Knights face in-state rival late in year
With three games standing between the Rutgers tennis team and the Big East Tournament, senior Morgan Ivey knows how vital it is for the Scarlet Knights to finish strong.
“It’s extremely important,” Ivey said. “It pretty much determines where we will stand in rankings going into the tournament. It determines if you will be playing the No. 1 seed in the second round or whether you play the fourth seed in the second round, so it’s a big difference.”
The Knights cannot afford to look ahead when they travel north on the Turnpike today to South Orange, N.J., to face Seton Hall.
The Pirates (6-11, 2-4) have not presented problems in the four years Ivey has worn scarlet, as the Knights never lost to them during her tenure with the team.
Rutgers needs to start fast in doubles to set the tone for the rest of the match.
“You want to them know from the beginning that we are not taking you lightly and that we are just as motivated as we have been the entire season,” Ivey said. “We want to transfer that into singles.”
Rutgers (9-8, 4-3) enters the match a week removed from its 7-0 victory against Connecticut. The Knights swept the doubles point as well as every set in all six singles matches.
The strong play comes in the midst of a three-game conference win streak, with victories against the Huskies, St. John’s and Villanova in that span.
Stefania Balasa owns three singles victories in those matches. The sophomore enters the match with 11 victories this season, tied with Ivey for the team lead.
While Ivey and Balasa have played well in recent matches, the responsibility belongs to sophomore Vanessa Petrini and senior Jennifer Holzberg to deliver key victories in No. 1 and 2 singles play, respectively.
Both captured singles wins against UConn, but each is 1-3 in Rutgers’ last four matches. Petrini has to fend off Seton Hall’s Chloe Sher, who has an 11-4 record this spring in No. 1 singles play.
Head coach Ben Bucca wants to see the singles play that was evident against UConn transfer to the match against Seton Hall.
“We are looking to just replicate what we did against UConn,” Bucca said. “We really had a great match against UConn, and we played disciplined yet aggressive tennis, and that is what we really have been promoting all year.”
Both singles and doubles were a focus in practice, as the Knights had a full week to work on what they want to accomplish in the back end of their schedule. Rutgers plays three matches in the span of four days.
“Right now, we are pretty much focusing on maintaining our level of play as our season comes to an end,” Ivey said.
That level of play will determine exactly where Rutgers will place in the Big East Tournament on April 16, when the seedings are released. The Knights were the sixth seed last season and lost to DePaul, 4-2, in the second round.
“The seeding reflects your performance at the end of the year, but also has an impact on your draw,” Bucca said. “You want to try and get as high of a seed as possible to increase your chances of winning.”