COLUMBUS, Ohio With over half the spring season now complete, the No. 35 Ohio State women’s tennis team (7-5, 1-0 Big Ten) will travel to Tampa, Fla., for a dual match with South Florida (1-7, 0-0 Big East) at 11 a.m. Sunday at the USF Varsity Tennis Complex.

The match with Ohio State will be the first of an eight-match homestand for the Bulls, who have been on the road for three of their last four matches. All of South Florida’s losses this season have come against ranked opponents, including No. 24 Florida State, No. 27 Texas and No. 30 Texas A&M.

South Florida topped the Buckeyes in one of the closest matches of the 2007-08 season, 4-3, in Columbus. The match was marked by even, back-and-forth play and a marathon clinching match that saw Liz Cruz defeat Julie Blackmore, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

The Buckeyes have never beaten the Bulls, with a 0-6 all-time record. Before the match last season though, all the previous matches had come before 1994. Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher is 0-1 against South Florida and 28-15against foes from the Big East.

Junior Kirsten Flower was named the Big Ten women’s tennis athlete of the week after her part in helping the 37th-rankedBuckeyes to a 6-1 win over conference-foe Penn State last Saturday. 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. Flower has added consistency to the top of the Buckeye singles lineup in 2009, running off a 7-5 record at No. 1. She has picked up five singles wins in her last six matches, including four wins over ranked opponents.

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.

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. Hubbs and Blackmore are 4-0 this spring season, while DiPastina and Keesey hold a 3-1 mark. Paloma Escobedo returned to No. 3 doubles, just as in 2008, where she has teamed with Kirsten Flower to go 3-1.

Flower leads the Buckeyes with 12 singles wins this season, while DiPastina is the team leader with nine wins this spring. Every Buckeye that has played in singles this season has a winning record.

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 68 career singles wins.

Ohio State is now ranked as the No. 35 team in the country, rising from their previous positions of No. 36 and No. 37. The Buckeyes began the season as the 32nd-ranked team and rose as high as No. 31.

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.

Behind the doubles point and wins at four singles spots, Ohio State downed Rice, 5-2, in a non-conference match in the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center.

Ohio State took a 1-0 lead after winning 2-of-3 doubles matches. In singles, Rice’s Jessica Jackson tied the match at 1-all with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Buckeye senior Angela DiPastina at No. 3. Sophomore Cami Hubbs closed out Rebecca Lin at No. 4, 6-1, 6-3, to put Ohio State back on top. Freshman Kelsey Haviland added to the Buckeye lead with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Alex Rasch of Rice at the No. 6 spot.

Paloma Escobedo clinched the Buckeye victory, downing Ana Guzman at No. 2. Escobedo won the first set, 6-2, before winning a close second set, 6-4. Julie Blackmore secured the Buckeyes’ fifth point with a win in a super tiebreaker, rallying from a set down. She dropped the first set vs. Rebekka Hanle, 4-6, but won the second, 6-2, and the tiebreaker, 1-0 (11-9). Julie Chao posted Rice’s second point, rallying to defeat Buckeye junior Kirsten Flower in a super tiebreaker, 4-6, 7-6 (6), 1-0 (12-10).

All three doubles matches finished 8-5, with Ohio State coming out ahead on Nos. 2 and 3 to earn the doubles point. At No. 3 Flower and Escobedo were first off the court after defeating Rasch and Lin. Hubbs and Blackmore clinched the doubles point with a victory over Jackson and Shiva-Shankar. Rice took the No. 1 match, as DiPastina and Christina Keesey lost to Chao and Guzman.

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.

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 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 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.

The Buckeyes return home next weekend for a home contest with Purdue March 13, but then travel 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.

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