RU readies for year without home bubble
An old adage says, "Home is where the heart is," but the Rutgers tennis team suddenly finds itself without its indoor courts.
Such is the quandary facing head coach Ben Bucca and the Scarlet Knights this season. Not only do the Knights play 14 of 20 games on the road, but their home for the winter months has also been destroyed.
The Busch Tennis Bubble suffered significant snow damage, similar to the Metrodome in Minneapolis, and will not be available for use this season.
The team will instead be forced to practice at the East Brunswick Racquet Club and host its six home matches almost 30 minutes away at The Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J.
"We're in a very difficult situation because we won't have a home," Bucca said. "It's disappointing because we had an outstanding home record last season."
The team looks to make the best of its tough situation and go into the season with lofty goals after finishing 7-3 in the conference last year — good for fifth in the Big East.
"The team really has high expectations this year," Bucca said. "The core nucleus of the team is returning, and they have set the goal to be even better than last year."
The team returns two-time All-Big East senior Amy Zhang, the team's most valuable player for the past two seasons.
Zhang enters the season as the team's captain and only senior after posting a 16-4 singles record last year. She also won numerous academic accolades in addition to her successes on the court.
"I just want to finish [my career] on a strong note and not let my teammates down," Zhang said. "Right now that means leading during practice and setting a good example for my teammates. Once our matches begin, I hope to encourage and motivate my team to be positive, compete hard and strive to be better."
Zhang was also proficient in doubles play, accumulating a 14-4 record with her partner, junior Jennifer Holzberg. The pair was ranked as highly as No. 76 in the country last season.
"We're a great team because we communicate well, and we have a lot of background playing together," Zhang said. "I know how she moves and what kind of shots she can hit."
Zhang and Co. led the Knights to a Big East tournament win over Pittsburgh in the first round last season before they fell in the second round to South Florida.
"South Florida was a nationally-ranked team, and we gave them a competitive match," Bucca said. "The match confirmed that we can hang with the best, and we can play with any team in the conference with confidence."
The Knights get some reinforcements this season, as they welcome freshmen Stefania Balasa and Vanessa Petrini. The team also receives a boost from the return of junior Morgan Ivey, who was lost to injury last season.
Rutgers opens the season on Friday at in-state rival Princeton. The Knights may not have a court to call their own for a while, but they appear ready to take their show on the road and face all challenges.
"We are ready to play our best tennis," Bucca said. "The girls have been working out very hard and are showing a high level of play in practice."