The day has been 11 years in the making.
On Friday, Ohio State has a chance to make NCAA history. Beat Northwestern and it will set the NCAA record in any sport in any division with its 185th consecutive home win. A loss would keep it in a tie with the Stanford women’s tennis team at 184 in a row.
Come 6 p.m. ET Friday, the Buckeyes will take the court trying to set the record – though not necessarily thinking about it.
“We’ll try not to treat it like anything special and just try to focus like a normal tennis match,” Ohio State first singles Peter Kobelt said. “Obviously there will be that lingering in the back of our heads. I think the goal is to remain as calm as possible and focus on the task at hand.”
If the Buckeyes do treat this like a regular match, history says they will get the record. The last time they lost in Columbus was on April 5, 2003, to top-ranked Illinois. In that match, the Buckeyes won the top two singles matches but Amer Delic, the fourth-ranked singles player at the time and eventual NCAA singles champion, won at No. 4 singles and boosted the Illini to a 5-2 victory.
Since that time, 184 opponents have come to Columbus and all of them have walked away with the loss. Some of the wins have been easy sweeps, some have been nail-bitters like Ohio State’s 4-3 win against Texas A&M in early February but all have ended with the same outcome.
In that way, the past 11 Buckeye teams have a shared bond that makes redshirt junior Kevin Metka feel like he’s playing for more than this year’s team.
“There’s a little bit of pressure because you don’t want to disappoint the  years of all the hard work of the Buckeyes who put everything into the program,” Metka said. “Part of you doesn’t want to disappoint them if [a loss] happens. So maybe if we get the record on Friday, some of that pressure will come off.”
While the streak has been 11 years in the making, it really wasn’t until last season that the streak became associated with the Buckeyes. Last April 5, the Buckeyes swept Wisconsin and celebrated its decade of winning.
After the anniversary, talk of the streak died down a little bit and didn’t amplify again until five or six matches ago, head coach Ty Tucker estimated.
“Everybody started talking about the streak again and how we are close to breaking the record,” said Tucker, who is in his 11th season with the Buckeyes. “Again, everybody started playing tight and I’m looking forward to this being the last match we play tight and playing like we have something to lose because we do have something to lose.”
With so many different Ohio State teams involved in this record, it is hard to pinpoint one reason for the home dominance. Tucker praised the university in its support of the program – from assistant coaches to the academic support staff – while Metka noted the generally large crowd at matches.
But whatever the reason, it has been working for the Buckeyes.
“Most teams don’t ever have that feeling” of going undefeated for so long, Kobelt said. “I don’t know if there’s any right way of saying it now because I don’t think it’s sank in all the way but I feel like one day when I’m older I’ll be able to really appreciate it.”
While most of the attention has been paid to the home winning streak, the Buckeyes have not suffered a loss in 86 consecutive Big Ten matches. In that time, they have won eight Big Ten tournament titles and won their first ITA National Team Indoor title this season.
The one thing missing during the run of dominance has been an NCAA title. Ohio State reached the title match in 2009 and has advanced to at least the semifinals twice in the past three seasons.
Just don’t expect that lack of a national title diminish what the Buckeyes have done.
“Since I was a player at Ohio State and grew up 45 miles from campus, it was all I ever wanted to do – play for Ohio State, win for Ohio State and coach at Ohio State,” Tucker said. “I’m living a dream that most people can’t imagine.”