Temporary site plays host to final match

The Rutgers tennis team continues its hunt for its first Big East Conference win Sunday against bitter rival Marquette. The match is the last for the Scarlet Knights at their temporary home at the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J.

Rutgers hosts its final three home games on campus at the RU Tennis Complex, barring cooperation from the weather.

"I've liked playing [at the Atlantic Club] but I'm excited to be back on campus after spring break," said junior Jennifer Holzberg. "The facility is nice there, but it is just tough for our fans to come and support us being so far away."

That fan support should be useful for the Knights (5-3, 0-1), who fell to Marquette, 5-2, last season on the road in Milwaukee, Wis., for its second Big East loss.

"We have quickly built a great rivalry against Marquette," said head coach Ben Bucca. "The matches have always been very close and we are expecting the same type of challenge. We'll practice hard this week and come to be ready to play strong tennis."

One of the lone bright spots for the Knights in last season's trip to Helfaer Tennis Stadium was the play of now-senior captain Amy Zhang. Zhang scored one of the Knights' only points with a 6-1, 7-5 win in the No.1 singles spot against the Golden Eagles' Paola Calderon.

Zhang has not played up to her All-Big East status this season, putting up a 4-4 mark in singles and dropping two matches last weekend at Louisville and Xavier. She will be pitted against an opponent seeking revenge on Sunday in Calderon, all while trying to break out of her personal funk.

"It's definitely been very frustrating," Zhang said. "I need to work on maintaining my consistency, especially on my backhand, my serve and returns."

A loss against Marquette this time around would once again be the Knights' second conference defeat after they came up short at Louisville. The Knights fell, 4-3, in a close contest and failed to win the doubles point like each of their losses this season.

"I think we have a very strong doubles lineup, but our main weakness is getting caught off guard early," Zhang said. "This can be a big problem in doubles — you dig yourself into a hole very quickly if you aren't ready to go right away."

Despite the occasional struggles in doubles play, Rutgers received some very strong showings in singles competition. Holzberg shined thus far in the No. 2 singles slot and is currently on a seven-match winning streak that began on Feb. 3.

"I have been playing well in singles so far and have been more confident than I have been in the past," Holzberg said. "I've been working on my mental strength, which has made me more consistent as well."

The Knights also received stellar play toward the bottom of their lineup from freshmen Stefania Balasa and Vanessa Petrini, which improved the depth of the team significantly. Petrini leads the team with a 7-1 record in the No. 6 slot while Balasa is on a seven-match win streak of her own in the No. 5 position.

"Stef is progressing very nicely," Bucca said. "She's on quite a roll playing great inspired tennis. She has a very bright future with this program."

The Knights need everyone in the lineup to step up if they are going to topple rival Marquette and put one in the Big East win column.

"The girls will be ready," Bucca said. "They know the talent level of Marquette and the competitive nature of our recent matches. This is what college sports is all about."