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Clean slate can benefit Rutgers on court

<p>After suffering her first losses of the season in her singles and doubles matches on Tuesday night in Princeton, junior Mariam Zein looks to bounce back against NJIT.</p>

After suffering her first losses of the season in her singles and doubles matches on Tuesday night in Princeton, junior Mariam Zein looks to bounce back against NJIT.

For the second time this week, the Rutgers tennis team takes on an in-state opponent.

After trekking south to Princeton earlier in the week on Tuesday night, the Scarlet Knights return home. 

This time, it's NJIT that takes the ride down. 

The Highlanders (1-6) enter the East Brunswick Racquet Club on Friday to battle the Knights in a 12:30 p.m. tilt.

For Rutgers' sake, the team hopes to see improvements when it takes the court.

The Knights (2-2) look to rebound from a tough loss against the Tigers three days ago. Princeton routed Rutgers, sweeping singles and doubles play to cruise to a 7-0 win.

Heading into the match, junior Mariam Zein was undefeated and slotted in the No. 5 singles spot for Rutgers.

Zein carried that momentum into the matchup and threatened against Caroline Joyce, before ultimately falling in three sets, 7-5, 3-6, 10-5.

Despite her first loss of the season, Zein’s performance was a highlight for Rutgers. It was the only competitive match, as she clawed and competed for three sets before succumbing to Joyce’s strength.

After the match, the Knights stressed the importance of relying on the style of play they feel most confident and comfortable in playing.

This time around, Zein expects to make the necessary adjustments to get back in the win column.

“We all have things that we talked about and want to work on. And I think that we will come out on Friday as confident as we did before the Princeton match,” Zein said. “It’s just a matter of going out there and taking care of business.”

Following the loss, the coaching staff went back to the drawing board in preparation for the next match up against the Highlanders. 

Head coach Ben Bucca said the team was eager to get back to practice. 

If his players listened, Bucca said he expects the team to climb back above the .500 mark.

“Our focus now is really on NJIT and doing our best to get back into the win column,” said Bucca.

It wouldn't be the first time the Knights bounced back with resiliency. 

Earlier in the season, Rutgers suffered a 5-2 loss to Temple on Feb. 8. 

The Knights answered by traveling up to historic West Point and bouncing back by topping Army, 6-1. In the process, Rutgers swept the doubles action and won five-straight singles matches.

With experience against NJIT in the past and a September 2014 scrimmage under their belt, assistant Coach Hilary Ritchie expects the team to rebound and come out stronger.

“We look forward to playing NJIT," she said. "... They have strong competitors, but I think we’re ready for them. I know that our girls are always prepared to play.”

After a challenging start to the 2015 season, first-year coach Ira Miller and the Highlanders head down the turnpike with hopes of extending their win streak to two. NJIT snapped a six-match losing streak on Sunday after defeating Saint Peter’s, 6-1, for its first win of the season.

Sophomore Natalie Habegger was victorious in both the No. 1 doubles spot and the No. 2 singles spot. She was selected America East Conference Women’s Tennis Player of the Week for her efforts in those performances.

The Highlanders are 0-3 away from home this season, but according to Ritchie, the Knights will not let their guard down on Friday.

“It’ll be a good match and we’re going to have to play hard to win," Ritchie said.

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

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