanova keys the Spartan singles attack with a team-high10 wins this spring, with all but two coming from the No. 3 spot. Senior Stephanie Kebler has also been solid, posting an 8-10 mark at No. 1. In doubles, Manon Noe and Whitney Wilson lead the team with a 9-7 mark this spring.

Ohio State leads the all-time series between the teams, 25-13, while recent history has the Buckeyes with a distinct advantage, going 11-1 in the last 12 matches played between the programs. The Spartans were on the wrong side of a 6-1 decision in Columbus last year, as Buckeye freshmen Cami Hubbs and Paloma Escobedo each won both their singles and doubles matches.

NO TROUBLES IN DOUBLES
The Buckeye doubles lineup looks to be rounding into postseason form as the spring season hits the home stretch. After beginning the season with a team record of 12-12 in paired play, Ohio State has gone 21-5 since, utilizing a lineup similar to the one employed in 2007-08. Angela DiPastina and Christina Keesey play No. 1, Julie Blackmore and Cami Hubbs play No. 2, while Paloma Escobedo and Kirsten Flower are at No. 3. All three teams have seven wins this spring.

HOT HITTERS
Kirsten Flower continues to lead the team in wins this season, picking up seven wins in her last 10 matches to lead Ohio State with 15 wins overall in 2008-09. Seniors Angela DiPastina and Julie Blackmore are right on her heels with 13 apiece, while Kelsey Haviland has 12 and Cami Hubbs has 10.

Christina Keesey has been sensational in singles recently, taking eight consecutive wins into this weekend and a 9-1 record overall this spring. After beginning the season sharing time at the No. 6 spot, Keesey has forced her way into the lineup, playing as high as No. 3 against Utah.

Depth in the singles lineup has been a strength in 2009 for Ohio State, as the team is a combined 27-7 at No. 5 and No. 6. Blackmore, Keesey, DiPastina and Haviland have all played in both spots this season.

Seniors DiPastina and Blackmore each have 69 career singles wins, which is tied with Leann Grimes (1975-78) for eighth all-time at Ohio State. Blackmore’s 84 career doubles wins places her eighth on the all-time list, three wins behind Abigail Villena (1990-93) for seventh.

THE RACE FOR THE BIG TEN TITLE
As the Big Ten season comes to its midpoint, the Buckeyes have put themselves in a good position to challenge for the conference title. No. 35 Ohio State is undefeated at 4-0, trailing No. 1 Northwestern by one in the win column, who sits at 5-0 in conference. No. 23 Michigan is right behind at 4-1, while No. 40 Illinois is 3-1. No. 40 Indiana, with losses to Illinois and Northwestern, is 2-2.

FLOWER POWERED
Junior Kirsten Flower was named the Big Ten women’s tennis athlete of the week March 3 after her part in helping the 37th-rankedBuckeyes to a 6-1 win over conference-foe Penn State. The weekly laurel is the first for Flower as a Buckeye and the first for Ohio State since Cami Hubbs received the award in March 2008.

The 116th-ranked Flower defeated Monika Mical in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3 in No. 1 singles and paired with Paloma Escobedo to blank the Nittany Lions combo of Mical and Sarah Lotto, 8-0.

A graduate of Upper Arlington high school, Flower spent her freshman and sophomore years at Georgia Tech before transferring back to her hometown this past summer. She helped the Yellow Jackets to both the 2007 NCAA championship and the 2008 ITA Indoor championship, while also winning 47 career singles matches.

GROUNDING THE GOPHERS
Ohio State rallied from a doubles point loss to defeat No. 64 Minnesota last Sunday, 5-2, at the Baseline Tennis Center in Minneapolis, Minn. The match was the third and final contest for the Buckeyes on their spring break roadtrip, which began in Las Vegas 10 days before.

The bottom five spots of the singles lineup fueled the Buckeye rally. Sophomore Cami Hubbs dealt Alex Seaton a straight set, 6-2, 6-3 loss at the No. 3 spot, while classmate Paloma Escobedo split the first two sets and claimed the third set super tiebreaker to dismiss Tijana Koprivica at No. 2, 3-6, 7-5, 1-0 (8).

Christina Keesey kept her singles success rolling, taking a 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 win over Magdalena Wiecha at No. 3 for her eighth win in a row. The last time Keesey lost a singles match was Feb. 6, a three-set loss at No. 6 against Virginia.

Angela DiPastina claimed her 13th singles win of the year against Peta Forsyth at No. 6 singles, taking a decisive 6-3, 6-1 win, while fellow senior Julie Blackmore battled to a 7-5 first set win at No. 5 singles and took the match over Jackie Spurling, 7-5, 6-1. Kirsten Flower was the lone Buckeye to fall in singles Sunday, taking a 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (6) loss to Karina Chiarelli at No. 1.

The Buckeyes lost the doubles point for the first time in over a month. The 80th-ranked Buckeye pairing of DiPastina and Keesey fell, 8-5, to Chiarelli and Seaton at No. 1 doubles. Hubbs and Blackmore were also defeated, losing 8-3 to Koprivica and Sperling at No. 2 doubles. Flower and Escobedo trailed in their match at No. 3 doubles against Forsyth and Wiecha, 6-5, before leaving the match unfinished

ALL OVER IOWA
The Iowa Hawkeyes couldn’t cool off Ohio State, as the Buckeyes were 6-1 winners last Friday at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex in Iowa City.

Ohio State led things off in doubles, where they captured their eighth-consecutive doubles point. Paloma Escobedo and Kirsten Flower were the first Buckeye pair off the court, picking up an 8-3 at No. 3 doubles over Alexis Dorr and Jennifer Barnes.

The No. 2 Ohio State pairing of Julie Blackmore and Cami Hubbs clinched the doubles point for the Scarlet and Gray, taking an 8-5 decision over Kelcie Klockenga and Lynne Poggensee-Wei. The 80th-ranked combo of Angela DiPastina and Christina Keesey finished off the sweep at No. 1, posting an 8-7 (15-7) win against Sonja Molnar and Jessica Young. Each of the Buckeye doubles team improved their spring records to 7-1.

In singles, it was more of the same for the Buckeyes, taking wins in all but one match. DiPastina, playing at No. 6 for the first time since Feb. 4, won convincingly over Barnes, 6-1, 6-1, to extend the Buckeye lead to 2-0 on the match. Iowa was quick to respond, however, with Lynne Poggensee-Wei narrowing the lead to one at No. 3, where she dealt Buckeye Cami Hubbs a 6-4, 6-3 loss.

With a 2-1 match advantage, Ohio State sophomore Paloma Escobedo knocked off Alexis Dorr at No. 2 singles with a straight set, 6-3, 6-3 win that gave the Buckeyes a 3-1 match advantage. From there, Flower brought home the winning point at the top spot, taking her 10th win at No. 1 this spring with a 6-3, 7-5 over the 92nd-ranked Iowa freshman, Sonja Molnar. Flower has been on a roll lately, going 8-2 in her last ten matches.

Keesey, who was a winner in six consecutive singles matches entering Friday, picked up her seventh win in a row by taking down Klockenga at No. 4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Blackmore won the sixth and final point of the day for the Buckeyes at No. 5, winning 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 over Young.

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