Iowa tennis gains momentum in Big Ten

Both Hawkeye tennis teams picked up impressive victories as they head down the final stretch of Big Ten play.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa’s Oliver Okonkwo hits a forehand during a men’s tennis match between Iowa and Ohio State at the HTRC on Sunday, April 7, 2019. The Buckeyes defeated the Hawkeyes, 4-1.

Cody Smith, Sports Reporter

Both the Iowa men’s and women’s tennis teams gained major momentum with huge victories over Big Ten foes.

The Hawkeye men toppled Penn State and lost to Ohio State, while the women beat Rutgers and Maryland.

The men’s team came into the weekend on a two-game losing streak, but that was soon forgotten.

Looking to get its second ranked win over a Big Ten opponent, No. 48 Iowa had its back against the wall after securing the doubles point and then falling down 3-0 in singles matches Nos. 2, 5, and 6 to No. 30 Penn State.

But the Hawkeyes came back — Oliver Okonkwo and Kareem Allaf tied it up 3-3 in front of the energized home crowd.

With the match on the line, sophomore Will Davies was down 3-0 in the third-set before coming back to tie it at 5. He ended up putting the team on his back as he completed the huge comeback (7-5, 2-6, 7-5) to knock off the Nittany Lions and win the dual (4-3).

“It was huge for our guys to come out and knock off another top program,” Iowa head coach Ross Wilson said. “We put in the work every day, and it is really paying off. Not only did we take down the No. 30 team in the nation, but we also beat the No. 8 doubles team in the country and the No. 31 singles player. For Will to come back, down 0-3 in the third set, to clinch the match was unreal.”

The win improved Iowa’s home record to 11-1 and put the Hawkeyes at 13-6 with six matches remaining in the regular season.

Coming off the major upset, Iowa was revved up to do it again against No. 1 Ohio State, but it was to no avail. The Hawkeyes competed hard but only Okonkwo was able to steal a victory as Iowa fell to the Buckeyes (4-1).

“We’ve played great doubles all year,” Wilson said. “To have match points at two doubles, three doubles, and not get it shows the level at what we can play which I think is good. It’s just a couple little things we got to improve on.”

RELATED: Hawkeye tennis seeks to make strong push in Big Ten

With Okonkwo going 2-0 on the weekend against both Penn State and Ohio State, the freshman continued to make his mark as one of the most prominent players on the team.

He improved to 13-6 in singles, second on the team behind Davies.

“Anytime you can get a freshman to come in and contribute majorly at No. 1 doubles and a top-3 spot in singles, you know your team is automatically going to get better, but I think it’s the energy he plays with, his attitude on the court,” Wilson said. “He can be one of the best players in the Big Ten.”

Okonkwo knew this week’s competition was going to be difficult, but he never truly understood how hard it would be.

“This week’s competition has been tough,” he said. “I mean at no point in both matches did I think I was going to storm away with it. I had to fight to the very last point.”

Iowa will look to bounce back in its next matchup against Purdue on the road on April 13.

The women’s squad continued to improve in the Big Ten standings with wins over Rutgers and Maryland at home.

Only Samantha Mannix and Sophie Clark dropped singles matches this weekend as Iowa defeated both Maryland and Rutgers (6-1) on the outside courts of the Hawkeye Tennis & Recreation Complex.

RELATED: Iowa women’s tennis turns season around with big wins

Sophomore Danielle Burich, who had been recently inserted into the starting lineup, improved her singles record to 3-1 after getting two wins at No. 6.

“My mindset has been to have no mercy and never give up,” Burich said. “I need to keep on fighting and believing in myself.”

The wins get Iowa back to even (4-4) in the Big Ten standings and improved its home record to 8-1.

We were young. We went through that tough middle stretch where we were on the losing side of 4-3 conference matches,” head coach Sasha Schmid said. “Those put us behind in the standings, but I never felt that was indicative of the team we had. I hoped that if we continued to work hard and understand that handling pressure a little better, which is in our control, that we would find some momentum and confidence. I think that’s what they’ve been able to do.”

The Hawkeyes will try to continue their recent success against Nebraska on April 13.