32nd-ranked Ohio State opens with Missouri Saturday at noon; Notre Dame and Eastern Kentucky Sunday at noon and 6 p.m.

COLUMBUS, Ohio The No. 32 Ohio State women’s tennis team will open up the 2009 spring season this Saturday and Sunday at the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center. The Buckeyes will face off with Missouri at noon Saturday in the home opener, followed by a showdown with No. 17 Notre Dame at noon Sunday and finish it off with a match against Eastern Kentucky at 6 p.m. Sunday.

The Tigers are led by senior Jessica Giuggioli, who went 13-11 last season for Missouri while playing at the top of the singles lineup. Junior Sofia Ayala was 16-6 in singles in 2007-08, which was the best winning percentage of any Tigers single player last season.

Ohio State and Missouri have met four times previously, with the Buckeyes holding a 3-1 advantage over the Tigers. Ohio State head coach Chuck Merzbacher has faced Mizzou nine times over his career, losing only once. The last meeting between the squads came in 2006, when Ohio State knocked off the Tigers, 6-1, in Columbus.

Senior Kelcy Tefft and freshman Kristy Frilling pace the Fighting Irish as the top-ranked doubles team in the nation. Tefft is also part of the fourth-ranked doubles team, along with junior Kali Krisik. In singles, Frilling, Tefft and Krisik are all ranked among the Top 50 players in the nation, while sophomore Kristen Rafael is the 62nd-ranked singles player in the nation.

Ohio State has struggled historically against the Fighting Irish, going 3-15 all-time. The Buckeyes managed to keep it close in their match last season in South Bend, but fell by a score of 5-2.

With nine singles wins in the fall season apiece, senior Svetlana Pimenova and sophomore Myriem Mhirit lead Eastern Kentucky into Columbus in search of their first win in series history. Head coach Rob Oertel led the Colonels to a berth in the Ohio Valley Conference title match last season and has once again made Eastern Kentucky a contender in the OVC.

Ohio State has claimed victory in all nine matches between the two programs, including the latest match in 2007, where the Buckeyes won 7-0 in Richmond, Ky.

Ohio State has enjoyed considerable success in the opening match of the season under the guidance of head coach Chuck Merzbacher. The Buckeyes are 10-2 since Merzbacher took over the program in the 1996-97 season, including wins in the last two season openers over Cincinnati in 2007 and Marquette in 2008.

The Buckeyes were excellent at home in the Ohio State Varsity Tennis Center last season, winning 11 of 14 home contests in 2008, including a six-match winning streak and wins over four opponents ranked in the ITA Top 75, The Scarlet and Gray were particularly dominant in doubles, compiling an impressive 36-6 record in all paired matches played at home.

Kirsten Flower competed this past weekend at the National Collegiate Tennis Championship (NCTC) in Indian Wells, Calif. Flower went 3-2 in singles action on the weekend, highlighted by wins over Veronica Li of Stanford, Lynn Blau of Georgia Tech and Carolina Filipiak of Baylor.

Flower also teamed up with UCLA freshman Jordan Dockendorf for two doubles matches. The pair fell in both, losing to Secerbegovic and Siwosz of Baylor and to Li and Yen of Stanford.

Following the opening weekend, the Buckeyes will travel to Durham, N.C., for the National Indoor Qualifier Jan. 31 against South Carolina at 2 p.m. The winner of that match will play the winner of the Duke-VCU match on Feb. 1.

Ohio State then heads to Lexington, Ky., for a mid-week match with Kentucky before heading back to Columbus to face Virginia and Virginia Tech the following weekend.

Ohio State enjoyed a successful fall season, with team members traveling to five events to compete against some of the nation’s elite teams. The Buckeyes opened the season at the William and Mary Invitational, where freshman Kelsey Haviland stole the show by winning three matches and advancing to the finals of Flight B singles. Next up was the Hoosier Fall Classic, where Haviland went unbeaten in singles and combined with Julie Voss to go 2-1 in doubles competition.

Junior Kirsten Flower traveled to the prestigious Riviera/ITA All-American Championships, where she went 1-2 in competition, drawing tough opponents in all three matches. The appearance was the third for Flower and the first for any Buckeye since now assistant coach Sadhaf Pervez competed there in 2003.

The next team competition for the Buckeyes came at the ITA Midwest Regional Championships, where two Ohio State doubles teams made deep runs. Flower and Julie Blackmore won three matches in advancing to the quarterfinals, while Christina Keesey and Cami Hubbs earned four victories and a trip to the semifinals. The last event for Ohio State came at the North Texas Classic, where sophomores Cami Hubbs and Paloma Escobedo each went 2-1 in singles and 2-1 together in doubles.

Individual leaders for the fall season were Haviland, with six singles victories, and Hubbs and Keesey, who each had seven doubles wins.

The Buckeyes took in one of the nation’s best recruiting classes on signing day this year, bringing in three five-star players for the 2009-10 season. All three are national Top-100 tennis players and continue an Ohio State tradition of recruiting well both at home and nationwide in recent years.

Kara 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.

Fidan 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 final signee, Gabby 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.