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Rutgers turns tables in rebound win

Regardless of the fact that the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) has been struggling this season, the Rutgers tennis team did not take its match against the Highlanders (1-7) lightly on Friday at the East Brunswick Racquet Club.

With the brutal 7-0 loss to Princeton still fresh in their minds, the Scarlet Knights were focused and resilient.

Unforced errors and dazzling winners alike were often followed by audible expressions of emotion as Rutgers swept NJIT, 7-0.

The Knights (3-2) cruised through doubles play to capture the team point, dominating the three matches and winning each by at least six games.

Rutgers had only threatened in doubles against Princeton, but assistant coach Hilary Ritchie made a point to express her approval of the impressive pace and control with which it played.

The match with NJIT (1-7) reaffirmed the team's confidence in its powerful duos.

As the singles matches proved to be more competitive, head coach Benjamin Bucca said that in the interim between the conclusion of doubles and the beginning of singles play, he made a point to reemphasize this season’s mantra.

“We did play well in doubles and we take pride in our doubles. So, with the ease of the victory in doubles, I reminded [the team] of our challenge not to make any judgment about our opponents, but rather to just be focused on how we want to play,” Bucca said. “So, whether it’s going to be an easy match [in singles] or a demanding [one], I told them they have to be focused … up on their toes, and bring positive energy.”

That is exactly what Rutgers did.

The three-through-six singles spots did not waste any time, dictating the pace to their opponents with powerful and smart shots.

In the fifth singles spot, junior Mariam Zein — who also plays No. 1 doubles — rolled over NJIT’s Valerie Carroll, 6-2, 6-0. 

Zein was most pleased with the control the Knights exhibited, allowing them to hit with accuracy and keep their opponents in a defensive mindset.

“[I got to focus] on what I was doing on my side of the court because the girl I was playing wasn’t that great of a competitor,” Zein said. “But when I had balls that I could really strike, I focused on striking them. It was nice to have control over everything I was doing.”

In the No. 2 singles spot, Nathalie Habbegger, provided some early hope for NJIT. The America East Conference Women’s Tennis Player of the Week had Rutgers junior Lindsey Kayati on her toes before Kayati’s intensity overpowered Habbegger, leading to another straight set loss for NJIT.

The No. 1 singles match proved to be the most exciting match of the day.

The other singles matches had been over for quite some time, but junior Gina Li was staging a remarkable comeback over NJIT’s Carolina Zanotta. With teammates from both sides cheering from neighboring courts, the intensity steadily increased as the match wore on and the rallies seemed to lengthen.

Li came back from a 2-5 deficit to win the first set with a cross-court winner. She then buckled down in the second set, showing the poise to manage her emotions before ultimately defeating Zanotta, 7-5, 6-3.

Bucca was extremely impressed with Li’s intestinal fortitude and successful comeback.

“That was an extremely gutty performance from Gina. She wasn’t playing her best tennis, but nevertheless she stayed in the match,” Bucca said. “The points were long, which was a further challenge mentally for her. And she was able to overcome those hurdles and complete the shutout victory for us which was really a testament to her competitive spirit.”

Rutgers looks to maintain its momentum going into its third consecutive match against an in-state opponent when it faces Seton Hall 1:00 p.m. at home on Wednesday.

While Bucca did acknowledge that NJIT is having an uncharacteristically off year, he did not devalue the impressive performance put forth by his team.

“We played very disciplined tennis today," Bucca said. "We stuck within our point patterns and, for the most part, our shot abilities, and I think it was our consistency that really ruled the day today."

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

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