Rutgers gains experience in defeat
Experience is often the most important element in achieving success.
The Rutgers tennis team has played two conference matches in its inaugural Big Ten season, and although the results have not fallen in its favor, the Scarlet Knights (5-4, 0-2) still see every match as an opportunity to become familiar with the teams that will fill their schedule for years to come.
Saturday’s match at Iowa was no exception. The Knights ultimately fell, 6-1, but the quality of competition at the most basic level of the game assured them that they belong in their new conference.
Rutgers traveled to Maryland last weekend for a pair of matches. In its first Big Ten match on Saturday, they fell 7-0 to the No. 48 Terrapins, despite many of the matches being fiercely competitive. On Sunday, junior Mariam Zein was back in the lineup for the Knights and clinched the victory against Navy in a 4-3 win in Annapolis.
After splitting the weekend pair, Rutgers focused on a week of practice before they headed west to face Iowa at the Hawkeye Tennis and Recreation Complex this past Saturday.
In what will soon become commonplace as the Knights settle into their new home in the Big Ten, Rutgers traveled to Iowa (6-4, 1-1) for the first meeting between the two schools.
The coaching staff had no past matchups to refer to, but it saw the Hawkeyes for what they were — an opponent that would have to be battled.
Although Iowa was dominant at crucial moments and ultimately took the team's doubles point and five out of six in singles, the final score is not a accurate indication of the intensity of the matchup.
The No. 2 doubles spot proved to be a battleground.
Senior Lindsay Balsamo and freshman Chloe Lee fell into a 6-1 hole in the first set against Iowa’s Morven McCulloch and Annette Dohanics, before roaring back to even it up at 7-7 and force a tiebreak, where they ultimately fell, 7-3.
Regardless of the loss, head coach Benjamin Bucca emphasized the consistency of their doubles thus far this season, even in the face of nationally-ranked opponents.
“We have competed very effectively in doubles in our first two matches,” he said, “The (matches) have been very close and it’s only a matter of time before we break through.”
The highlight for Rutgers on Saturday came at the No. 4 singles spot. Balsamo faced Dohanics individually this time, and her mind was set on retribution. She came back from down, 6-3, in a first set tiebreak to win it, 8-6, before taking the second set, 6-3.
“My opponent was very tough. I actually knew her, but I had never played her. We came from the same section in Juniors so this was the first time we’d played,” Balsamo said, “But I played some of my best tennis (against Iowa), so it was pretty exciting.”
Balsamo’s win carried special significance in that it was the Knights' first point in Big Ten play.
“I can think of no person that is more deserving of having that distinction in history than our senior captain Lindsay Balsamo,” Bucca said.
Balsamo recognizes the difficult schedule that comes with joining the Big Ten, but she believes that confidence and mental toughness can often overpower the sheer talent of an opponent regardless of their ranking.
“The competition in this conference is obviously tougher,” she said. “But it’s really just another opponent on the other side of the net. You really just need to go out there and believe you’re the best. You need to believe you can win and clearly anything can happen. So I brought that attitude with me yesterday and I knew I could win and I thought I should win. I believed I was the better player, and the results showed that.”
Bucca considers Maryland and Iowa to be a pretty good indication of what the Big Ten will present in terms of aggression and competition, but he feels Rutgers is not lacking in either.
“At least for myself, what I have learned is if our first matches are any indication of what tennis is like in the Big Ten, then when it comes time to compete and play hard tennis from the first point through the last, we truly are a team that belongs in the Big Ten," he said.
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