Rutgers strives to repeat results from last match
One match separates the Rutgers tennis team from its first encounter with Big Ten Conference play.
Heading into their third-straight battle against an in-state rival, the Scarlet Knights (3-2) face Seton Hall today in a 1:00 p.m. match at the East Brunswick Racquet Club.
A win over the Pirates (1-3) would put the Knights two games over .500 entering their contest against No. 54 Maryland at the end of the week. During their last matchup in April 2014, Rutgers cruised to a 6-1 victory over the Hall.
In a sport where a lack of mental toughness can squander even perfect strategy, Rutgers showed its resilience on Friday against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT).
While their most recent loss at the hand of the Princeton was not forgotten, the frustration transformed into pure motivation — and it was obvious.
Whatever was said after the Knights were shutout, something clicked. They responded with a dominant victory, pulverizing NJIT, 7-0.
In the No. 1 singles spot, junior Gina Li came roaring back from down 2-5 in the first set and handed Carolina Zanotta and NJIT their sixth singles loss of the day, with a final score of 7-5, 6-3.
Rutgers continued its impressive doubles play as well, with all three duos trouncing their opponents by six or more games.
Junior Mariam Zein, Li’s doubles partner in the No. 1 spot, topped NJIT’s Valerie Carroll 6-2, 6-0 at No. 5 singles. She maintains, however, that there is always room for improvement.
“I think going into Seton Hall’s match, I have a couple things I want to focus on like my serve and (my) consistency,” she said.
Zein acknowledged the dominant performance put forth by the Knights, but she stressed that Rutgers did not make the mistake of underestimating the abilities of the Highlanders (1-7).
“We are all focused on fighting and competing,” Zein said. “Even though we thought we were the better team we didn’t let that affect how we played or … our competitive mindset. We still went out there, gave 100 percent, and left it all on the court.”
Zein’s sentiments reflect the mindset of the entire team heading into this match.
Head coach Ben Bucca has crafted a mental strategy that he feels will give the Knights a chance to challenge any roster they confront this season. Bucca emphasizes avoiding any and all expectations about the apparent strength or weakness of an opponent.
Instead, he urges his team to focus on its own game. He stresses the importance of his players staying within their skill to avoid altering the style of play they are most confident in.
“It’s always a matter of us being in control of what we’re doing and in many ways. It’s almost irrelevant who the opponent is,” Bucca said. “So this way, we don’t get caught up with whether we’re playing a nationally-ranked team or a weak team. We want to be playing with the same focus, the same intensity, the same shot patterns and the same level of play regardless of the opponent. And that’s something that we’ve always stood for at Rutgers tennis and something that the girls on the team have always embraced.”
Bucca and his team hope to execute that when they take the court Wednesday afternoon against a struggling Seton Hall team that is 0-3 away from home.
With their only win of the season coming against Longwood University, the Pirates will travel south to East Brunswick after suffering yet another deflating defeat.
The Pirates failed to secure the all-important doubles point on Saturday and fell to Navy, 4-3, in their second match in less than 24 hours.
While Seton Hall seeks redemption after a painful loss, the Knights look to extend their streak against the Pirates to eight-straight.
In the process, they eye the continuity of building confidence before the commencement of conference play.
Bucca maintains that if his team continues to execute his plan, they can compete against any opponent.
“One of the most important challenges that (this sport) presents is for the players to try to stay within their skill set, to not have their level of play go down because of nerves, as well as to not try to over hit because of the particular challenges,” Bucca said. “… And they seem to do that well. That says to me that we’re always going to be able to be fighting tough in every single match.”
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