Title in sight after win over Hall continues dominance
Wondering which Rutgers sports program will be the next to bring a Big East title to the Banks? The Rutgers' tennis team is looking more and more like a viable candidate to do so with every win it collects. The Scarlet Knights brushed aside intrastate rival Seton Hall 6-1 yesterday in South Orange, earning Rutgers its fifth consecutive conference victory. The Knights (11-5, 5-1) are 8-2 since Feb. 25 and now stand firmly among the conference's hottest teams. Rutgers entered the road contest knowing it was the heavy favorite — and they certainly played like one. The Knights dominated throughout the afternoon as they pounded the Pirates early and often. Seton Hall (5-9,0-4) could not keep up with Rutgers from the start. The Knights rolled through doubles play with little challenge. Sophomore Jen Holzberg, who teamed up with junior Amy Zhang for their sixth-straight win as a pair, believes her team set the tone early. "We knew that we could win this match," Holzberg said. "Coming out strong and proving ourselves right away was important and that got us going." The Knights success in pairs carried over into singles play, where Zhang laid the hammer down by double-bagling her opponent 6-0, 6-0. But Rutgers' No. 1 player was not the only one to dominate. Holzberg cruised to her eleventh win of the season with a 6-1, 6-3 decision, while sophomore Maryana Milchutskey (6-1, 6-4) and senior Caitlin Baker (6-1, 6-0) also eased their way to victory. Sophomore Leonora Slatnick refused to lose once more, earning a 6-3, 6-2 win. The Austin, Tx. product has not lost since February and has been an X-factor for the Knights. "She's improved a lot and just keeps getting better," Holzberg said. "We're very confident when Leo's playing in a match because of her how she's been doing." Teammates should believe in Slatnick. The Knights have been at their best during her streak, which has seemingly helped jump-start the group. Slatnick said she is not the only member of the team inspiring others. "It helps when you watch your teammates and see them doing well," she said. "At one point during the match I looked over at Jen [Holzberg] and saw she was playing great — that definitely motivated me." Head coach Ben Bucca's squad is firmly positioning itself for a high seed in the Big East postseason tournament — which begins April 22 in South Bend, Ind. The Knights' sixth win on the road provides another example of the team's mental fortitude according to captain Caitlin Baker, who picked up a victory in doubles play. "We've matured a lot as players this season when it comes to mentally preparing for matches," Baker said, "Our mental toughness is what keeps us going. Every single one of us can find a way to grind out a win, even if it's ugly." Now that the Knights have shredded through much of the conference, they face a tough task in the last two road matches of the season.
Rutgers travels to Milwaukee, Wis., to take on Big East foes DePaul and Marquette. DePaul is currently ranked No. 21 in the nation and Rutgers could really make some noise on Saturday by knocking off the Blue Demons. "We know Marquette and DePaul are going to be a lot tougher than some of the teams we've faced recently," Slatnick said. "But I think we're ready and it helps that we've picked up some big wins in the Big East." A sixth straight conference victory would do wonders for the Knights' postseason chances. But for now, the team is excited about the way they are currently playing. "Winning all these matches is a really cool thing," Baker said. "It shows that last year wasn't a dream team. We're legit and we're here to stay top of Big East."