COLUMBUS, Ohio The 31st-ranked Ohio State (3-2, 0-0 Big Ten) women’s tennis team will return home to the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center this weekend for a Friday match with No. 29 Virginia at 3 p.m. and an 11 a.m. contest Sunday with No. 52 Virginia Tech (3-1, 0-0 ACC).

Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher will be gunning for his 100th home win as head coach of the Buckeyes this weekend against the Cavaliers and Hokies. Merzbacher began the season with 97, but picked up wins over Missouri and Eastern Kentucky and now has 99.

His first home win with the team came in his first season as Buckeye head coach on March 2, 1997 when Ohio State toppled Penn State, 5-2, at the Jesse Owens West Tennis Center.

Virginia is off to a 3-1 start in 2009, highlighted by a marquee win over then-No. 25 TCU. The Cavs have also picked off No. 41 Utah and Old Dominion, headlined by the excellent play of freshman Emily Fraser, who has posted a 16-6 record this year while assuming duties at the top of the singles lineup. Fellow freshman Lindsey Hardenbergh is 14-6, while senior Amanda Rales has posted a 13-5 mark.

The Buckeyes and Cavaliers met last year on Ohio State’s swing through Virginia, where the Scarlet and Gray, despite losing the doubles point, rallied in singles to claim a narrow 4-3 victory. The series between the teams is deadlocked at two, while head coach Chuck Merzbacher is 3-0 all-time against Virginia.

Virginia Tech enters play Sunday after a strong first four matches, blanking Elon, Longwood and No. 50 Iowa but falling, 5-2, to fourth-ranked Baylor. The Hokies are led by the freshman duo of Katie Blow and Courtney Rauscher, who each own a team-high 15 singles wins, and senior Inga Beerman, who is the 125th-ranked singles player in the country.

Ohio State and Virginia Tech met last year in Blacksburg, where the Buckeyes prevailed, 5-2. The Scarlet and Gray also hold the advantage in the all-time series, 4-2. Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher is 3-2 all-time against Virginia Tech, and is 11-14 against ACC opponents in his career.

Virginia is the fourth Top 30 team the Buckeyes will face through the first six matches of the season. Ohio State hosted No. 17 Notre Dame Jan. 25, faced off against No. 9 Duke last Sunday and took on No. 20 Kentucky Wednesday. Notre Dame moved up to No. 14 in the most recent poll released Tuesday.

In a six-hour battle that saw five singles matches reach three sets, Ohio State fell by the smallest of margins to No. 20 Kentucky 4-3, in Lexington, Ky., Wed.

The Buckeyes took the doubles point with strong efforts from Julie Blackmore and Paloma Escobedo in No. 2 doubles and Kelsey Haviland and Angela DiPastina in No. 3 doubles.

With only four courts available inside the Hilary J. Boone Tennis Complex, singles action was split into two sections, with No. 1-No. 4 singles hitting the court first. Kirsten Flower fell, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 in No. 1 singles, but Escobedo picked her up with a 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 win from the No. 2 spot. Cami Hubbs lost 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 in No. 3 singles while Blackmore saw defeat in No. 4 singles, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, leaving DiPastina and Haviland to bring Ohio State out of the 3-2 match hole.

DiPastina took care of business at the No. 6 singles spot, winning in the only straight set match of the day, 6-2, 6-1, to tie the match, but Haviland was unable to rally for a win, dropping the match, 6-2, 5-7, 6-4.

The Buckeyes traveled to Durham, N.C., this last weekend for the ITA National Team Indoor Qualifier. Ohio State took on No. 33 South Carolina in the first match of the weekend, winning 4-3, with all four points coming from the No. 3-6 singles spot.
Sophomore Cami Hubbs led the Buckeyes off in singles from the No. 3 spot with a win over Natasa Vuckovic, 6-3, 6-1, and freshman Kelsey Haviland added another win from the No. 5 spot, winning 6-2, 6-3, over Suzanna Mansour. Angela DiPastina gave Ohio State its third point from the No. 6 spot with a 6-3, 6-4,win over Ashley Miller. The clinching point in the match came from senior Julie Blackmore, sealing a Buckeye victory from the No. 4 spot with a 6-3, 6-3, win over Miljana Jocic.

The second match of the weekend came against No. 9 Duke, where the Buckeyes fought hard but couldn’t close the deal, falling 4-2. Senior Angela DiPastina kept her stellar 2009 going, however, winning her fifth-consecutive singles match at the No. 6 spot with a three-set win over Jessi Robinson (6-2, 2-6, 6-2). Blackmore was at the top of her game for the Buckeyes in No. 4 singles, taking down 48th-ranked Amanda Granson in straight sets, 6-4, 6-3.

Angela DiPastina has a team-best 6-0 record in the spring season and enters the Kentucky match on a six-match winning streak. Julie Blackmore is right behind with a 4-2 dual-match ledger. Freshman Kelsey Haviland, who was 6-2 in the fall, has a team-high nine wins this year.

A road trip out west to Eugene, Ore., follows this weekends slate, with matches against Washington State Feb. 21 and Oregon Feb. 22. The Buckeyes then return home to close out February with the Big Ten opener Feb. 28 against Penn State.

March begins with a home date against the Rice Owls March 3, followed by a trip to Tampa March 8 for a match against South Florida.

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

Several Buckeyes are ranked among the top of the Midwest Region in singles and doubles. Junior Kirsten Flower, who joins the Buckeyes this season after two seasons at Georgia Tech, is ranked 14th in the Midwest region in singles. Christina Keesey and Cami Hubbs are the fourth-ranked doubles team in the region, in part because of their strong run to the semifinals at the Midwest Regional Qualifier.

The Buckeyes preseason rank of 32 is the highest since opening the season as the same rank in the 2002 preseason poll.

2008-09 – 32
2007-08 – 52
2006-07- NR
2005-06 – NR
2004-05 – 49
2003-04 – 48
2002-03 – 40
2001-02 – 32

Ohio State was the fourth-highest ranked Big Ten team in the pre-season poll, trailing No. 1 Northwestern, No. 19 Michigan and No. 30 Indiana. Of the 23 teams on the Buckeyes’ 2009 schedule, 20 are ranked in the ITA Top 75 in the preseason poll while four others reside in the top 25.