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Exhibition prepares Rutgers for regular season intensity

<p>Sophomore Farris Cunningham strikes a tennis ball during Rutgers’ exhibition Wednesday against NJIT.</p>

Sophomore Farris Cunningham strikes a tennis ball during Rutgers’ exhibition Wednesday against NJIT.

Floating on the surface of the Rutgers tennis team’s home scrimmage against the New Jersey Institute of Technology yesterday was a single theme: getting back into the mindset of competing against other opponents.

Playing NJIT helped the Scarlet Knights prepare for their first true match of the season next Friday, when the team goes up north for the Brown Invitational.

“I think today went well for our team,” said sophomore Farris Cunningham. “Today was about starting the competition season. It’s a lot about our preparation, our teamwork, our … talking to each other, communication. I think, overall, our team did well, and we’re excited to play.”

Preparation and teamwork were points of emphasis by the coaches, and it showed more often than not in the match.

The coach of the team also felt the Knights’ outing was strong.

“We looked pretty good. We looked relatively fit,” said head coach Ben Bucca after the match. “I thought our shot-making was pretty sharp for a first scrimmage, and I thought our competiveness was pretty strong.”

Bucca said score was not kept during the scrimmage, and it wasn’t obligatory to do so.

The point of the exhibition with NJIT was not necessarily to show whether the unit could defeat each of the opposing players in singles and doubles. Rather, it served to evaluate where each player was, physically and mentally.

Besides physical and mental preparation, it also gave the team insight into what competition will be like at the tourney.

“We have our first tournament at Brown University 10 days from now, and there, we’ll definitely face tough competition. Some of the best teams from the east region are going to be playing there,” Bucca said. “So this helps us get the jitters of playing in the first competition out of the system, and it serves the purpose of us feeling good about ourselves.”

The tennis coaching staff had to like what it saw from the players overall.

Freshman Chloe Lee did not look like a first-year athlete, learning the ropes of playing in college. Cunningham had spurts of textbook lateral movement to the ball and making tough shots, while junior Mariam Zein displayed a competitive edge the entire team strives to have.

Zein in particular was all in on the competitive spirit and competing as a whole.

“It feels really good to get back out here and compete,” the Sugarland, Texas-native said. “Competing is what we are used to. It is what we practice for every day. It really feels good to get back into competition.”

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

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