Hawkeye tennis heads toward final push

Both Iowa tennis teams have to be mentally prepared as they get ready for the final two weeks of Big Ten play.


Shivansh Ahuja

Iowa's Oliver Okonkwo hits a serve 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 men’s and women’s tennis teams desperately need to gain separation in the Big Ten standings ahead of the Big Ten Championships on April 25.

Although the men’s squad upset Penn State (5-2) last weekend, the Hawkeyes are only 4-3 in the conference, tied for fourth place.

With only four conference matches left before the tournament, Iowa is going to need a perfect weekend against Purdue, Indiana, and Indiana/Purdue-Indianapolis (nonconference) in order to separate itself from Michigan, Northwestern, and the Hoosiers in the Big Ten standings.

“I think there are four or five teams that have a 4-3 record [in the Big Ten],” head coach Ross Wilson said. “If we want to keep pace and keep our particular goal of finishing top four in the Big Ten, then it would probably be nice if we can sweep our competition, but as of right now we are taking it one match at a time.”

The No. 46 Hawkeyes will hope that its dynamic duo will take charge. Freshman Oliver Okonkwo and sophomore Will Davies have undoubtedly made their mark on the 2019 season.

The two are ranked No. 58 nationally in doubles together and have taken down three ranked teams, including Penn State’s No. 8 doubles team. Both boast the best doubles record of the team with a 13-6 record.

They’re also getting the job done in singles play. Both of them have two of the best singles records of the team, with Davies leading with a team-best 15-4 record Nos. 4-6 singles, and Okonkwo having a 13-6 record playing in Nos. 1-3.

Okonkwo also comes into the weekend being named the Big Ten Athlete of the Week after picking up singles wins against No. 30 Penn State and No. 1 Ohio State.

“It’s pretty cool, but it’s weird, obviously, because I am still a freshman and don’t really know what it means,” Okonkwo said. “I know it’s a good award to get, and it feels pretty good. The coaches are really happy with it.”

Davies and Okonkwo should be major factors in whether the Hawkeyes can pick up key victories on its last road trip of the season.

RELATED: Iowa tennis gains momentum in Big Ten

The women’s team seems to be in the same boat. This season, Iowa is just 4-4 in the Big Ten and sits in sixth place.

However, since beginning its home stretch on March 29, the Hawkeyes have dominated the competition. They have won all four of its Big Ten matches since. The Hawkeyes will try to finish their home winning streak against Nebraska on Senior Day.

“We have a lot of excitement in our team about this weekend. It’s Senior Day, and we’re excited and happy to honor [Adorabol Huckleby] on Friday at our banquet and on [April 14] at the match,” head coach Sasha Schmid said. “The team can’t wait to get back to playing at home again for one final time this season. Nebraska will be another tough test for us, and it’s another great opportunity for our team to work hard and compete.”

The Hawkeyes will close their homestand against the Cornhuskers at noon Saturday. Nebraska ranks dead last in the Big Ten with a 1-7 conference record.

The team hopes first-year Hawkeyes Ashleigh Jacobs and Michelle Bacalla keep it rolling. The two have combined for a 7-0 record in singles through their last four dual matches, which has helped Iowa outscore its opponents, 20-6, over that span.

“I think we all are just coming together, and things are really clicking for us,” Jacobs said. “Having four wins in a row is really good, and we’re just looking forward to the last couple matches.”

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