COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Ohio State women’s tennis team is aiming to continue its success from last season, a year in which the squad broke multiple school records under head coach Chuck Merzbacher. In his 15th season at the helm of the program, Merzbacher has proven his ability to provide consistency for the Buckeyes.
The Scarlet and Gray are looking to extend their streak of NCAA tournament appearances to four-consecutive and improve on their advancement to the second round in the event. The 4-1 win over DePaul in the first round was the first NCAA tournament win for Ohio State since downing Harvard, 4-2, in the first round of the 2004 tournament. Along with the achievement of a win in the NCAA tournament, the 2009-10 Buckeyes set a school record with 20 victories, including 10 shutouts – another team record. The team set another record when it reached a program-high No. 17 ranking before finishing the season at No. 33.
The team returns six of the eight members of the 2009-10 squad, but must adjust from the loss of Kirsten Flower, a two-time All-Big Ten honoree who had played at No. 1 singles the past two seasons, and Christina Keesey, who owns fifth place on the all-time singles win list with 81. Seniors Paloma Escobedo and Cami Hubbs are more than capable of guiding the Buckeyes to another successful season. The two have been a part of 54 wins at Ohio State and have a chance to leave the program as the winningest senior class.
Junior Kelsey Haviland returns after a strong showing in the spring, earning her Most Improved accolades last season.
The Buckeyes are one of the most youthful teams in the Big Ten, with six of nine members in the sophomore and freshman classes. The sophomore trio of Kara Cecil, Fidan Manashirova and Gabby Steele capped off a fantastic freshman campaign last year, combining for 48 singles victories and 48 doubles victories.
This year Ohio State welcomes freshmen Kelsey Becker, Tiffany Dittmer and Noelle Malley. Becker is a three-star recruit from Granite Bay, Calif. During her high school career, Becker was a two-time league MVP. Hailing from Hamburg, Germany, Dittmer is a four-time winner of Hamburg high school team championships. Noelle Malley, a native of Kansas City, Mo., comes to Ohio State after a prep career that led to a five-star ranking according to tennisrecruiting.net.
With six members of the team having NCAA tournament experience, the 2010-11 edition of the women’s tennis team is one of Merzbacher’s most seasoned groups.
Senior Cami Hubbs leads the team in career singles victories with 57. Last season, Hubbs finished with a 7-4 dual-match record, including a 2-2 mark in Big Ten play. After entering the No. 5 spot, Hubbs posted a perfect 3-0 record. Hubbs and Kelsey Haviland form the Buckeyes’ top doubles duo. The twosome showed the ability to knock off top opponents after upsetting Rice’s Julie Chao and Ana Guzman, ranked No. 41 at the time, and nearly defeating 8th-ranked Kristy Frilling and Kali Krisik of Notre Dame.
Classmate Paloma Escobedo played at No. 2 singles all season last year, compiling a strong 17-9 effort. Escobedo was one of four Buckeyes to finish with 20 wins last year. She and Christina Keesey were a formidable duo at No. 2 doubles, earning 19 wins, including an upset of 51st-ranked Leigh Finnegan and Megan Fudge of Illinois. The twosome’s 8-2 conference record led the Buckeyes. For her efforts, Escobedo was awarded the team’s Most Improved award.
Junior Kelsey Haviland found herself playing throughout the middle of the singles lineup in 2010, finding success at each spot. She bested her freshman singles win total by nine, recording 23 wins, including a 3-2 record against nationally ranked opponents. Haviland defeated Northwestern’s Lauren Lui twice (No. 104 and 116) in the last five matches of the season and she downed 115th-ranked Amy Sargeant of Florida State. Haviland ended the season on a five-match win streak and her 7-3 Big Ten singles ledger shared the team lead with Gabby Steele. Haviland and doubles partner Cami Hubbs are looking to improve upon their 17 doubles victories.
Kara Cecil was awarded for her enthusiasm on and off the courts last season, garnering the Coaches Award. The sophomore from Plant City, Fla., showed her skill in the spring, finishing with a 3-0 singles record and a 2-0 doubles ledger.
Classmate Fidan Manashirova began the season winning 15 of her first 18 singles matches before finishing with 19 victories, compared to only eight losses. Manashirova played at the No. 4-6 spots throughout the season while posting a 2-0 record at No. 4. She combined with Gabby Steele to compile 19 doubles victories as well, posting a 16-9 record at No. 3 doubles. Her 22 doubles victories tied Amy Marzluff (1989-92) at No. 7 on the freshman record list.
Sophomore Gabby Steele completed on the most successful freshman campaigns in school history last year, tying Kristy Dascoli (1998-2001) at No. 5 on the Ohio State freshman record list with 25 singles victories. She also placed sixth on the freshman record list with 23 doubles victories after combining with classmate Fidan Manashirova at No. 3 doubles. Steele was a force in Big Ten play, posting a 7-3 conference ledger in singles. She finished second among all Big Ten freshman in singles and doubles dual-match victories, behind only Mimi Nguyen of Michigan.
Freshman Kelsey Becker becomes a Buckeye after a strong prep career. The two-time Sierra Foothill League MVP and first-team All-SFL honoree was a two-year starter for the Del Oro High Golden Eagles. Becker also found success with her NorCal Girl’s 18 team, winning the Gar Glenney Cup in 2008.
Fellow newcomer Tiffany Dittmer was outstanding in the Hamburg circuit in her native Germany. Dittmer finished in first place in three-consecutive Hamburg Girl’s Championships, as well as winning four Hamburg High School team championships from 2006-09. Dittmer is also a two-time bronze finisher in the Hamburg Women’s Championships. Her efforts earned her a No. 45 ranking in Germany Girls Under-18.
Kansas City, Mo., native Noelle Malley brings a five-star ranking status to Ohio State alongside a list of accomplishments, including winning the USTA Missouri Valley Super Girls 18’s doubles title and reaching the quarterfinals of the 2009 USTA National Open Girls 18’s in doubles. Malley finished her prep career ranked No. 70 in the nation and No. 2 in the state of Missouri.
A LOOK BACK AT THE FALL
The Buckeyes began the fall slate of tournaments with a showing at the Eck Tennis Classic, hosted by Notre Dame. Gabby Steele advanced the furthest in main draw singles, falling to eventual bracket champion Kristen Rafael of Notre Dame in the quarterfinals, 6-2, 6-3. Overall, the Buckeyes finished with 13 singles victories and a pair of doubles wins.
Members of the Scarlet and Gray traveled to the Riviera/ITA All-American Championships for the second season in a row when Paloma Escobedo, Cami Hubbs and Kelsey Haviland made an appearance at the prestigious event. Escobedo advanced past the first round of prequalifying singles with a victory over third-seeded Gabriela Mejia of the University of Miami, 6-3, 6-4, before falling in the second round to UCLA’s Pamela Montez. Haviland battled Connie Chieh Yu Hsu of Penn, but couldn’t outmuscle her opponent, falling 6-3, 6-2. In doubles, Haviland and Hubbs combined to post a victory over Stiles and Venter of Kentucky, 8-2, after falling from qualifying doubles following a loss to Brook and Clark of Yale, 8-4.
At the USTA/ITA Midwest Regional, Kara Cecil and Noelle Malley advanced through qualifying singles to earn berths in main draw singles, joining Hubbs, Haviland, Escobedo and Steele in the event. Cecil and Haviland advanced to the third round before falling to teammate Escobedo and Kate Turvy of Northwestern, respectively. Escobedo fell in the quarterfinals to Notre Dame’s Kristy Frilling. In doubles, the twosome of Haviland and Steele advanced to the semifinals before falling to the duo of White and Falkin of Illinois.
The Scarlet and Gray closed out the fall with simultaneous events in New Hampshire and Arizona at the Big Green Invite, hosted by Dartmouth, and the Arizona State Thunderbird Invitational. The Buckeyes finished with six singles victories and a pair of doubles wins at the Thunderbird, while the remaining members of the team racked up 13 singles wins and three doubles victories.