Rutgers prepares for 6-day ITA Regional Championships
After a successful weekend competing at the Navy Invitational, the Rutgers tennis team is heading out to New Haven, Conn. for the ITA Regional Championships from Oct. 11-16. Hosted by Yale, the tournament will act as a qualifier for the winners of singles and doubles to compete at the Oracle ITA National Fall Championships in Surprise, Ariz. next month.
The Scarlet Knights will have six athletes competing in singles and doubles play. Sophomore Maya Jacobs and juniors Jaci Cochrane and Kat Muzik are entered into the qualifying rounds on Thursday, while freshmen Tess Fisher, Sydney Kaplan and Kristiana Zahare are starting off in the main singles draw on Friday.
Having the entire freshman class entered into the main singles draw at regionals bodes well for not just the upcoming conference season, but for the future of the program.
Additionally, the same pairs that competed at the Navy Invite last weekend (Fisher and Muzik, Kaplan and Jacobs, Zahare and Cochrane) are all scheduled to play at regionals, as well.
Last time out, Kaplan and Muzik came out on top to win the A and B singles draws, respectively. Sophomore Isabelle Da Silva and Zahare also represented Rutgers in the C and D singles finals, but were unable to claim the title on the last day.
Muzik breaks down the Knights’ success into two major criteria — fall training and team dynamic.
“I think the main two things are that we are in super good shape by the end of the matches. It was visible that we were in better shape than our opponents and I think we always just have that team aspect. We're very cohesive and support one another,” Muzik said.
In doubles action, Zahare and Cochrane reached the A flight final, but fell to Richmond athletes for the doubles title.
Kaplan and Jacobs, alongside Muzik and Fisher, made it to the semifinals before being eliminated by the Spiders and the Zahare-Cochrane duo.
“I think as a team, we really support each other,” Kaplan said. “If someone loses a point, we tell them, 'The next point, you got this.' We really support each other and personally, I just tell myself positive things, always just try and forget the last one and keep staying positive.”
Staying positive throughout each tournament is a common thread lifting each member of the team to a higher level of execution.
This encouraging environment is perfect timing for Rutgers’ upcoming regional tournament that is scheduled for six days of competition, which is double the amount of time spent at the Knights’ usual weekend tournaments.
“The ladies are definitely recovering a bit in terms of they have their day off and we have to get right back at it, so I think just sustaining that mental and physical toughness,” said head coach Hilary Ritchie. “It's going to be tough, so we're just going to have really smart practices and make sure that they're mentally and physically ready.”
At last year’s ITA regionals, alumna Mingxiu Du, as well as Cochrane and Muzik, were the only Rutgers players that advanced to the Round of 64 on the third day. For doubles play, neither of the two pairs of Knight duos were able to advance past the second round of eliminations.
The ITA regionals is broken up into different tournaments around the country, and Rutgers is part of the Northeast region, which features approximately 40 teams all eyeing for the qualifying spot to nationals. The Knights will have to fight for every point and set if they want to advance further in the competition than last year’s performance.
“I think moving forward, we just need to continue working on execution,” Muzik said. “We get the balls that we want. We just need to make sure that we're closing it out.”
Luckily, Rutgers seems to be in much better physical and mental shape for competition this weekend. If there’s any indication from the Knights’ performance at the Navy Invite, the team should be able to carry that confidence and positivity into the six-day tournament for a great showing at regionals.
“What we're continually teaching to the team, when we're dictating the points and we're on offense, we tend to win more,” Ritchie said. “In those tough moments, that's when the matches get really close. Instead of stepping on the breaks or being passive, we're trying to continue pressing their opponents and playing aggressively.”
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