Rutgers battles Princeton for bragging rights

<p>Despite Princeton's overall record, junior Gina Li refuses to take the Tigers lightly when the Knights hit the court.</p>

Despite Princeton's overall record, junior Gina Li refuses to take the Tigers lightly when the Knights hit the court.

The Rutgers women’s tennis team has reason to be confident going into its next match against its in-state rival.

The Scarlet Knights (2-1) are coming off a decisive 6-1 win against Army this past Saturday. In the rout, they swept in doubles action and won five-straight singles matches. 

Rutgers looks to secure its second-straight road win when it travels south down Route 1 to Princeton to face the Tigers at 5:30 p.m tonight.

“There’s nothing like winning to build your confidence. Not only did we have that, but we played well [against Army],” said head coach Ben Bucca, “Those are really the two ingredients that help you promote the team feeling good about themselves and feeling confident as we head into a match with a very tough, nationally-ranked Princeton University.”

Despite Princeton's 1-5 mark to the start of the spring season, the Tigers currently sit at No. 58 on the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings.

Their past success gives reason for the Knights to stay honest.

After suffering a semifinal loss to Dartmouth, the top-seeded Tigers finished third in the Eastern College Athletic Conference Division I Women’s Indoor Tennis Championships last weekend with a 4-0 victory over Cornell.

While Bucca did note that playing an in-state rival adds a special component to the match and that they will be cognizant of Princeton’s ranking, neither will distract the Knights. The team has been preparing for Tuesday’s match just as it would any other.

“Our whole philosophy is that we can only control how we play and that’s all about the process of how we’re playing our points," Bucca said. "We just try to focus on the individual point and playing our strategies within the particular game."

Undefeated in the No. 2 singles spot, junior Lindsey Kayati stressed the importance of mental toughness.

“I was taught since I was little that nothing positive comes from negative,” Kayati said. “If you stay positive no matter what the score is, you’ll have a better chance of coming out on top.”

Junior Gina Li, who plays in the No. 1 spot in both singles and doubles, said that Princeton has always been one of the Knights’ toughest opponents.

The Hillsborough, New Jersey, native agrees that the mental side of tennis is just as important as the physical.

“One of the keys for myself is to keep a calm mind," Li said. "If I’m calm and stable throughout the entire match, I’ll be able to play some of my best tennis."

Ultimately, Bucca stressed that the team will focus on executing a style of play called “controlled aggression,” which entails high-percentage, consistent tennis.

“What we preach most is to stay within your skill set and to hit the shots that you're capable of making and to hit them with the pace that you’re capable of," Bucca said. "We want to try not to hit shots that, in reality, are low percentage shots and we will be impressing upon that during the match."

If Rutgers can abide by their head coach's game plan, it can set itself up for a successful match.

“We have a bunch of really strong competitors so if we can accomplish that, then we feel like we’re going to be in the match.”

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

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