RU hosts 'Cuse in anticipated return to complex on campus
Tennis finally returns to the Rutgers campus today, when the Rutgers tennis team takes on Seton Hall at 3 p.m. at the RU Tennis Complex. The Scarlet Knights previously played all four of their home matches at the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J., after the collapse of the Busch Tennis Bubble earlier in the year.
"The Atlantic Club has been a great host to us this season, but we have been waiting to have a match at our true home," said head coach Ben Bucca. "We belong back on the Rutgers campus and we're hoping to be back against Seton Hall."
The temperature must hit 50 degrees Fahrenheit in order to play tennis outdoors, according to NCAA regulations. But there is some latitude with the rule and the Knights (11-5, 2-2) plan to take any measure necessary to ensure their return to campus.
"The forecast around the time of the match is supposed to be sunny with clear skies, but only 49 degrees, " Bucca said. "But we think the weather will be nice enough that the Seton Hall coaches will agree to play outside even if it doesn't hit 50 degrees."
The Knights enter the contest with wins against St. John's and Syracuse from the past weekend — their first two conference wins of the season. Rutgers downed St. John's on the road last Friday, 6-1, and defeated Syracuse on Sunday at the Atlantic Club, 4-3, in its first tight match of the season.
"It feels great to finally win a close match — it's always nicer driving home when you have the victory," Bucca said. "We've been functioning much better as a team lately, which is so important in what is sometimes very much an individual sport."
Rutgers needed individual players to step up in the closely contested Syracuse match, even after winning the coveted doubles point. The Knights received big singles wins from senior captain Amy Zhang and junior Jennifer Holzberg in the two top slots, but it was freshman Vanessa Petrini who came through in the clutch.
Petrini dropped the first set of her match, 4-6, before rallying back to win the next two sets, 6-2, 6-1, and seal the victory for Rutgers. The rookie exceeded expectations throughout the season in the No. 6 slot and once again capitalized with all eyes on her.
"Vanessa was so strong. It was down to her for the last point of the match," Holzberg said. "She was able to pull it out the third set and give us the win."
Rutgers won the doubles point in both matches over the weekend behind wins from Zhang and Holzberg in the No. 1 slot and the new No. 3 team of junior Morgan Ivey and freshman Stefania Balasa. The Knights continued their season streak of winning every match when they capture the pivotal doubles point.
"Everyone seems to be playing good doubles, and when you're winning, you're always happy," Bucca said. "It's a possibility that we could tinker with lineups a little more, but after the results this weekend we could be on to something here."
The Knights now look to extend their Big East winning streak against in-state rival Seton Hall this afternoon in their long awaited homecoming. Rutgers only has one other match on the Banks this season, so it needs to take advantage of the opportunity to make an impression on the home fans.
"We want to show the Rutgers community that we function as a team in an individual sport," Bucca said. "We cheer loudly and show support for one another — that has become part of our culture and we focus on that match in and match out. The only other thing we can do is play hard, spirited tennis. If we can do that then I'm confident that we're going to be happy at the end of the match."