Rutgers faces 2 in-state rivals in busy weekend
As the saying goes, "Revenge is a dish best served cold."
On what is expected to be an appropriately chilly day, with temperatures forecasted to be around 18 degrees Fahrenheit, the Rutgers tennis team (1-1) will play in-state rival Princeton (4-3) this Saturday.
The Scarlet Knights will travel to Princeton for the first time since February of last year, when they were swept by the Tigers, 7-0.
“Princeton is our toughest matchup outside of Big Ten play, but we’ve been putting the effort in this week to prepare,” said senior Gina Li.
Rutgers and Princeton have made time to play against each other in every campaign since 1981.
Princeton competed in the Division 1 Women’s Tennis Championship Tournament last year, losing in the first round.
The Tigers look to get back there this year, while the Knights expect to make steady progress with the difficult Big Ten competition.
The match proves to be a tough battle ahead, but one factor that may work in Rutgers' favor is Princeton will be coming off the heels of a match with Kentucky Friday, which may tire out the Ivy Leaguers.
Another way Rutgers can take advantage is in its team camaraderie.
“We have high expectations for ourselves and we constantly push and cheer for each other,” said senior Lindsey Kayati. “If one of us (is) down, some encouragement from a teammate can go a long way in propelling us to victory.”
After last week’s win versus Binghamton, the Knights feel they have momentum on their side and being there for each other is increasing it.
Rutgers believes it can take positives out of its defeats thus far in the season.
“Our loss to Penn was extremely close and competitive, so we’ve got some confidence going into Saturday,” said head coach Benjamin S. Bucca Jr. “If we play doubles like we have been this year, we have a good shot.”
Despite the focus on strategy, it’s not quite all business for the Knights.
Many players view the match as an individual test and a chance for redemption and personal achievement in a long-lasting rivalry.
“I’ve played against their top player many times,” Li said. “Obviously, in my last year, I want to come out on top.”
A lot of energy will be put into the match for sure, but Rutgers has a quick turnaround of its own with a Sunday noon match at Seton Hall.
The Pirates (3-1) continued their three-match winning streak by defeating Fairfield, 7-0, on Feb. 8 in New Haven, Connecticut.
Seton Hall has outscored its opponents 17-4 thus far this year, its lone loss coming to Army in its season opener.
The Pirates are another team Rutgers has scheduled nearly every year in out-of-conference play, but with more successful results compared to the Princeton matchup.
The Knights have gotten the better of the matchup in recent years — including last season’s 5-2 victory — but Seton Hall is a much-improved squad and one not to be looked over.
“Especially having two matches in two days, it’ll be emotionally, physically and mentally challenging for our team,” Bucca said. “We’re prepared for the trip and should bring our best tennis.”
This will be the first time this season Rutgers has faced consecutive matches.
The team’s strategy to combat this new frontier consists of a lot of rest and proper nutrition in order to have sufficient energy to maintain a high level of play for both legs of the weekend.
“Part of the beauty of college athletics is that we get a chance to show we can perform under tough circumstances and with little time to recuperate,” Kayati said. “Despite the limited recovery time, we shouldn’t have any issues on the court.”
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