Knights drop third match by one-point margin

The Rutgers tennis team suffered the latest in a string of heartbreaking defeats Sunday, when it fell to Marquette, 4-3, in the final match at its temporary winter home, the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J.

It was the Scarlet Knights' third loss of the season — each by one point.

"The match was extremely close, and I thought we played well as a team. It even literally came down to the last point," said senior captain Amy Zhang. "We have a lot of close matches under our belts that will be very useful for the rest of the season."

The recurring theme for the squad is its inconsistency in doubles play, which popped up again against Marquette. The Knights (5-4, 0-2) failed to record a victory in doubles, which gave the Golden Eagles an early 1-0 lead.

"The matches were so close and we had opportunities to win, but the breaks just didn't go our way," said head coach Ben Bucca. "We may make some changes as far as lineups go, but it's really a matter of execution and truly believing in ourselves."

The Knights' top team of Zhang and junior Jennifer Holzberg kept it close against their nationally ranked opponents, No. 79 Christina Ruiz and Rachael Hush, but were unable to come away with the win.

Juniors Morgan Ivey and Leonora Slatnick also suffered a narrow defeat in the second slot, while the freshman team of Stefania Balasa and Vanessa Petrini fell in the third slot.

"I think we played well, but just fell short," Zhang said. "Jen and I definitely could have won our match, and [Ivey and Slatnick] were also close to winning, so we almost had it."

The Knights mounted a comeback in singles and picked up three key victories. But just as in their earlier contests against Louisville and Columbia, they never picked up the fourth win to seal the match.

Zhang returned to the win column with a 3-6, 7-6, 7-5 victory after suffering two singles defeats last weekend against Louisville and Xavier. She dropped the first set to Marquette's Kelly Barry, but battled back and took the next two sets in a match that needed extra tennis before it was decided.

"I'm glad to have gotten this win because it meant that I was mentally and physically tough enough to battle through the important points," Zhang said. "I knew from the start that I could win this match and that it was just a matter of playing the way I knew how and not letting nerves or fatigue get the better of me."

Balasa and Petrina recorded the Knights' two other singles wins. The rookies are tied for the team's best individual record at 8-1, and Balasa sports an eight-match win streak in the No. 5 slot.

Holzberg was on a long win streak of her own in No. 2 singles before Olga Fischer of Marquette snapped it. The two combatants traded blows through the first two sets as Holzberg took the first, 7-5, and Fischer responded in the second at 7-6, before Fischer finished off her opponent, 6-1.

"It was a heartbreaking loss. Jen was up for most of the match and just came up short," Bucca said. "She's such a fierce competitor. She'll bounce back and continue to win a lot of matches for us."

Next up for the Knights is the annual spring break trip, when they play three matches in four days. Rutgers heads to Louisiana this year to face New Orleans, Southeastern Louisiana and Xavier.