Buckeyes enter tournament as No. 5 seed for second consecutive year

COLUMBUS, Ohio The No. 34 Ohio State women’s tennis team (19-6, 6-4 Big Ten) will travel to West Lafayette, Ind., for a match with No. 43 Illinois (11-9, 7-3 Big Ten) at 10 a.m. Friday at the Schwartz Tennis Center on the campus of Purdue University in the quarters of the 2008 Big Ten Conference Women’s Tennis Championship.

The winner of the Ohio State-Illinois match will advance to the semifinal match at 10 a.m. Saturday. They will face the winner of the quarterfinal match between No. 1 Northwestern and the winner of the opening round match between No. 8 Minnesota and No. 9 Purdue.

Ohio State enters the 2008 Big Ten Championship as the No. 5 seed, the same spot it occupied in 2007 when it was topped by No. 4-seed Iowa in the quarters, 4-2.

The tournament has not been friendly for the Scarlet and Gray recently, with the Buckeyes advancing past their opening round match only once since 2002. The exception came in 2004 when Ohio State made a run to the championship match against top-seeded Northwestern, falling 4-0 on the Wildcats’ home court in the final.

The Buckeyes are 5-12 in the Big Ten Championship since the switch to a single elimination format in 1996.

The Buckeyes and Fighting Illini have met once this season, with Illinois claiming a 5-2 win over the Scarlet and Gray in Columbus. Sophomore Megan Fudge leads the Illini with a 21-11 singles record and a 7-3 mark in Big Ten play. In the first meeting between the teams, Fudge won both No. 1 doubles and singles in helping her team to victory.

All-time, the Buckeyes are 12-24 against Illinois, with the teams splitting the previous four matches. The Fighting Illini knocked Ohio State from the Big Ten tournament in the first round in 2006, winning 4-2.

With 19 wins on the campaign, the 2007-08 Ohio State team is now tied with the 2001-02 squad for the most wins in a season. The Scarlet and Gray have defeated eight ranked teams on the campaign and have an 11-3 record inside the OSU Varsity Tennis Center. Additionally, their six shutout wins is just one shy of the season record.

Cami Hubbs, a native of Omaha, Neb., has 35 singles victories this season, which is a record for the most wins by a Buckeye in a single season. Hubbs tied the record against Wisconsin with a 6-2, 6-1 victory and broke the mark against Purdue with a 6-0, 6-0 win from the No. 5 spot. Her .853 winning percentage is the highest for a Buckeye since Ann Wilson went 20-1 in 1975.

Ohio State enters the Big Ten Championship with several players on hot streaks. Cami Hubbs was 9-1 in Big Ten play, is 17-2 from the No. 5 singles spot and enters play Friday on a five match winning streak. Teammate Julie Blackmore was 7-3 in Big Ten competition and has a 13-3 mark from the No. 3 singles position, while Christina Keesey was 6-3 in Big Ten competition.

As a team, Ohio State is a combined 42-8 from the No. 4 and No. 5 singles spots, and holds a 77-34 record in doubles. The doubles teams of Hubbs and Blackmore, who play at the No. 2 spot, and Caitlin O’Keefe and Paloma Escobedo, who compete in No. 3 doubles, each were 7-3 records in the Big Ten.

This will be the final Big Ten tournament for senior Caitlin O’Keefe, who in her four years with Ohio State holds a 65-63 record in singles play. A two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection, O’Keefe has seen action at every spot in the lineup during her career with the Buckeyes. She is currently tied for 11th on the Ohio State career singles wins list.

As a freshman, O’Keefe led the team in with five Big Ten singles wins en route to earning the Coach’s Award. Her performance from the No. 1 and No. 2 spots during her sophomore campaign earned her the team Most Valuable Player award as well as Most Improved award.

In her junior season, O’Keefe and doubles partner Sonia Ruzimovsky led the squad with 20 doubles wins and O’Keefe was the recipient of the Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. She also earned her third Scholar Athlete distinction from Ohio State and the ITA.

Her senior season has been her most successful both personally and for the team. O’Keefe now stands at 20-10 in singles and 21-7 in doubles competition this season and has led the Buckeyes to their highest rank since 2003.

Cami Hubbs and Julie Blackmore were each named the Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week this season by the Big Ten Conference. Blackmore earned the award March 4, while Hubbs garnered the honor March 26.

Blackmore, a native of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., led the Buckeyes to a perfect 4-0 team record from Feb. 27-March 2 with wins over then-No. 50 Louisville, Cleveland State, Cornell and Eastern Michigan. She went 4-0 in singles action, and added four more wins from the No. 2 doubles spot with partner Hubbs. The award was the first for a Buckeye since Christina Keesey was a recipient in 2007.

Hubbs earned the award after helping lead the Buckeyes to a four consecutive victories March 17-23, with singles wins over Coastal Carolina, Minnesota and Iowa. In addition to her singles dominance, Hubbs was excellent on the doubles court. Along with Blackmore, the duo won four matches during the week.

Illinois spoiled the final home match of the season for Ohio State, coming to Columbus and upending the Buckeyes, 5-2. The Fighting Illini came out strong, winning the doubles point behind a clinching effort from Megan Fudge and Shivani Dave at the No. 1 doubles spot.

In singles, Fudge held off Angela DiPastina 6-4, 6-1, at the top spot, while Paloma Escobedo fell to Leigh Finnegan at the No. 2 spot, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1. Julie Blackmore won in No. 3 singles over Marisa Lambropoulos, 3-6, 7-6(3), 6-2, while Cami Hubbs knocked off Kristina Minor at the No. 5 spot, 6-4, 6-7(4), 6-1.

The final two matches belonged to Illinois, as Caitlin O’Keefe fell to Momei Qu in No. 6 singles, 6-4, 6-1, and Christina Keesey lost to Shivani Dave at the No. 4 spot, 0-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(0).

Following the Big Ten Championship, Ohio State will await a selection decision for the NCAA tournament, which begins May 9 at campus sites. The announcement for selection into the NCAA tournament will air April 29 between 2 and 2:30 p.m. on ESPNews.

The Buckeyes last NCAA tournament appearance came in 2004, when they were ousted by Kentucky in the second round.

The 2007-08 regular season was one of the best in school history for the women’s tennis team, seeing them tie the program record for wins in a season with 19, and having freshman Cami Hubbs capture the single season wins record with 35 singles victories.

The campaign began in Milwaukee, Wis., where Ohio State beat both Marquette and Oklahoma. Following two road wins against Virginia and Virginia Tech and a bump up to No. 48 nationally, the Buckeyes traveled to Notre Dame, where they fell, 5-2.

The Scarlet and Gray kicked off an eight-match homestand with the tightest match of the season against South Florida, a 4-3 loss that saw the Bulls clinch from the No. 4 singles spot in a match that lasted nearly four hours. The team then rattled off six consecutive home wins, including victories over then-No. 50 Louisville and then-No. 46 Oregon. The match with Oregon marked the first time Ohio State hosted a Pac-10 team in Columbus.

The winning streak was halted by Indiana in the Big Ten opener and final match of the homestand, with the Hoosiers winning 4-3. The Buckeyes rung up two more wins over spring break with sweeps of Drake and Coastal Carolina to claim the Ft. Myers Collegiate Classic title. Those two wins were the beginning of another six-match winning streak for the Scarlet and Gray, in which they also defeated Minnesota, Iowa, Boston and Michigan State.

Ohio State rebounded from a road loss to No. 1 Northwestern with a road win over Wisconsin before returning to Columbus for the final two home matches of the season. The match with Purdue saw Hubbs capture the singles record, but Illinois spoiled senior day with a 5-2 victory. The Buckeyes could not overcome Michigan on the road on the last weekend, but were able to top Penn State in the final regular season match of the season.

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