September 18, 2018 | ° F

RU gains chemistry from geographical differences


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Photo by Tian Li |

Senior Stefania Balasa said playing for such a small team has allowed the Knights to get closer. She said a larger team might not grant that chance.


The Rutgers tennis roster has come from all over the country and found a home in New Brunswick.

The team’s closeness has made it a comfortable transition for all the Scarlet Knights.

“You get really close to everyone on the team, as opposed to a team with a lot of people and you don’t really know what’s going on in each other’s lives,” said senior Stefania Balasa.

Junior Noor Judeh took that a step further.

“The relationships within your team have much more depth instead of just being on the surface,” she said. “It means a lot more to the team.”

Although only four members are from the Garden State, most competed against each other before college in various regional tournaments.

Learning to come together as a team did take a little time though.

“At first it was strange because I knew them as my competitors,” Judeh said. “We became a team really fast and now I’m so used to being on a team with them that I can’t picture us playing against each other.”

Head coach Ben Bucca feels that all the Knights, regardless of where they are from, have truly bought into the team concept.

“We’ve had leading players from New Jersey and also other parts of the country,” Bucca said. “Although there are some slight differences, everyone always seems to come together and we truly form a team bond. The geographic region does not make a big difference as to how the team comes together.”

Judeh and senior Vanessa Petrini are from the surrounding area, hailing from Maryland and Connecticut, respectively. The other two U.S. players — sophomore Mariam Zein and freshman Farris Cunningham — are Texas natives.

Both highly recruited coming out of high school, Zein and Cunningham lived only 15 miles apart in the Houston area. Zein attended Dulles High School, and Cunningham went to Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart.

Both Texans have had strong individual starts to the fall season. Cunningham reached the finals of the Blue Singles Flight draw Sept. 22 at the Brown Invitational, before having to retire because of an ankle injury in her first-ever collegiate competition with Rutgers.

Zein, meanwhile, teamed up with junior Lindsay Balsamo to make it to the finals of the Eagles Double Flight draw against Alana Prinos and Jennifer DeLuca of Providence.

Bucca is satisfied that his team’s brand has found its way throughout the U.S., especially into Texas, which is a hotbed for most of the top athletes in country.

“We’ve had great success in recruiting players from Texas, so we build on that,” Bucca said. “Clearly Rutgers tennis has a good reputation within the Texas section of tennis. Not only are we being proactive in Texas but also those players seem to be responding to our efforts.”

The Knights hope to continue to reel in the best players from both New Jersey and throughout the country to increase the team’s recognition.

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.


By Louis Petrella

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