Inaugural season ends in loss for Rutgers
The regular season is over.
In its final weekend set, the Rutgers tennis team dropped both matches on the road to Purdue and Indiana, ending the season without a team conference win.
The Scarlet Knights (6-14, 0-11) headed west after a week of practice, hoping to regroup after their trip to Illinois last weekend. During the road trip, they dropped Saturday’s match to No. 23 Northwestern, 6-1, and fell to No. 58 Illinois on Sunday, 7-0.
But instead of improvements, this weekend yielded familiar results.
In what has seemed to be a constant throughout the season, Rutgers demonstrated that it has the ability to compete at a high level with ranked opponents but again they struggled in closing it out.
Against Purdue (12-6, 5-4) on Saturday, the Knights battled.
Although the Boilermakers eventually swept doubles action, the No. 2 duo of junior Gina Li and senior Lindsay Balsamo threatened Andjela Djokovic and Daniela Vidal before falling, 8-5.
Purdue’s dominance and subsequent victory at the No. 3 spot left freshman Chloe Lee and junior Mariam Zein’s battle at the No. 1 spot unfinished at 7-4.
The disappointment of another failure to capture the team doubles point led to Purdue taking all six singles matches.
Lee had another standout performance at the three spot, pushing for her fourth conference victory in singles but she fell to Lynda Xepoleas in a second set tiebreak, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).
“It was a really long and very competitive and hard-fought match," said head coach Ben Bucca. "With matches like that, it’s a shame that there has to be a loser. But Chloe played her heart out."
Bucca was also impressed with Li’s singles performance at the No. 1 spot. After dropping the first set, 6-0, in fewer than 20 minutes, she battled back before ultimately falling, 7-5, in the second set.
In order to win matches in the Big Ten, it has become clear to the Knights that a high level of competition must be maintained from the first point to the last. Bucca took note of the Boilermaker’s ability to do exactly that.
“Purdue was very mature in their competitiveness,” he said. “They just stayed very focused and they handled the highs and lows of playing a competitive tennis match very well. They seemed to always be composed and were always forcing us to play good tennis.”
Rutgers can find solace in the fact that consistency can be developed with the expectance that experience can make that
In its last match of the regular season on Sunday, Rutgers suffered its 11th conference loss.
A day after they dominated Maryland, the No. 52 Indiana Hoosiers (14-7, 5-4) crushed the Knights’ hopes of ending the season on a positive note.
In doubles action, the Hoosiers quickly took the team point, defeating Rutgers’ duos of Zein and Lee, 8-2, and Li and Balsamo, 8-1.
Indiana’s dominance continued in singles play where it took five out of six.
Zein erased the chance of a shutout in her victory over Carolyn Chupa at the No. 5 spot. The Sugarland, Texas, native grabbed the Knights' only point on the day, topping Chupa in a straight sets, 7-5, 6-4.
After this weekend, it is evident that its first season in the Big Ten represented a more difficult and demanding schedule than Rutgers has ever seen.
With multiple weekends on the road consisting of back-to-back matches, Bucca’s squad has acknowledged the period of adjustment that comes with joining its elite conference.
But with the regular season behind them, the Knights can reflect on their experience with excitement at the chance to utilize it next season.
“I think definitely in general, we have never traveled as much as we have this semester and we’ve never been to any of these places and we don’t know anything about these teams where (in the past) we knew almost all of the players after years and years of playing them and going to the same places,” said sophomore Farris Cunningham. “… So I think (this season) has been really exciting … We love this conference and we are getting excited about next season now that we kind of have a grasp on what the competition is going to be like.”
Although their record may say otherwise, the Knights have not been a team to take lightly.
None of their matches against Big Ten opponents have ended in a team win, but individual victories in singles and doubles have proven their ability to compete.
Rutgers remains unwavering in its belief that the Big Ten is where it belongs.
“What will be this team’s legacy is, clearly while we have to acknowledge that in terms of our wins and losses we’ve struggled in the Big Ten, in terms of our competitive spirit, we’ve been fantastic," Bucca said. "… (The team) hasn’t let the disappointment of losing matches really get in the way of how they handle themselves."
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