Buckeyes to face No. 33 South Carolina Saturday, No. 9 Duke/No. 35 VCU Sunday

COLUMBUS, Ohio The No. 32 Ohio State women’s tennis team (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) will travel to Durham, N.C., for the ITA National Team Indoor Qualifier on the campus of Duke University. The Buckeyes will take on No. 33 South Carolina at 2 p.m. in the first match Saturday, with the winner moving on to face the winner of the Duke and VCU match Sunday at 2 p.m. The consolation match will take place at 10 a.m.

The ITA National Team Indoor Qualifier in Durham is one of 15 qualifiers held throughout the United States for the ITA National Team Indoor Championship held in Madison, Wis., Feb. 13-16.

South Carolina holds a 3-1 record entering the match, with the lone loss coming against No. 19 Michigan, 4-3, in Ann Arbor, Mich. The 14th-ranked Ana Marija Zubori leads the team with a 12-2 mark in singles, while 71st-ranked Gira Schofield comes in with 10 wins.

The Buckeyes and Gamecocks have met on the court three times previously, with Ohio State holding a 2-1 advantage. The last meeting between the programs came in 1987, when the Gamecocks won 7-2 at a neutral site.

Duke opened its season in style last weekend, blanking Old Dominion, 7-0, while not dropping a set along the way. Amanda Granson leads the Blue Devils this season with 11 singles victories, while teammate Ellah Nze has contributed 10 of her own.

Ohio State and Duke have met five times before, with the Blue Devils coming out ahead each time. The last meeting came in 2000 in College Park, Md., when Duke swept the Buckeyes, 7-0. Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher faced Duke five times in his coaching career, picking up two wins while with Kansas.

VCU enters plays with a 4-1 record, picking up wins over Georgetown, George Mason, Campbell and Longwood but falling to No. 11 Clemson last weekend. Ana Bara leads the Rams with nine singles wins in 2008-09, while she doubles with sister Alex Bara to lead the team with four doubles wins.

This will be the first meeting between the Buckeyes and Rams. Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher has never faced the Rams either, but is 3-3 all-time against opponents from the Colonial Athletic Association.

Ohio State went 2-1 on the opening weekend of the 2009 spring season, picking up wins over Missouri and Eastern Kentucky while falling to Notre Dame.

Senior Angela DiPastina led the Buckeyes with three wins in singles action, including a win over the 104th-ranked Colleen Rielley of Notre Dame. DiPastina also picked up two wins in doubles over the three matches. Junior Kirsten Flower was sharp during the opening weekend as well, running off wins in two of three singles matches. Paloma Escobedo, Julie Blackmore and Kelsey Haviland also had two singles wins.

Ohio State heads to Lexington, Ky., for a mid-week match Feb. 4 with Kentucky before heading back to Columbus to face Virginia and Virginia Tech the following weekend. Should they advance in Durham, the Buckeyes will move on to play at the ITA National Team Indoors in Madison, Wisc. Feb. 13-16.

A roadtrip to Eugene follows, with matches against Washington State Feb. 21 and Oregon Feb. 22. The team then returns home and close out the month with the Big Ten opener Feb. 28 against Penn State.

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, Wis.                  112
4/23      Madison, Wis.                   395

Total 6,626

The total does not include a possible trip to the ITA National Team Indoors in Madison, Wis., as well any travel to regional sites for the NCAA tournament.

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 years 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 preseason 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.