Ritchie sees improvement imminent for Rutgers this season
Only four invitationals separate the Rutgers women’s tennis team from its conference season in the spring and it is hungry for some Big Ten wins. With hours spent competing over the summer, both locally and abroad, the Scarlet Knights are back on their home court to finally get their team to the next level.
“This is probably, collectively, the most amount of tournaments we've played as a team in the summer, so obviously we can't mandate it, but the girls were out on their own traveling and playing tournaments,” said head coach Hilary Ritchie on the team’s summer training. “I think they learn so much when they're on their own competing in the summer and hopefully that benefits them really well going into the fall.”
Rutgers faltered in its conference season last year, having lost all of its Big Ten matchups, but the team isn’t hanging up its rackets anytime soon. Competing in one of the toughest conferences in the country, the Knights are taking it one match at a time.
“I think they've realized that every season can be different, so having stereotypes of your opponents is a bad thing,” Ritchie said. “I think that what we're going to do is really learn from that, and we’re just going to treat every match as a new match and a new opportunity.”
Junior Jaci Cochrane had a solid season last year with seven singles and eight doubles victories. Despite her wins, only one singles and two doubles victories came from Big Ten teams.
From last conference season, there is one thing that Cochrane knows her and the rest of her teammates need to improve on heading into the fall tournaments — confidence.
“I would say confidence is also something that we probably have to improve on,” Cochrane said. “Especially last year, we had a problem. We were really close with a lot of teams, and when it kind of comes down to it, we don't always have the belief, so just knowing that we can compete and just fighting for everything will definitely help.”
The Fort Dodge, Iowa native was Rutgers’ first women’s tennis player named as the Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week last season.
Her nearly flawless performance at the NJIT Invitational back in January earned her the honor.
“It felt cool,” said Cochrane on being named Big Ten Athlete of the Week. “I mean, it was really good. It gave me a lot of confidence and helped me start out really well at the beginning of the season.”
As a freshman last season, Maya Jacobs recorded wins in seven singles and six doubles matches for the Knights, including Big Ten singles wins against Illinois and Nebraska in addition to a doubles victory against Iowa with Cochrane.
But, the past is behind her and Jacobs is already looking ahead to the ITA Championships in mid-October with the hopes of getting more teammates qualified and going further in the tournament.
Rutgers may have only eight members on the team, but Jacobs believes that no matter the opponent, they should be in attack mode at all times.
“Based off of last year, I think we can all improve on just making sure we stay aggressive, even when we're going up against big opponents and stronger teams,” Jacobs said. “I think as long as we stay aggressive and do what we know what we can do, I think we'll do fine.”
A small team, the Knights are getting some local and international flare with incoming freshmen Sydney Kaplan from New York, Tess Fisher from South Jersey and Kristiana Zahare from Latvia.
Ritchie acknowledged that although they each have different styles of play, they each bring the same hunger for competition.
“Even after they committed, they were playing national events, sectional events and really pushing themselves," Ritchie said. "I'm really excited to see what they add as a level of individual competition on our team.”
In just over two weeks, Rutgers’ first tournament will be the Brown Invite from Sept. 21-23 in Providence, Rhode Island. The Navy Invite and ITA Championships are to follow, with the Buffalo Invite rounding out the fall season at the end of October.
For now, Ritchie’s focus is on the team's first invite in regard to whom will step up and lead the team with a different, more confident mentality than last year.
“I'm excited for Brown,” Ritchie said. “That's our first invitational, and it's always really good to see who kind of breaks out and really takes a leadership role in terms of competitiveness.”
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