Rutgers makes debut in Big Ten

<p>Slotted in the No. 1 singles spot for the Knights senior Gina Li beat reigning Big East Player of the Week Hannah Liljekvist in straight sets on Wednesday 7-5, 6-4.</p>

Slotted in the No. 1 singles spot for the Knights senior Gina Li beat reigning Big East Player of the Week Hannah Liljekvist in straight sets on Wednesday 7-5, 6-4.

A new era for the Rutgers tennis team begins tomorrow.

In what will be their inaugural Big Ten match, the Scarlet Knights head south to College Park, Maryland, to face the No. 54 Terrapins at noon Saturday.

The Knights are coming off three-straight matchups against in-state rivals.

After getting swept at Jadwin Gym by the Princeton Tigers, 7-0, Rutgers rebounded against the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) with its own sweep at home, dominating the Highlanders, 7-0.

The Knights topped Seton Hall, 5-2, on Wednesday, in a fiercely competitive match that lived up to its annual expectations.

Rutgers swept Seton Hall (1-4) in doubles play and took four out of six singles matches.

Junior Gina Li defeated the reigning Big East Player of the Week, Hannah Liljekvist, 7-5, 6-4 in the No. 1 singles spot.

Freshman Chloe Lee had a standout performance, working with senior Lindsay Balsamo to pulverize Seton Hall’s Madison Shoemaker and Katie Kim, 8-2 in doubles play. Lee’s success carried over to singles play, where she defeated Kim, 6-4, 6-2 in the No. 3 spot.

While Lee emphasized the importance of continuing solid doubles play, she believes the win over Seton Hall puts the Knights in the best possible position as they go on the road.

"I think to get this win … as a team, under our belt is going to help us a lot in Maryland,” she said.

Aside from their match against Princeton (3-6), who recently fell out of the national rankings on Feb. 17, the Knights have not faced an opponent that provided the level of competition they will face in the coming weeks with the Big Ten.

Maryland (4-4) is coming off a 5-2 win over Harvard, in which it swept in doubles play and took four of six in singles action. Led by head coach Daria Panova, the Terrapins boasts a Spring 2015 resume that includes an early season win against Georgia State.

As Maryland presents new territory for Rutgers, head coach Benjamin Bucca says that he expects the team to progress heading into the match.

“We’re going to continue to work on the things that we traditionally work on ... just reinforcing staying aggressive in doubles and hitting strong serves, hitting strong returns," he said. " ...We’ll also continue to reinforce our style of play in singles with very strong point patterns, promoting high-percentage tennis that’s played with controlled aggression,” he said.

Rutgers expects a challenge on Saturday, but is prepared to combat Maryland’s strategies as each of the matches progress.

“We’ll have to see, when we’re out there on the court competing and see what we’re up against and we’ll make adjustments as the match goes on which is part of tennis,” Bucca said.

Bucca says his team embraces the challenges and recognition that comes with being a member of the Big Ten, a conference full of tennis powerhouses like No. 33 Northwestern and No. 19 Ohio State.

With a weekend that includes a 24-hour window before a Sunday matinee at Navy (8-4) in Annapolis, Maryland, time is of the essence for Rutgers.

After their loss to Princeton, the Knights proved intense competition often translates into motivation.

While his team remains focused as the Maryland match approaches, he says they recognize the magnitude of the journey that they are about to embark on.

“Not only is it exciting to play the first ever Big Ten match, but it’s going to be exciting to play throughout the Big Ten season because it’ll be the first time we’re ever competing against these teams [and] competing regularly against nationally ranked teams. It’s a new frontier for us and it’s very exciting.”

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

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