Buckeyes (15-10, 7-3 Big Ten) and Wildcats (12-10, 3-9 SEC) square off Friday in Evanston, Ill., at 11 a.m. EST

COLUMBUS, Ohio Fresh off their first postseason win in five seasons and their best Big Ten campaign since 2002, the No. 37 Ohio State women’s tennis team will travel to Evanston, Ill., to take on No. 26 Kentucky (12-10, 3-9 SEC) Friday at 11 a.m. EST in the opening round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.

The winner of the Ohio State-Kentucky match will move on to face the winner of the No. 1 Northwestern (25-1, 10-0 Big Ten) and No. 72 Miami (Ohio) (16-6, 8-0 MAC) match Saturday at 1 p.m. EST.

The Buckeyes will be familiar with their surroundings this weekend on the North Side of Chicago, having traveled there just two weeks ago for a match with Northwestern. Ohio State and Kentucky also have played earlier this season in Lexington, where the Wildcats clipped the Buckeyes, 4-3, in one of the closest matches of the season for the Scarlet and Gray.

The Wildcats were unbeaten and on their way to a 9-0 start when they edged the Buckeyes in February. Kentucky hit their high-water mark in the national rankings at No. 13 after picking up big wins over No. 12 Clemson and No. 15 Florida. The SEC, a conference that finished with nine squads ranked in the ITA Top 25, was not as kind to the Blue and White. The Wildcats lost 10-of-13 matches to close out the regular season, including defeats at the hands of No. 2 Georgia, No. 10 Tennessee, No. 14 Arkansas and No. 19 Vanderbilt.

The 111th-ranked Megan Broderick and Carolina Escamilla head up the Kentucky singles attack, taking the top two spots in the lineup. The heart of the lineup features Upper Arlington native Christine Johnston and freshman Caroline Lilley, who leads the team with 24 singles wins in 2008-09.

The 31st-ranked doubles team of Escamilla and Lilley are 9-8 this spring at No. 1 doubles, while Johnston and Broderick have seen the majority of their action at No. 2 doubles, where they are 8-8 this spring. Whitney Spencer and Lauren Meier take the No. 3 doubles spot, where they are 8-4 this spring.

The Buckeyes and Wildcats, in addition to playing each other, have played four common opponents this season in South Florida, Indiana, Eastern Kentucky and South Carolina. Both teams are 3-1 in those matches, with Kentucky falling to South Carolina and Ohio State losing to South Florida.

Kentucky leads the all-time series between the programs, 12-4, including an NCAA tournament win in 2004.

This will be the ninth appearance in the NCAA Tournament for Ohio State, with all but one coming under the direction of head coach Chuck Merzbacher. Six of the nine tournament appearances have pitted the Buckeyes against an SEC foe, including Kentucky in 2004. Last season, the team broke a three-season tournament drought by taking on Auburn in the opening round in Gainesville, Fla.

Buckeye junior Kirsten Flower and Wildcat junior Christine Johnston know a thing or two about each other on the tennis court. That is because Flower and Johnston were once teammates at Upper Arlington high school in Columbus. As freshmen, the two teamed up to win the 2002 state doubles championship. In 2003, they split up and decided to play the singles bracket, where they again played in the state championship match. It was Flower who edged Johnston in a tight one, 6-3, 3-6, 7-5, to take the state singles title.

2009 marked the most Big Ten wins by an Ohio State team since 2002, when the Buckeyes went 9-1 and finished third in the conference. That season, Ohio State bowed out in the opening round of the Big Ten tournament to Michigan and then fell in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to Alabama.

The 2009 season saw seven Buckeyes record double-digit singles win totals. Kirsten Flower led the team with 19 singles wins, while Angela DiPastina had a spring-season high 15. Christina Keesey led the team with a .736 (14-5) winning percentage in the spring campaign.

Ohio State was outstanding in doubles after a mid-February mix-up. Before finding their groove, the Buckeyes were 12-12 (.500), but after the Virginia Tech match the Scarlet and Gray had a 34-15(.693) mark in paired play. Flower and Paloma Escobedo were especially dominant, leading the team with a 12-2 mark in the regular season.

Depth in both the singles and doubles lineup has been a strength in 2009 for Ohio State, as the team is a combined 33-15 at No. 5 and No. 6 singles, while posting an 18-6 mark at No. 3 doubles. Julie Blackmore, Keesey, DiPastina and Kelsey Haviland have all played in the No. 5 and No. 6 singles spots this season, with DiPastina holding a 13-3 record in those positions. Escobedo and Flower play No. 3 doubles.

1. Northwestern     10-0   1.000  21-1   .955
2. Michigan          9-1   .900   15-5   .750
3. Illinois          8-2   .800   17-6   .739
4. Ohio State        7-3   .700   14-9   .609
5. Indiana           6-4   .600   14-9   .609
6. Purdue            4-6   .400   8-12   .400
7. Wisconsin         3-7   .300   8-14   .364
   Minnesota         3-7   .300  11-11   .500
9. Penn State        2-8   .200   5-17   .227
   Iowa              2-8   .200   7-14   .333
11.Michigan State    1-9   .100   8-15   .348

The 2009 spring season had many memorable moments, with equal amounts of heart-raising wins and gut-checking losses. Here is a look at some of the more unforgettable matches from the regular season.

Jan. 31, vs. South Carolina The Buckeyes and Gamecocks entered the opening round of the ITA National Indoor Qualifier ranked as the No. 32 and No. 33 teams in the nation, respectively. The match lived up to the billing, with Ohio State losing a tightly contested doubles point but rallying in singles to take the match, 4-3. It was the bottom of the singles lineup that fueled the Buckeyes, getting wins from Cami Hubbs at No. 3, Julie Blackmore at No. 4, Kelsey Haviland at No. 5 and Angela DiPastina at No. 6.

Feb. 1 vs. Duke Ohio State and No. 9 Duke faced off the very next day with a trip to the ITA National Indoor Championships on the line. The Blue Devils prevailed, 4-2, but the Buckeyes did not go down quietly in their loss, getting wins from senior Julie Blackmore over 48th-ranked Amanda Granson and senior Angela DiPastina beating Jessi Robinson in three sets at No. 6. Duke has since risen to the top of the polls, coming in at No. 3 in the latest release, and is the only team to have beaten top-ranked Northwestern this season.

Feb. 22 vs. Oregon The Scarlet and Gray were in need of a good weekend after dropping four-consecutive matches entering play in Eugene, and the 46th-ranked Ducks were just the answer. After downing Washington State a day earlier, the Buckeyes completed their West Coast sweep by defeating Oregon, 5-2, picking up big wins in singles from Kirsten Flower, Christina Keesey and DiPastina.

Feb. 28 vs. Penn State A women’s tennis record crowd of 240 showed up at the Ohio State Indoor Varsity Tennis Center to see the Buckeyes open Big Ten play against Penn State. The team gave the crowd a good show, sweeping through doubles and closing out singles with five straight-set wins. The match also marked the 100th career home victory for Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher.

March 23 vs. Utah Perhaps it was the venue and not the actual match that made this spring break showdown so memorable, as Ohio State and Utah took to the courts at the Darling Tennis Center in Las Vegas, Nev., for the final non-conference match of the season. Despite punishing desert winds that neared 40 miles per hour, the Buckeyes had no problem dispatching the Utes, taking an easy doubles point win and picking up five wins in singles. Christina Keesey won her seventh-consecutive singles match while Blackmore clinched the win at No. 5 singles.

April 10 vs. Illinois The Buckeyes had staked themselves to a 2-0 lead against the 36th-ranked Fighting Illini after a close doubles point win and a quick win at No. 4 singles by Christina Keesey. After Cami Hubbs fell in straight sets at No. 3, four singles matches went into a third set. The Buckeyes could not pull a win in any of them, losing the match, 5-2. The decision proved pivotal in the final Big Ten standings, as Illinois edged the Buckeyes to grab the No. 3 seed and avoided a potential showdown with No. 1 Northwestern in the conference tournament semifinals.

April 12 vs. Indiana Buckeye seniors Angela DiPastina, Julie Voss and Julie Blackmore went out in style in Columbus on Senior Day, completing a 7-0 sweep over Indiana on Easter morning. Easy doubles wins powered the Buckeyes to an early 1-0 lead, while straight set wins from Kirsten Flower, Julie Blackmore and Christina Keesey put the match away.

April 19 vs. Wisconsin The best may have been saved for last this season, as Ohio State went to Madison, Wis., to face Wisconsin and try to lock up the No. 4 seed in the Big Ten Tournament. Despite a doubles point win, the Buckeyes found themselves on the wrong end of a 3-2 match deficit late. Keesey tied the match at 3-all with a win at No. 3 singles, leaving the match to Hubbs at No. 4. The Buckeye sophomore rallied from a 4-2 third set hole and forced a tiebreaker with Jessica Seyferth that would decide the match. Seyferth again grabbed a 4-2 advantage but saw it quickly evaporate as Hubbs stormed off five points in a row to take the tiebreaker, the set and the match.

This will be the last NCAA tournament for a trio of Buckeye seniors. Julie Blackmore, Julie Voss and Angela DiPastina have combined to win 64 dual matches, 187 singles matches and 175 doubles matches during their career as Buckeyes. The three were also part of the historic 2008 campaign that saw the Buckeyes win a record 19 regular-season matches and return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in four seasons.

DiPastina’s 73 career singles victories places her seventh all-time for a Buckeye while Blackmore’s 71 wins puts her right behind in ninth place. Additionally, Blackmore’s 86 doubles wins are good for eighth all-time, while DiPastina’s 73 wins in paired play are good for 13th all-time. Blackmore holds the Ohio State single season record for doubles wins in a season, with 31 in 2008. Voss led the Buckeyes in singles wins as a sophomore with 23 and has 43 career singles victories.

Each senior has also excelled in the classroom, helping lead the Buckeyes to ITA All-Academic Team Awards in 2006-07 and 2007-08. Voss is both a three-time ITA Scholar Athlete and Ohio State Scholar-Athlete, and a 2008 Academic All-Big Ten honoree. Blackmore holds two ITA Scholar-Athlete distinctions, three Ohio State Scholar-Athlete honors and two Academic All-Big Ten designations. DiPastina is a three-time Ohio State Scholar-Athlete, two-time Academic All-Big Ten selection and a 2008 ITA Scholar-Athlete.

The Buckeyes drew out fans in record numbers this season, ranking fifth in the NCAA in overall average attendance with 132 per match through the matches of April 5. The season high for Ohio State came in the Big Ten opener against Penn State Feb. 28, when 240 came out to the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center to see the Buckeyes take a 6-1 win over the Nittany Lions.

Overall Average Attendance
Division I Women
School Avg.
1. Texas A&M: 424
2. Michigan: 175
3. Georgia: 159
4. Alabama: 133
5. Ohio State: 132