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Knights eye rematch in tournament

<p>Senior Stefanie Balasa helps lead RU into the AAC Championships following a 6-1 win Sunday on the Knights’ Senior Day.</p>

Senior Stefanie Balasa helps lead RU into the AAC Championships following a 6-1 win Sunday on the Knights’ Senior Day.

The postseason is underway for the Rutgers tennis team as it heads down to Tampa, Fla., to play in the AAC Championships today through Sunday.

The Scarlet Knights (15-4, 3-1) enter as the No. 5 seed and will face fourth-seeded Louisville (12-4, 2-1) tomorrow in the quarterfinals. The Cardinals handed Rutgers one of its four losses this season.

Louisville has played well lately, winning three of its last five matches following an eight-match win streak.

But the Knights have arguably been playing better. Rutgers has won seven in a row and 12 of 13 after starting the season 3-3.

The winner advances to the semifinals Saturday against No. 1 Houston, No. 8 Cincinnati or No. 9 Connecticut.

Rutgers embraces the challenge that lies ahead.

“We’re definitely excited to be part of the tournament,” said junior Lindsay Balsamo. “We’ve played so well lately and we’ve worked so hard in practice. I know we’re going to get some strong competition, [but] so as long as we play the way we’ve been playing, I know we’ll be fine.”

Balsamo has anchored the team this year and it will be important for her to continue her impressive play to help Rutgers advance in the tournament.

Head coach Ben Bucca is optimistic about how the team has played lately and feels good about the Knights’ odds against anyone in the field.

“We’re a confident group right now and I like our chances,” Bucca said. “We have a wonderful opportunity to face some nationally ranked teams down in Tampa. I know we fit right in with all of the competition down there and we’re going to be ready.”

Confidence is high for the Knights following a win Sunday as part of the Senior Day festivities, which featured a ceremony for seniors Stefania Balasa and Vanessa Petrini.  

The Knights are eager to play outside in nicer weather and show their style of tennis.

“We’re feeling hungry going into our first matchup,” Petrini said. “I have to be consistent with my shots in order for us to be able to win, just like always.”

Petrini’s strong play and leadership has given Rutgers an early advantage over its opponent, as Petrini usually contributes a key doubles point with her partner sophomore Lindsey Kayati to start the match.

A 6-1 loss to the Cardinals on Feb. 21 has fueled the Knights to take back a revenge victory against their rival.

Louisville caught the Knights at a point in the season before they had developed chemistry, but now Rutgers is ready to take on Louisville in a different environment.

“We have high expectations and we feel that we stand a great chance in a rematch against Louisville outside,” Petrini said. “We’ve had two days of practice to prepare and I couldn’t be more excited.”

For updates on the Rutgers tennis team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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