Knights open season with senior on shelf
After nine years with the program, Rutgers head tennis coach Ben Bucca knows it is up to the members of his team to set the goal of the program this spring season.
“Really we sit down as a team and the girls set what the goals are,” Bucca said. “The goals are multifaceted because they not only deal with athletic performance, but also performance in the classroom and in the community.”
Unfortunately for the Scarlet Knights, these goals have to be met without one of Bucca’s veterans.
Senior Leonora Slatnick went down with an injury during the offseason, and Bucca said her returning to action this season is “highly unlikely.”
Instead, Bucca looks for seniors Morgan Ivey and Jennifer Holzberg to fill the void left by Slatnick. The duo provides experience for the team and serves as co-captains for its final season as Knights.
“With any team, your leadership comes with your seniors,” Bucca said. “They have set a great tone and a strong work ethic for the team. They have handled everything very well.”
Bucca also has sophomore Vanessa Petrini at his disposal. The underclassman comes off a strong fall campaign during which she advanced to the semifinals of the ITA Division I Women’s Regional Championship. It was the first time a Knight made it to the semifinal of the tournament.
Petrini wants to see the team improve upon what it accomplished in the fall season.
“I want to compete and try as hard as I can in every match,” Petrini said. “I want to see us have a better year than we did last year and to do better than we have done in the past in the Big East.”
The experience the team has also comes with a learning period for the Knights, who continue to get three rookies acclimated to the program and the rigors of Division-I tennis. Bucca said freshmen Lindsay Balsamo, Noor Judeh and Satreethai Sasinin have all fit in nicely with the program.
“The freshmen always bring a lot of energy and excitement,” Bucca said. “It’s new to them, but they have been playing great tennis.”
The Knights also return junior Michelle Green and sophomore Stefania Balasa to the court for the spring schedule, which features 20 regular season matches, including eight road tests and two neutral-court showdowns.
For now, the focus shifts to Lehigh, which the Knights take on tomorrow to begin their spring season.
“It’s the first match of the season, so we just want to go out there and play with the right spirit,” Bucca said. “The team needs to play very aggressive and focused tennis. That’s all we can really control, and that’s all that I’m looking for from this team.”