Knights sweep weekend to pick up Big East wins

The Rutgers tennis team lifted a significant weight off its shoulder this weekend, when it finally locked down Big East conference wins. The Scarlet Knights started off with two losses in conference play before defeating St. John's, 6-1, on Friday in Queens, N.Y., and Syracuse, 4-3, on Sunday at the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J.

"These were two wins against very good Big East schools, but we're also a very good Big East school and with these wins we have established that we belong," said head coach Ben Bucca. "It was important to make our statement that we're among the best of the Big East."

The Knights (11-5, 2-2) were supposed to face Syracuse at the RU Tennis Complex for their first match on the Rutgers campus this season, but the match had to be moved to the Atlantic Club due to weather restrictions.

The temperature needs to be at least 50 degrees Fahrenheit to play Division I tennis outdoors and the forecast for Piscataway on Sunday morning was at least 10 degrees below the acceptable limit.

The Knights' doubles play this season has been a precise indicator of how the entire match turns out, and Rutgers won the doubles point against both St. John's and Syracuse. The No. 1 team of senior captain Amy Zhang and junior Jennifer Holzberg earned a win in each match, giving the Knights an early advantage.

"Amy and I both play with a high energy level and lately we've just been feeding off each other," Holzberg said. "We've been coming to the net more recently, which helps to makes points shorter so we can win faster."

Bucca used some new lineups in the No. 2 and No. 3 slots after dropping doubles losses to conference foes Marquette and Louisville earlier in the season. The new No. 2 team of junior Leonora Slatnick and freshman Vanessa Petrini struggled, but the No. 3 team of junior Morgan Ivey and freshman Stefania Balasa won its matches in both contests.

"Doubles went really well this weekend," Holzberg said. "The lineup changes worked, and I think we're all playing better with our partners now."

While Petrini struggled in her new doubles position, she was the team's saving grace against Syracuse and picked up the deciding point with a singles victory. The rookie dropped the first set in her match, 4-6, before rallying back to win the next two, 6-2, 6-1, to clinch the Rutgers victory.

"Vanessa was in the pressure moment and showed what a great competitor she is," Bucca said. "The match was on her racket and she came through. She played great tennis where it mattered the most."

Zhang picked up wins in the No. 1 singles spot in both matches, winning, 6-3, 6-3, against St. John's and coming from behind to take a tough three-set win over Syracuse. Holzberg solidified the top of the lineup for Rutgers, also picking up wins at the No. 2 spot in both matches with a 6-2, 6-3 victory over St. John's and a 6-4, 6-3 win in the close contest with Syracuse.

"Alessondra Parra of Syracuse has beaten Jen Holzberg twice in the past, but [Holzberg] is having a fantastic year," Bucca said. "These performances were consistent — the type of tennis she's been playing all season."

The Knights return to action tomorrow with a home match against in-state rival Seton Hall. The team is 90 percent certain that the match will take place at the RU Tennis Complex.

"We're very excited to be back on campus against Seton Hall," Holzberg said. "The match is on a weekday, so we don't know how many fans we'll get, but we hope to get a lot. It'll be nice just to be on the courts that we have been practicing on every day."