Huskies to serve up difficult road competition
Last time the Rutgers tennis team took to the road for a Big East match, Syracuse blanked the Scarlet Knights 7-0 in the Jan. 31 season opener. Exactly two months since that embarrassing stumble out of the gate, Rutgers looks to claim its fourth consecutive conference victory and continue to climb in the Big East rankings. The Knights head to Storrs, Conn., today to take on the Connecticut in a conference clash. Rutgers (9-5, 3-1) enters the showdown as winners of six of the team's last eight contests, while the Huskies (3-7, 1-3) picked up all three of their wins in their last five matches. Though Rutgers appears to be the obvious favorite on paper, head coach Ben Bucca knows nothing is a given. "The team has to come ready to play enthusiastic tennis," Bucca said. "We've had some good wins against UConn in the past, but they always end up very close. Plus they will be at home." The fact that the Knights will be journeying up the Northeast for the match could work in the Huskies' favor. Rutgers is 4-5 away from home this season — a stark contrast to the team's 5-0 record on the Banks. Sophomore Jen Holzberg attempted to explain her team's struggles beyond Piscataway. "It's a combination of not being used to our surroundings and not having our fans there to support us," Holzberg said. "We've also played most of our tougher opponents on road so that doesn't help either." Bucca said the issue is simple — it's just a whole lot harder to play on the road. "My overwhelming experience is that traveling counts," he said. "There is truth to the saying ‘home court advantage,' and it presents us with a challenge." Sophomore Maryana Milchutskey believes the Knights turned a corner in their road play and will be ready to take on UConn today. "In the beginning of the season we started off shaky on the road in our loss at Syracuse and that hurt our confidence a little bit," Milchutskey said. "But lately we've been playing much better away from home and that's important to us.
"Obviously we're going into tomorrow's match thinking we are going to win. We beat them last year and picking up another conference win will help us earn a better draw in Big East play later in the year."
Milchutskey and the Knights have the right to feel confident. Rutgers demolished rival Pittsburgh 7-0 on Saturday and are riding a three-game win streak in the conference. Rutgers' depth proved to be a valuable commodity this spring, as the team has consistently displayed an ability to make up for any shortcomings by being versatile.
"We have nine players and any of them can win on any given day," Bucca said. "I have a lot of confidence in each of the girls and they believe in each other. They've certainly proven they can step up when need be."
Senior Christine Tran stepped up to the No. 6 singles spot against Pittsburgh after participating in strictly doubles play for the majority of the season. She feels the team's accountability is what propels the Knights. "We're always told to be ready to play no matter what," Tran said. "Even if they're not in the announced lineup, everyone is responsible for being prepared to contribute." Tran remains in the lineup today and will be counted on to contribute as Rutgers tries to maintain late-season momentum. With less than three weeks remaining in the Knights' regular season schedule, now is the time for the team to put traveling woes in the past.