Rutgers travels to West Point to take on Army
Like a game of checkers, this weekend will showcase red versus black pitted against one another until victory is earned.
The Rutgers tennis team will travel to West Point, New York, this Saturday to play the Black Knights of Army in search of capturing its first consecutive wins in the young season.
This will be no easy task because Army head coach Paul Peck has engineered one of the best women’s tennis sides in the northeast over the last two decades.
Peck’s Black Knights have amassed almost 400 wins in his 20-plus years at the military academy, as well as 14 Patriot League titles and double-digit NCAA tournament appearances.
Nevertheless, last year when the Scarlet and Black Knights jousted, the Scarlet Knights came through with the 6-1 victory.
A key to that win — as well as in the two matches this season Rutgers pulled out — was its doubles play.
This year, in all four of the Knights’ matches, they’ve secured doubles victories, an astounding streak considering the competition.
“We have the best doubles teams that we’ve had while I’ve been here,” said junior Farris Cunningham. “We’re beating teams we haven’t in the past.”
Princeton was one of the teams Rutgers lost the overall match to but did win the doubles point against.
The Knights also defeated Seton Hall last week winning the doubles en route to taking the match.
Army has also beaten Seton Hall and downed a feisty Binghamton side that Rutgers took advantage of to boot.
Similar stretches of schedule and parallel nicknames are not the only aspects that the two opponents share as both emphasize loud and positive encouragement from the sidelines in their game plans.
“Cheering from teammates has helped me stay in the game and get the win on several occasions,” said junior Ksenija Tihomirova. “That support system is extremely important.”
Knights' head coach Benjamin Bucca Jr. worked to make this external motivation a focal point to supplement the emphasis the team has placed on doubles and the two have boosted Rutgers accordingly.
By the same token, the Black Knights are known for their student section playing a factor in their home matches.
“They have a great and fun atmosphere up there,” Cunningham said. “It makes it tough because you can see their team feeding of the crowd’s energy.”
The Knights have been seeing a lot of that same movie recently as Saturday’s match will be their third-straight match on the road.
Despite being the visitors for the last couple of weeks and having an impressive doubles run, the Knights have not lost any determination and has shown it in training.
“We’ve been practicing every day and putting in the necessary work,” Tihomirova said. “We know we should only get better from here and we will try our best to make that happen.”
Consequently, Rutgers is a confident bunch leading up to this year’s version of their annual visit to our nation’s premier military academy.
The strategy is to play hard to the last point, but stay within themselves and remain level headed.
“Road trips are really a double edged sword because they’re tough on the body and the mind, but you get to see some incredible schools,” said senior Lindsey Kayati. “West Point in particular is a beautiful campus with a lot of historical significance.”
Despite its patriotic aura, West Point is a challenging place to play.
Army’s facility has six courts in line with matches being played simultaneously creating a very competitive yet distracting atmosphere with teammates being able to watch each other in victory as well as in defeat.
“We need to stay focused because even though we’ve had success there, we’ve always had to be super prepared and play very well to win,” Bucca said.
The trip isn’t all business for the head coach because he loves taking his team to West Point for the mere USA pride it exudes.
"Every time I leave there I feel more patriotic,” Bucca said. “The school is a fantastic symbol for our country.”
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