Peter Kobelt (immediate left) leads the celebratory tackle of Ralf Steinback (back towards camera) after the Buckeyes wrapped up their first ITA Men’s Team Indoor National championships with a 4-1 win over USC.
New Albany High School graduate Peter Kobelt and Worthington Kilbourne graduate Kevin Metka walked away from high school tennis with impressive resumes. Kobelt won the 2009 Division I state singles championships and the 2007 Division II doubles title with Skyler Engel and placed second in Division I singles in 2008 and in Division II doubles with Ryan Dodd in 2007. Metka was the 2010 Division I singles champion and the 2009 Division I doubles championship with Jonny Price. And yet, both had a hard time attracting much attention from collegiate tennis coaches. Kobelt only received offers from Ohio State and Michigan State. Metka, whose only other offer was from Toledo, ended up as a recruited walk-on for the Buckeyes. “Actually I didn’t get many looks at all,” says Kobelt, now a senior at Ohio State. “I was fortunate that Ty (Tucker, the Buckeyes men’s coach) offered me a scholarship based on (what Kobelt accomplished by his junior year of high school). A lot of schools didn’t know about me.” At the ITA Men’s Team Indoor National Championships, held Feb.14 -17 in Houston, the pair offered a quick refresher course for those coaches who overlooked them the first time around. The pair went 4-0 together in doubles and were a combined 5-1 in singles as the Buckeyes defeated No. 12 Florida 4-1, No. 10 Texas 4-2, top-ranked Virginia 4-3 and No. 3 University of Southern California 4-1 to win their first indoor title. Kobelt was stunned after Ohio State clinched the title. “I’m still pretty speechless. Minutes after we won it, I felt like there was still something we had to do to win it,” Kobelt says. “I received a lot of nice calls, texts and tweets and stuff like that. It really didn’t sink in until I laid down that night and started thinking about it.” “It was incredible achievement. We will always be national champions and no one can take it away from us,” Metka adds. “Winning the national indoor shows we can play with a lot of these teams. It’s just an eye opener. Hopefully it helps us realize we can play with some of the bigger schools.” The Columbus players Tucker recruited ended up playing a major role for the Buckeyes. In doubles, Kobelt and Metka beat No. 24 Stephane Piro and Michael Alford from Florida 6-4, No. 7 Søren Hess-Olesen and Lloyd Glasspool from Texas 6-2, Alex Domijan and Justin Shane from Virginia 6-3 and Ray Sarmiento and Yannick Hanfmann from USC 6-4. Kobelt, who was named the Big Ten Player of the Week on Feb. 18, was 3-1 at first singles at the tournament. He knocked off Piro of Florida 6-2, 6-2, No. 3 Mitchell Frank of Virginia 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 and No. 7 Sarmiento of USC 6-3, 6-4. Playing fifth singles, Metka won both of his completed matches. He defeated Virginia’s Thai-Son Kwiatkowski 6-5 (7-5), 5-6 (5-7), 6-5 (12-10) to provide the deciding court and beat Texas’ Nick Naumann 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Sophomore Chris Diaz, another Columbus product, went 2-1 at third doubles with redshirt freshman Ralf Steinbach from Halle, Germany. Diaz, a Watterson graduate, and Steinbach defeated the Trojans’ Eric Johnson and Max De Vroome 6-4 to clinch the doubles point in the final. Diaz won the Division II state singles title in 2010 and 2011. Diaz and his brother Philip were the Division I doubles champions in 2008 and were the 2009 runner up to Metka and Price. It was Ohio State’s fourth trip to the championship after losing to Georgia 4-0 in 2007, Virginia 4-1 in 2008 and USC 4-3 in 2012. “It’s a big monkey off our back,” Kobelt says. “To finally win it is unbelievable.” Tucker, who picked up his 400th career win in a 4-1 win over Louisville on Jan. 25, relied on a strong home-grown roster this season. Half of the Buckeyes’ 10-player squad come from within state borders with Evan Bechtel (Toledo) and Riley Reist (Hamilton) joining Kobelt, Metka and Diaz. The other three teams in the semifinals, USC, UCLA and Virginia, had players from Brazil, England, Ecuador, France, Germany, Guatemala, Japan, the Netherlands and Norway. None of them recruited any players from Ohio. “It goes back to something (former Ohio State coach) Jim Tressel used to do,” Kobelt says. “When he was putting a team together, Tressel would get the guys from Ohio. Ty’s learned to get the best Ohio kids he can and worked them hard to get them to overachieve.” Ohio State appears to have overachieved in Houston, becoming only the second school from above the Mason-Dixon Line to capture the title. Since the ITA Men’s Team Indoor National Championships started in 1973, 26 of the championship teams have come from California, five have come from Virginia and four have come from Texas. Only one other Big Ten team, Illinois (the 2003 and 2004 champion), has won the event. Metka believes winning the title could have “global warming” effect for the Buckeyes. “I think it means a lot. A lot of the southern schools and the Californian schools get recruits partly because the weather is nicer,” Metka says. “Northern schools like Ohio State don’t get those top recruits. So it’s nice to prove to all the other schools we can play with the top recruits. The local guys have stepped up and done some big things for the program.” Many expected this to be a rebuilding year for the Buckeyes after they lost Blaz Roja, the 2013 NCAA singles champion, to the pro tour. But others have helped solidify the Buckeyes’ singles slots. Metka, who was 6-3 in singles his first two years with Ohio State, is off to a 15-2 in singles this season. Metka says he and his teammates learned a lot from being around Roja. “He was a good role model for sure,” Metka says. “Everything he did made him better at tennis. He was always really efficient with his time. He never messed around in school or on the tennis court.” Kobelt hopes the national championship will be a springboard for the spring season. Ohio State, which defeated No. 10 Notre Dame 4-2 on Feb. 22 to improve to a squad record 14-0 before facing Indiana on Feb. 24, was ranked first in the preseason poll. “Any time you win a national championship, it’s good for your confidence,” Kobelt says. “Our confidence is sky high right now. (The win over USC was) short lived but I will never forget it. We still have a lot of work to do and I feel everyone is ready to do it.”