Sophomore enjoys benefits of practice

<p>Sophomore Stefania Balasa owns a perfect 5-0 record in Big East singles play and has a team-best 10 wins in No. 4 singles.</p>

Sophomore Stefania Balasa owns a perfect 5-0 record in Big East singles play and has a team-best 10 wins in No. 4 singles.

The Rutgers tennis team’s 4-3 victory against St. John’s on Sunday yielded a familiar outcome in No. 4 singles play: a win for the Scarlet Knights.

Rutgers sophomore Stefania Balasa can take credit for the success in the No. 4 singles position. Balasa defeated the Red Storm’s Nakita Austin, 6-4, 6-2, moving her conference record in singles to 5-0. As of Sunday’s match, she also sports a 10-3 overall singles record, good for first on the team in the win column.

“After a year of competing, I’ve come to understand what you need to play well,” she said.

Balasa has embraced her role in No. 4 singles, as she was in the fifth position last season.

Head coach Ben Bucca has been able to rely on Balasa’s play this season, something he credits to her work ethic she demonstrated during the summer.

“[Balasa] has really developed into a hardworking and disciplined athlete,” Bucca said. “She has worked very hard on her fitness and it shows.”

Bucca said her conditioning has resulted in her moving faster than she ever has on the court, which enables her to cover more ground.

But conditioning has not always been Balasa’s favorite part of the game, the second-year player said. It took a suggestion from a fellow teammate to get her motivated and become one of the team’s most consistent players in singles.

“Last year, [senior] Jen Holzberg asked me if I wanted to go for a run with her. So I started running with her and then running on my own,” Balasa said. “When I was in high school, I didn’t really appreciate running and never really wanted to go for a run.”

That school lies five minutes away, where Bucca recruited Balasa while she played at East Brunswick High School. Bucca believed the combination of playing close to home and the fact that her older sister, Alina, competed for the Knights would sell her on the school.

But initially it had the opposite effect.

“I wanted to get as far away as possible,” Balasa said. “You love what your older sibling has done, but you kind of want to do your own thing.”

Balasa considered Wisconsin and Maryland among other schools, but realized Rutgers was where she wanted to continue her career.

Freshman Noor Judeh is thankful for that choice. Judeh pairs with Balasa in No. 3 doubles. Though the duo is only 4-5 in doubles action, it has won two in a row. Balasa’s experience has helped Judeh ease into her first season competing in doubles, Judeh said.

“Before I played college tennis, all I played was just singles, so I was always focused on just myself,” she said. “[Balasa] was my doubles partner from the beginning and taught me how to be a team player and how to pump up our teammates.”

She and her teammates have responded to the support, winning two straight matches to bring their record to 8-6.

The winning ways are something Bucca can get used to, like he has with the results of his team’s No. 4 singles player and her accomplishments this season.

“She has had a good year,” Bucca said. “Her success her sophomore year has much to do with the effort she has put into the sport.”

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