Schedule prepares Knights against ranked foe
In the midst of a two-game win streak, the Rutgers tennis team will have a difficult time stretching it to three tomorrow when the Scarlet Knights travel to New Haven, Conn., to face No. 24 Yale.
The Knights are 0-3 this spring against ranked foes, dropping a 7-0 match to Princeton and losing to Big East teams Syracuse and DePaul earlier in the year.
The Bulldogs (10-3) serve as Rutgers’ toughest opponent yet, holding a 4-0 record on their home court.
But head coach Ben Bucca believes those earlier games against ranked opponents only benefit the Knights.
“We have played a number of nationally-ranked teams,” Bucca said. “So just the overall strength of our schedule allows us to feel comfortable now competing against the top teams in the country.”
If there is any time for the Knights (8-6) to stage an upset, it is now. Doubles play has been successful in Rutgers’ previous two wins. Leading the way are senior Jennifer Holzberg and sophomore Vanessa Petrini, who registered an 8-6 victory in No.1 doubles Sunday against St. John’s.
The duo sports an 11-2 record in doubles this season and is 5-1 in conference play.
Yale enters the match with strong doubles play, as well. The Bulldogs dropped the doubles point Saturday in their 6-1 loss to No. 12 Miami (Fla.), but won their 11 previous doubles points.
Bucca has stressed all season the importance of coming out strong in the beginning of doubles play. It will be essential for Rutgers to start off on the right foot in its second match against an Ivy League opponent.
“Yale is one of the top teams in the Ivy League, so it’s a very strong opponent for us,” Bucca said. “But at the same time Yale lost recently, 4-3, to Syracuse, and we lost by the same score. So we know we can go in there and battle them on equal ground.”
While doubles is crucial for their success, the Knights also have to start strong in singles action.
Sophomore Stefania Balasa continues to provide consistency in the No. 4 singles position after her 6-4, 6-2, straight-set victory against St. John’s. She currently holds a 10-3 overall record in singles play, including a 5-0 mark in the conference.
But the losses in No. 1 and 2 singles by Petrini and Holzberg cannot happen — as they did against the Johnnies — if Rutgers has a chance to beat Yale.
Petrini, moved to the No. 1 position during the Knights’ spring break trip, lost her match, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1, while Holzberg dropped a tight match to the Red Storm’s Diamond Adams, 7-6 (5), 7-5.
It is up to them to capture singles victories in the top positions.
Still, Bucca said the team will approach Yale the same as it would with any other match, and that begins with strong doubles play.
“We understand the importance of doubles,” Bucca said. “So we spent a lot of time practicing doubles in anticipation for this match.”