Zhang prepares for Senior Day match vs. Huskies
Nature toyed with the Rutgers tennis team all season. Winter storms and low temperatures pushed the Scarlet Knights' first five home matches off campus, and today's season finale against Connecticut will suffer the same fate with rain in the forecast.
"It would be amazing if we could actually play a match on campus, especially since it will be my last match," said senior captain Amy Zhang. "But it looks like it's going to rain, and we'll have to move indoors."
The Knights (14-5, 6-3) hoped to play the match at the RU Tennis Complex, but it will start at noon at the indoor facilities at the Atlantic Club in Manasquan, N.J. The match was originally scheduled for last Wednesday, but was postponed due to rain in an attempt to keep Zhang's final regular season match on campus, where she amassed a 28-0 home record.
"I think it will be a bittersweet moment for me. I am very proud and happy thinking back to the last four years, but I will miss it a lot," Zhang said. "I will definitely miss the competition and the team aspect the most."
The match will certainly be emotional for all of the Knights, but they need to remain focused in their final attempt to improve their position in the Big East standings. They are currently in the middle of a muddled pack.
"Notre Dame and South Florida have national rankings and will almost certainly be the top-two seeds. We are in the next group of about six teams, and we don't know where we'll be seeded," said head coach Ben Bucca. "This year, more than any other year, there has been true parity in the Big East."
The Knights found themselves in this position after dropping their first two Big East contests, but later rebounded with a five-match winning streak. A surprised loss last weekend at Georgetown snapped the streak, but Rutgers followed up the defeat with an impressive shutout against Villanova.
"Georgetown had a better team than they've ever had and we came up short," said junior Jennifer Holzberg. "The doubles point is crucial and we didn't win it."
After today's match, Rutgers has just nine days to prepare for the Big East Tournament due to the postponements. Some teams might take pleasure in more time off after a grueling regular season, but the Knights favor remaining active in an effort to maintain a competitive edge.
"I think the best preparation for competition is more competition," Zhang said. "Having the match [today] is much better than two straight weeks of practice. It breaks up the practice a bit."
Zhang was a recipient last week of the prestigious Gates Cambridge Scholarship, which allows her to continue her post-graduate studies at Cambridge University in England. Zhang's exit from Rutgers is sure to be emotionally taxing despite the exciting new chapter of her life looming in the near future.
"I'm not sure how to take it yet," Zhang said. "I'm a little relieved since the end of a long season of tennis is always a bit of a relief, but I'm also sad. I know I will miss tennis a lot after I have a break from it."
Connecticut will attempt to play spoiler today and ruin Zhang's flawless home record in her final match. The Knights anticipate a hard-fought match but are confident in their ability to send their captain out on top.
"We have been fortunate to defeat them in the past few years, but the matches have been very competitive," Bucca said. "We need to come out ready to play, but if we play the tennis we're capable of we can be victorious."
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