Rutgers travels to Michigan to take on Wolverines, Spartans
After nearly upsetting Big Ten rival Penn State Sunday, the Rutgers tennis team will face two threatening conference foes this weekend.
Saturday, the Scarlet Knights face Michigan in Ann Arbor at noon.
The Wolverines are ranked 11th in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association with a staggering 13 wins on the season compared to only four losses.
They are undefeated in conference play with a 5-0 record, which has been propelled by outstanding performances from the entire lineup.
Senior Ronit Yurovsky is 4-1 in conference and 16-9 overall in the number one slot, but she is not even considered the best player for the Midwestern side.
That title belongs to freshman Kate Fahey, who was graded as one of the top recruits nationally in the class of 2015 coming out of high school.
In college, she has completely lived up to that assessment by capturing 23 victories on the year as well as remaining undefeated in the Big Ten.
Last year, without the superstar first-year, Michigan went 22-5 and dominated several teams Rutgers has lost to this spring.
This past week, the Wolverines recorded their 33rd consecutive conference win, a streak that has lasted since 2013.
Despite all these intimidating statistics, the Knights remain hopeful and optimistic entering the match.
“We know we’re walking into some really tough competition against one of the best teams in the nation,” said senior Gina Li. “But we have been getting better and are consistently playing at a high level so we’ll be confident come Saturday.”
Battling Penn State to the last point was an impressive feat for Rutgers considering it has yet to pick up its first conference win in seven chances, compiling a 6-11 record overall in the process.
The Knights have shown improvement throughout the campaign, though, which has inspired self-belief in many of the players and coaches.
“Michigan is superbly talented, probably even more than they were last season,” said head coach Benjamin Bucca. “Traveling is also quite tough, but with the confidence we’ve gained recently, we feel we can give them a run for their money.”
While Rutgers is an overwhelming underdog on Saturday, the squad appears a lot more likely to achieve victory the following afternoon.
The Knights will square off with Michigan State in East Lansing Sunday. The Spartans own a more comparable record at 9-8 overall and 1-4 in conference.
Sunday is also a great opportunity for Rutgers to earn its first Big Ten victory as a program, especially if it can start the match strong with successful doubles play.
Last time out, Li didn’t even need to finish her doubles match because the team of senior Lindsey Kayati and junior Farris Cunningham, as well as the pair of junior Ksenija Tihomirova and sophomore Chloe Lee, decisively defeated their respective rivals.
Both those second and third doubles teams won by scores of 6-2 versus Penn State, securing the first Big Ten match doubles point for the Knights this season.
“In doubles, we feel like we can play with anyone and that could give us an important edge,” Lee said. “It’d definitely be easier to win Sunday’s match if we take the doubles advantage.”
Michigan State will be coming off from what should be a tough match against Maryland the day before, which should create fatigue and give the Knights the upper hand.
“We engaged in a really close match with Michigan State last year,” Lee said. “The experience we gained from almost beating Penn State last weekend has us feeling we can take MSU and grab that elusive Big Ten win.”
With Sunday’s match being one of the final chances for Rutgers to prove itself this season, one would expect the tensions of the players to be high, but that is simply not the case.
The Knights are eager for the weekend’s matches. Bucca believes the squad has earned the right to be hungry and can’t wait for them to taste the conference win column.
“Even though we’ll be challenged by two really accomplished teams, our improvement has me feeling good,” Bucca said. “We’ve been competing every match as if we are winning and I’m anxious to see how our team performs this weekend.”
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