June 26, 2019 | 82° F

Young roster sparks fall season for RU

At the beginning of the fall season, it was unclear how the Rutgers tennis team would perform. With no seniors on the roster and only two juniors, the Scarlet Knights were mostly inexperienced.

Despite their youthful roster, the Knights were successful during the fall tournament season.

“The fall was very productive, and this team has really settled into a very well-functioning unit,” said head coach Ben Bucca.

Rutgers displayed that productivity in all three major tournaments it competed in this fall. It began the season with the Brown Invitational, where the Knights played against some of the top teams in the region.

Sophomore Lindsay Balsamo highlighted play for Rutgers at Brown, winning her singles draw at the tournament. Freshman Lindsay Kayati also competed well, advancing to the finals of her draw.

The Knights then moved on to the USTA Invitational in Flushing, N.Y. Freshman Mariam Zein became the first player from Rutgers to win her individual draw at the prestigious tournament in team history.

Rutgers rounded out its fall tournament season last weekend, when it competed in the ITA Regional Championships, which features top players from 46 Division-I teams from the region.

Junior Vanessa Petrini was the hero for the Knights at the ITA Regionals, advancing to the semifinals of the main singles draw for the second straight year. Petrini is the only player in Rutgers history to advance that far in the tournament.

Throughout the fall, Bucca was impressed with the team’s performance and the fact that it improved with each tournament.

“The fall season went by really quickly,” Bucca said. “Without a doubt, the team has set a culture where they’re a hardworking, disciplined team. They’ve also shown they can compete very effectively. We know that if we come ready to play for all our matches in the spring season that we’re going to be a very strong team.”

The three freshmen’s play was arguably the biggest highlight of the team during the fall season. Zein, Kayati and Gina Li each had strong fall seasons and are more prepared for the spring, Bucca said.

“It was nice to see that the freshmen acclimated themselves as well as they did to not only competing at the college level, but also to integrating themselves to the culture of the team,” he said.

The team continues to work on its fitness and strength through the remainder of the fall semester, but Bucca believes that with more training during the winter, the team will be ready to compete in the spring season.

“It’s up to the ladies over the winter break to work out, stay in shape and keep their racquet in their hand and play some tennis,” he said. “We’ll have plenty of time when we get back second semester to get everyone in fine shape, so we’ll be ready to play.”

Petrini also has confidence that the team will excel with more experience together and be competitive in the spring.

“We still have the whole spring, and we’re a young team, so I only see positive things for us,” she said.

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow Mike Morton on Twitter @MortonTargum.

By Mike Morton

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