Knights shut out fourth opponent of year
After having nearly a week to dwell on a tough loss at Columbia, the Rutgers tennis team returned to a familiar place: the win column. The Scarlet Knights defeated Buffalo, 7-0, on Friday in their second match at the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J.
"We played extremely competitive doubles and finished with very strong singles," said head coach Ben Bucca. "This was a good win over a strong, well-coached Buffalo team that finished higher than us in the [Intercollegiate Tennis Association] rankings last year."
Shutouts seem to be the only way the Knights (4-2) know how to win, as each of their four wins came in the form of a sweep. Rutgers went on a streak of three consecutive shutout victories earlier in the month against Fairleigh Dickinson, Army and Lehigh, and the Knights could be poised to start a run like that once again.
"We were not expecting to sweep Buffalo, but we are just a determined team this year," said junior Jennifer Holzberg. "Everyone is fighting to win their matches and nobody wants to give up at all."
Rutgers started off strong against Buffalo, earning the pivotal doubles point, which was the deciding factor that cost it the Columbia match. The Bulls used an interesting strategy to try and gain an advantage in doubles by using teams consisting of one top player and one lower-ranked player.
The tactic worked at first, as Buffalo's Adi Petrova and Shelby Bates, the team's respective No. 2 and No. 4 singles players, grabbed an 8-6 victory over the Knights' freshmen, Stefania Balasa and Vanessa Petrini — No. 5 and 6, respectively.
Rutgers' top team, Holzberg and senior captain Amy Zhang, then defeated a team comprised of Buffalo's No. 1 and No. 6 competitors, 9-7, in a close contest.
Despite the unusual lineups, Rutgers still came away with the victory, as juniors Morgan Ivey and Leonora Slatnick added an 8-4 win in the decisive third match.
"The doubles point is very important to win matches and start off strong, so we are all focusing on doubles a lot," Holzberg said. "We worked a lot on doubles in practice this past week and we're trying to become more aggressive at the net to win points faster."
The Knights were once again dominant on the singles side, with every match decided in straight sets. Holzberg was the only member of the team to have trouble after Petrova forced an extra game in their first set.
But Holzberg overcame the slight hurdle to win, 7-5, 6-3. Zhang, Ivey, and junior Maryana Milchutskey all emerged from their matches relatively unscathed to clinch the overall match for Rutgers by a 5-0 score.
Petrini and Balasa added wins to the Knights' strong performance to give the sqaud the sweep and extend their personal winning streaks. Petrini won six straight matches to open her Rutgers career, while Balasa sits at five consecutive wins after suffering her only loss in the season opener at Princeton.
"It is very important to have a strong lineup from No. 1 to No. 6 in singles," Holzberg said. "[Petrini and Balasa] are strong competitors that add great depth to the lineup and are showing how well they can play."
That depth will be called upon again next weekend when Rutgers faces its first Big East competition of the season. The Knights travel to Kentucky to square off against conference foe Louisville on Saturday afternoon in what promises to be a hard-fought match.
"We want to play with the same confidence and strength that we have been playing with against the non-conference teams," Holzberg said. "We are anticipating a tough match versus Louisville, but if we play the way we have been it will be a good turnout."