Former No. 2 NJ recruit leads youthful roster
For junior Stefania Balasa, this upcoming season for the Rutgers tennis team is more than worrying about herself and her own game. It is also about becoming a leader and role model for her younger teammates.
Balasa and junior classmate Vanessa Petrini are the lone upperclassmen on the team this season.
“It’s definitely a lot different this year,” Balasa said. “Last year, we had this core group of upperclassmen to look up to for guidance and advice. They gave us an example of what Vanessa and I are going to have to do this year.”
Head coach Ben Bucca is not worried about the inexperience and has voiced his confidence in the two junior leaders.
“Her and Vanessa, as the ones with the most experience on the team, have that added responsibility to not only take care of themselves, but to be good role models to teach the freshman what’s expected of them in playing on the Rutgers women’s tennis team,” Bucca said.
Balasa finished last year with great success, posting a 13-9 record in singles including an 8-2 record in Big-East play. Balasa also compiled a 10-10 record in doubles.
According to Bucca, she should continue to have the same degree of success this season.
“Stef has been a mainstay in our lineup since she’s arrived on campus,” Bucca said. “She’s been a strong competitor in both singles and doubles.”
Balasa has dedicated much of her summer to being even better this season, she said.
“I spent the majority of my summer working on getting fitter, getting stronger and getting faster, and hopefully that’ll show on the tennis court this upcoming year,” Balasa said.
Balasa came to the Banks from nearby East Brunswick. She was a four-star recruit and ranked the No. 2 New Jersey prospect in her class. Balasa ultimately decided to stay close to home because of her family.
“My older sister went here, and I always looked up to her,” Balasa said. “It’s good being close to home, especially now because you get older and you realize you want to be near your family. They’re so close, so it’s nice to know I’ll always be there for them and they’ll always be there for me.”
Top New Jersey tennis prospects noticed Balasa’s decision to attend Rutgers, and she has had an impact on the team’s recruiting years later, Bucca said.
“When she committed to attend Rutgers, it began a trend that has now been for the third year in a row … of us attracting some of the best New Jersey talent,” Bucca said. “Stef staying local was really great for our program, and her presence on the team has had an impact in attracting other really high-quality N.J. players.”