Knights seek redemption following first loss of year
Doubles play was a big factor Sunday in the Rutgers tennis teams’ loss to Princeton.
The Scarlet Knights started off tentatively and slowly against the Tigers, according to head coach Ben Bucca. Their first doubles pair of senior Jenifer Holzberg and sophomore Vanessa Petrini dropped the match, 8-1, which set the tone for the Knights in doubles action.
Senior Morgan Ivey understands why Bucca’s focus this week in practice was on Rutgers’ doubles play.
“We focused a lot on doubles and staying aggressive in doubles,” Ivey said. “He really wants to make sure we stay on our front foot and stay going after the ball regardless of our opponent.”
The next opponent is Army, which arrives in the midst of a six-game winning streak. For Rutgers to start off strong, it has to establish aggressive play from the first serve at the Atlantic Club.
That tone begins with Holzberg and Petrini, who have been strong early in the year in the first position for the Knights despite their Sunday defeat.
The combination produced three No. 1 doubles match wins, including an 8-2 victory against Lehigh in the season opener.
Sophomore Stefania Balasa and freshman Noor Judeh begin in the second doubles position for Rutgers. The duo produced the lone doubles match victory in the loss to Princeton, defeating Joan Cannon and Katherine Flanigan, 8-6.
While Army serves as another strong test in the beginning of the season, Bucca knows the team’s success lies in a strong start in doubles, which he emphasized all year.
“What we decided we needed to do was to work on playing aggressive and explosive doubles right from the start,” Bucca said. “We have been working on some strategies and play patterns to facilitate that.”
If doubles play serves as the lynchpin for Rutgers’ success, singles action represents the consistency the team possesses to fall back on. In its three victories on the season, the Knights did not drop a match to their opponents.
The Knights have experienced recent success against their next opponent — they won their last three matchups against the Black Knights.
But Army presents a different challenge this year to Bucca’s team. It currently owns a 6-1 record in spring action, including victories against Big East members Connecticut and Seton Hall. Ivey knows how competitive the Black Knights will be when they arrive in New Jersey.
“My past three years here we have always beaten them, but they are a very tough opponent,” Ivey said. “They are relentless and tenacious out there. But I think we are equally as determined.”
Bucca chalks up Army’s success to the regimen it goes through in West Point, N.Y.
“They are well-coached, disciplined, in shape, so we’ve had very close matches with them,” he said. “The difference is that we have been able to come out slightly ahead. We need to come ready to play to put our best foot forward.”
Rutgers needs to continue that trend over the weekend, when it begins Big East Conference play Sunday at Syracuse.
But for now, the goal is making sure Army does not hand the Knights their second straight loss.
“It’s going to be a great Big East match [against Syracuse],” Bucca said. “We’re excited for it, but we first have to focus on Army.”