Weddell, Knights embark on latest Invite

<p>Freshman Vanessa Petrini will likely pair with junior Morgan
Ivey in doubles play against the host St. John's Red Storm, while
classmate Stefania Balasa will likely take up No. 2 doubles.</p>

Freshman Vanessa Petrini will likely pair with junior Morgan Ivey in doubles play against the host St. John's Red Storm, while classmate Stefania Balasa will likely take up No. 2 doubles.

The Rutgers tennis team's quest for its first Big East win continues today at 2 p.m., when the team travels to Queens, N.Y., to face St. John's. The Scarlet Knights return from their spring break trip to New Orleans, where they won three straight matches, including two sweeps.

"We gained some confidence from the sweeps, and it was a good team bonding trip," said junior Leonora Slatnick. "I think it helped build our team spirit a lot, and we're only going to get stronger as we return to Big East play."

The Knights welcome Syracuse to the RU Tennis Complex on Sunday at 10 a.m. for their first match this season on the Rutgers campus. Rutgers looks for revenge after losing on the road last year to the rival Orange.

"Syracuse is always one of our biggest rivals — we definitely do not like losing to them. Last year left a bitter taste in our mouths, so we want to come out strong," Slatnick said. "It's great that we are playing at home, and the outdoor courts will definitely be an advantage for us."

The Knights (8-4, 0-2) continued their strong non-conference play over spring break, shutting out injury-plagued New Orleans and Xavier, 5-0 and 7-0, respectively. Rutgers also defeated Southeastern Louisiana, 6-1, giving it an 8-2 non-conference record for the season.

"Southeastern Louisiana is a strong team that's fully funded and full of international players," said head coach Ben Bucca. "That win really boosted our spirit and confidence. This is a confident group right now, and we are right where we should be at this point in the season."

The Knights look to maintain that high level of confidence as they re-enter conference play. The opponents only get tougher from here on out, and Rutgers must now adjust to playing the outdoor style of tennis if the weather cooperates.

"Adjusting to the elements will be our biggest challenge these next few weeks," Bucca said. "When you play indoors the conditions are perfect and then you move outside [and] you forget about things like the wind affecting the ball. This is the time of year when footwork and preparation become most important."

Bucca and Co. also prepared to counteract their struggles in doubles play by tinkering with lineups. On the spring break trip, the Knights found success with a new No. 2 doubles team of Slatnick and freshman Stefania Balasa, which won matches against both New Orleans and Southeastern Louisiana despite never playing together previously.

"It's hard to know what your partner is going to do in certain situations if you aren't used to playing with them," Slatnick said. "You need to be ready to cover them at any time and just be on your toes. [Balasa and I] just did some different formations to try and play to our individual strengths."

The performance of the new No. 2 team pleased Bucca, but he would not comment on any further lineup changes. The No. 1 team of senior captain Amy Zhang and junior Jen Holzberg will likely remain as a pair, but it would not be surprising to see Slatnick and Balasa's old partners, freshman Vanessa Petrini and junior Morgan Ivey, team up in the No. 3 slot.

The new doubles teams appear ready for the step up in competition, now having a week to practice together in preparation for St. John's.

The Knights lost the doubles point in each of their Big East matches thus far, but the partner shakeup could be the key to grabbing that elusive first win today at home.

"We've always had close matchups with St. John's. They have many of the same players back from last year and they're only going to be better," Bucca said. "All we can do is prepare and get into our routine so that we can play our best tennis."

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