Conference woes continue for Rutgers
As the remaining schedule dwindles, so do the opportunities for a Big Ten win.
The Rutgers tennis team had a tough weekend at home, dropping both of its matches against Big Ten opponents Minnesota and Wisconsin, and extending their winless record in conference play to 0-7.
Although the Scarlet Knights were looking forward to playing outdoors, inclement weather moved both matches, originally supposed to be held at the Rutgers Tennis Complex, were moved indoors to the East Brunswick Racquet Club.
Entering the weekend, senior captain Lindsay Balsamo liked how the Knights (6-10, 0-7) sized up against Minnesota (13-6, 3-2) and Wisconsin (7-7, 1-3), although the team has made it their mission to avoid judging an opponent before they take the court.
Aside from the increased difficulty in scheduling in the Big Ten, Rutgers also faces another challenge in its unfamiliarity with the programs and styles of its conference opponents this season.
Although the final scores may say otherwise, the competition proved to be fierce on Friday. The Knights put forth perhaps their best fight against a ranked Big Ten opponent this season in their 5-2 loss to No. 69 Minnesota.
The Gophers came to East Brunswick on a two-match skid, most recently suffering a devastating 4-3 loss to No. 44 Michigan State.
Early on, it appeared as though the Knights were prepared for a fight.
While Minnesota swept in doubles action on, all three matches were a battle, with the margin of victory being no more than two games in each match.
The No. 2 spot saw the Minnesota duo of Julia Curter and Jessika Mozia defeat Rutgers’ Balsamo and junior Gina Li in a tiebreak, resulting in a final score of 8-7 (3).
The Gophers took four of six in singles play, but not before the Scarlet Knights threatened.
In singles action, No. 1 Li continued her ferocity, defeating Tereza Brichacova 6-1, 4-6, 6-3.
At the No. 5 spot, junior Mariam Zein topped Maja Vujic in straight sets, 6-2, 7-5.
Despite another conference loss, head coach Ben Bucca was encouraged by his team’s performance. He said he saw the match as further proof that his squad deserves to play Big Ten opponents week after week.
“Minnesota was a talented team and we really came ready to play and we really played well … (The match) was literally decided by a few points here and there and they just came up with some big shots at some crucial times and it made the difference,” he said.
Although the Knights have maintained that their conference struggles have not damaged their confidence, Sunday also proved to be disappointing for the squad.
The match against the Badgers at home marked Senior Day for Balsamo, but Wisconsin proved its power in critical situations to hand Rutgers a 5-2 defeat.
Despite being two games under the .500 mark in conference play, the Badgers entered the match against the Scarlet Knights extremely confidently, having upset No. 53 Maryland the day before for their first Big Ten win of the season.
Wisconsin took the all-important doubles point, but not before the new duo of Zein and Lee defeated the Badgers, 8-4, at the No. 1 spot.
But Rutgers threatened at the No. 2 spot. The duo of Li and Balsamo pushed the match to a tiebreaker before falling, 8-7 (6), in a battle reminiscent of the Minnesota match.
Bucca acknowledged that coming so close to capturing the doubles point may have had an impact on the confidence of the team going into singles play.
“Doubles was heartbreaking and that took a little bit out of us," he said. "… We had it on our racquets and unfortunately we just came up a little short."
In singles action, the Knights dropped five-of-six.
Despite her prior dominance in the days before, Li fell to Lauren Chypyha, 6-4, 5-7, 1-0 (10-6), in the No. 1 singles spot.
However, freshman Chloe Lee defeated Lauren Burich in straight sets, 7-5, 7-5.
“Chloe played really strong tennis and really came through for the team and we were happy with that,” Bucca said.
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