Terps tear into Rutgers in College Park, stop win streak at two
The weekend didn’t provide much of an opportunity to rest for the Rutgers tennis team.
After a 5-2 victory Wednesday over Seton Hall at home, the Scarlet Knights (5-3,0-1) traveled south for matches on both Saturday and Sunday, in College Park and Annapolis, Maryland.
Not only were the Knights scheduled to play two matches in less than 48 hours, but Saturday’s contest at No. 54 Maryland was the inaugural Big Ten match for both teams. The meeting with the Terrapins (5-4, 1-0) marked the start of weeks of conference play that will include matchups with nationally ranked opponents on a consistent basis.
Maryland proved it was worthy of its ITA ranking, snapping the Scarlet Knights’ two-match win streak and handing them their third loss of the season with a 7-0 sweep.
Coming off a 5-2 win over Harvard, the Terrapins wasted no time in giving the Knights a preview of the competition that was in store for them.
They quickly secured the team point in doubles action and completed their victory with a singles sweep.
Rutgers’ performance was not without intensity and competition, but Maryland was dominant when it mattered.
“Maryland (is) a very strong team," said assistant coach Hilary Ritchie. "From the line they hit very hard, fast-paced shots. We competed very well with them, but they just out-matched us a little bit."
Junior Mariam Zein was unable to travel to Maryland with the team due to family obligations, and as a result, the Knights’ No. 1 doubles team consisted of senior Lindsay Balsamo and junior Gina Li. The duo battled Alexandra Stanova and Welma Luus before ultimately falling, 8-5.
At No. 1 singles, Li dropped the first set to Stanova, but was able to battle back and take the second. Stanova eventually put to sleep any hope of a comeback, defeating Li 6-1, 2-6, (7-5).
In another fierce matchup that went to a third set, at the No. 4 spot, Rutgers senior captain Lindsay Balsamo took the first set from Luus 6-4, but dropped the next two, 6-1, 7-3.
But Sunday proved to be the better day for Rutgers.
The intensity was high in the matchup at the Tose Family Tennis Center in Annapolis. In a match that neared five hours in length, the Knights rallied to defeat Navy by a slim 4-3 margin.
In only its second match against a Big Ten opponent in two seasons and coming off a loss to Georgetown, Navy (8-5) provided fierce but expected competition.
“I think when you play Navy and Army, you know that you’re going to have to battle. You know that they don’t give up and that they’re a very scrappy team,” Ritchie said. “I think that we thought we were the better team [but] sure enough, though, we had to work really hard for it.”
Rutgers’ season-long impressive doubles play proved to be important on Sunday.
The Knights captured the all-important team point in doubles, taking two out of three, before dropping three out of six in singles action.
The match remained at 3-3 and came down to the No. 5 singles match.
After arriving in Maryland after midnight on Sunday, Zein was back in the lineup for the Scarlet Knights.
Zein battled for the victory over Audrey Channell 7-5, 4-6, 6-1 and won the match for Rutgers.
"I thought I was a better player than my opponent,” Zein said. “Her game style was very defensive … so that makes it more of a mental match ... you have to stay in the point. And even if you lose a forty-ball rally, you have to get ready in 25 seconds for the next point. I think it was more about staying mentally tough and fighting for it.”
For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.