Senior leads Rutgers through example
Being the ace of a Big Ten team is no cake walk.
Gina Li, the leader of the Rutgers tennis team, faces the toughest opponents that rival squads have to offer every time she steps onto the court.
At the Division 1 level, it’s not just the body that has to endure fatigue, as there are enormous mental and emotional strains that also threaten an athlete.
“I still get nervous before matches, especially the big ones,” Li said. “However, when the match starts, I’ve got to be level headed.”
Despite this challenge, the Hillsborough, New Jersey, native has played solidly in conference competition and excellently overall.
In that No. 1 spot, she has amassed an impressive 10-7 record on the season, including three wins in Big Ten action.
Head coach Benjamin Bucca believes that Li, a senior, is playing her best tennis in this final season of eligibility for the Scarlet Knights.
“Over her career, Gina has developed her game very nicely and is continuing to play with inspiration and heart,” Bucca said. “She constantly leads by example and keeps the team at a certain caliber.”
Bucca also mentioned Li is extremely easy to get along with, and has been a key factor in the team’s great camaraderie this year.
There are many other examples of Li exuding these types of leadership qualities whether it be on the court or in the classroom.
She is majoring in biomedical engineering, a difficult task with a rigorous workload and more required credits than the average concentration.
Li breaks the mold of that typical athlete coasting by in school through her insistence on putting class first and her goal of working at a hospital post-graduation.
In fact, she chose Rutgers because of its proximity to her home, her familiarity with coach Bucca and most importantly, the outstanding engineering school.
In every choice she makes, she shows responsibility and ownership that has existed in her personality since early childhood.
From the age of four, Li has also had a love for tennis that started with following her parents along to the park just to watch them rally.
When she was eight, she began to seriously play in tournaments, and by 11, she dropped her other activities to focus solely on the sport she thrived most in.
“When I was young, I swam competitively as well,” Li said. “I really enjoyed the meets and the athletic duality it brought me, but in order to reach my full potential in tennis, I needed to play year round.”
Eventually, she grew into the Big Ten player who leads her team through dozens of matches, daily practices and lifts twice a week.
To the rest of the Knights, Li is much more than the top of the lineup, as she is someone they rely on for basic information like which clothes to wear to matches as well as someone who they can turn to in times of need.
Sophomore Chloe Lee was a biotech major her freshman year, but was having a hard time with the coursework and adjusting to college academics.
She called Li looking for a little advice because she thought transferring to engineering might be a better path.
Thirty minutes after a brief conversation, Lee received a text message from Li laying out a possible schedule for the next seven semesters that would make it possible for her to get an engineering degree.
“I was very nervous about my studies and I had only known her Gina for six weeks,” Lee said. “But she calmed me down and that text shows how she’s always cognizant of other people are feeling.”
In that moment, Li demonstrated her leadership as well as her thoughtfulness by going out of her way to help a troubled teammate.
As the player in the number two singles position, Lee competes next to Li and couldn’t be happier about it.
Li’s investment in her teammates and herself is evident.
“At the East Brunswick Racquet Club, where we have the majority of our matches, the playing environment is isolated from the crowd,” Lee said. “Every time we play, but especially there, Gina’s encouragement helps me get through matches.”
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