April 23, 2019 | 71° F

No. 3 NJ recruit bolsters Rutgers with early wins

Photo by Conor Alwell |

Freshman Gina Li impressed head coach Ben Bucca in her first tournament at Rutgers, winning all three doubles matches.

Freshman Gina Li is not short on accomplishments in her young tennis career.

Li earned National High School Tennis All-American honors as a senior for Hillsborough High School (N.J.) before joining the Rutgers tennis team.

“It was an honor because tennis isn’t one of the sports where you think that happens to people,” Li said, “but just being from my high school and getting that honor was really great.”

Li was also a five-star recruit and the No. 3 player in the state coming out of high school, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.

“For me, the recruiting process was hard,” she said. “There were a lot of schools that I had to consider.”

The Hillsborough, N.J., native ended up at Rutgers for several reasons.

“It’s close to home,” Li said. “I’m only about a half hour away. I’m also enrolled in the engineering school, and Rutgers has one of the best engineering schools in this area. I really liked the tennis team and how they interacted with each other. I also liked [head coach Ben] Bucca and how he runs the program.”

Bucca is excited to have Li on the team, but he said she had an odd recruitment. Li did not officially visit the school, instead taking two unofficial visits on her own, which was enough to sway her.

“We did our best to expose her to Rutgers and what a great education experience she can have here, as well as have a great career here for tennis,” Bucca said. “Ultimately she decided Rutgers was the place for her, and we were very happy about that.”

Li has been successful in the early part of her freshman season. She enjoyed a strong showing in her first college tournament Sept. 21 and 22, when the team participated in the Brown Invitational. Li and sophomore partner Noor Judeh won three doubles matches in the tournament.

“It was a good start,” Li said. “I know there’s definitely still a lot of work to do, but I think for the first tournament of my college career, it was a great way to start the year.”

Bucca agrees and thought Li, as well as the rest of the freshmen, showed poise in their first tournament. He believes Li has the makeup to experience success at Rutgers.

“Gina is a very strong player,” Bucca said. “She has a lot of talent. One of her great strengths is she’s very perceptive, and she’s very thoughtful in how she approaches the game, so I know she understands what we’re looking for her to do. I expect her to adjust very well to the college game.”

Li entered Rutgers prepared and ready to compete, participating in tournaments in New York and California during the summer in preparation for more difficult college competition.

Li also practiced a lot with her father, who doubles as her personal coach. The constant competition left her prepared for college tennis.

“Once you get to college, you have to immediately start getting into the match mode,” she said, “so having matches before actually getting to college really helped me mentally.”

By Mike Morton

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