June 18, 2019 | 72° F

RU freshmen emerge as viable options

It is rare in college athletics for a freshman to play immediately and find success, but the Rutgers tennis team has three rookies that have instantly contributed and won matches at top tournaments.

“The freshmen are doing great,” said head coach Ben Bucca. “They’ve acclimated themselves very well within the team, and they’re playing very strong tennis.”

Mariam Zein, Lindsey Kayati, and Gina Li made up the top-rated recruiting class in Scarlet Knights history and experienced success in their first two tournaments.

Zein became the first Rutgers player to ever win a singles draw at the USTA Invitational on Oct. 8, going a perfect 4-0. Zein also captured wins in two out of three matches at the Brown Invitational on Sept. 23, winning the consolation final and advancing to the semifinals in her doubles tournament.

Kayati has seen her share of success as well, advancing to the finals of her singles draw at the Brown Invitational. She made the finals of her doubles draw at the USTA with sophomore partner Noor Judeh before losing in a tiebreaker.

The transition to college tennis has also been smooth for Li, who won three doubles matches with Judeh at the Brown Invitational.

Bucca anticipated the immediate success for the Knights.

“I knew when recruiting them that they were very talented players and that they had a lot of experience at the national level,” he said, “so it does not surprise me that they came in and played at this level because they’re good players.”

Junior Vanessa Petrini has also taken notice of the freshmen’s strong start.

“I am really proud of their performances and their hard work during practice,” she said.

The freshman class comprises three top high school tennis players, each having been ranked in the top 100, according to the Tennis Recruiting Network.  

Li came in as the highest ranked of the three  — the No. 64 prospect in the nation and No. 3 ranked player in New Jersey. Kayati is ranked sixth in New Jersey and No. 90 in the nation, while Zein ranked No. 73 in the nation, as well as fourth in her home state of Texas, where she was a state champion her senior year.

“This group was the first nationally ranked recruiting class we’ve ever had at Rutgers,” Bucca said. “It was great to recruit the best from New Jersey but also continue our pipeline into getting some of the best players from Texas.”

Bucca believes their potential is immeasurable. He has been impressed with their ability to pick up on the doubles game so easily and believes their play in that area is a sign they will have more success at Rutgers.

“What’s great about the freshmen is that not only are they very talented tennis players, but they are definitely picking up on playing doubles in college,” he said. “It’s not unusual for accomplished tennis players in high school and on the junior national scene to not have a good understanding of how to play doubles, and when they come to college then they struggle.”

Petrini shares the same sentiment and believes the group of freshmen can be special for the Knights.

“They have shown a lot of improvement in a short time,” she said, “and I am really optimistic about their futures here at Rutgers.”

By Mike Morton

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