Rutgers continues to chase elusive Big Ten win after dropping 3 of 4 over Spring Break
While many students were laying on a beach in the Caribbean or relaxing with some Netflix and a bowl of popcorn at home, the Rutgers women’s tennis team played in four rigorous matches, including three on the road.
The Scarlet Knights came out the other side with a lone win and three losses, dropping down to 6-8 on the season and 0-4 in conference.
Even without class to worry about, the Knights, away from the state lines of New Jersey like many of their classmates, couldn’t fully succeed against some formidable foes.
In their first challenge, the Knights traveled to Lincoln, Nebraska, to face the Cornhuskers, a fellow Big Ten Conference member.
Despite a lot of anticipation going into the match, Rutgers was handled by the Midwestern powerhouse in dominating fashion, 4-0.
The two teams didn’t get to finish three singles matchups as well as first doubles, because Nebraska clinched both the doubles point and the necessary three singles victories quickly.
“We didn’t play as well as we would’ve liked,” said senior Gina Li. “At the same time, the score isn’t an accurate representation of the flow of the match.”
The Knights lost second and third doubles 6-2 and 6-3 respectively, so the simultaneous first doubles match was rendered irrelevant to the best-of-three system.
Li was disappointed she couldn’t complete her doubles set and was subsequently out of rhythm when battling Nebraska’s ace.
She lost to her opponent, 6-1, 6-3, while junior Ksenija Tihomirova and senior Lindsey Kayati dropped their individual matches in a more succinct manner, winning three games combined and losing 24.
The no. 2, 4 and 6 spots weren’t afforded the opportunity to participate in full matches that morning.
Nebraska had another match scheduled for the afternoon, which previously seemed like an advantage for Rutgers, however, the Cornhuskers were the clear superiors with near flawless tennis execution en route to a swift victory.
“I believe this is one of the most elite conferences in the nation,” said head coach Benjamin Bucca. “We’re at a high level, but we need to push ourselves to continue to get better.”
The Knights got a chance to prove themselves when they traveled to Texas to meet Prairie View A&M three days late. They came away with a decisive victory of their own.
In singles action, Li, Tihomirova and senior Mariam Zein all picked up their sixth wins of the season, with Li’s victory coming in the No. 1 position, 6-4, 6-3.
Tihomirova defeated her opponent 6-1, 6-3, while Zein won in commanding fashion, 6-1, 6-1, in the No. 4 position.
Kayati and sophomore Chloe Lee also picked up victories leading Rutgers to a much-needed recovery after the setback in Lincoln.
Playing the very next day in Beaumont, Texas, the Knights suffered a heartbreaking loss at the hands of Lamar.
“It’s really tough to remain super focused and energized on the road,” Kayati said. “The travel takes a toll, especially without days of rest in between matches.”
Despite the obstacles, there was a heavy competitive nature in the air with the two teams trading blows in both doubles and singles play until ultimately Rutgers fell one point short, losing 4-3.
On a bright note, junior Farris Cunningham returned to the lineup and downed her opponent in the No. 6 spots for the Knights.
With the road trip over, Rutgers returned to New Brunswick eager for its first Big Ten triumph facing a superbly talented Indiana squad.
Competing in their first home outdoor match since the 2014 season, the Knights fell to the Hoosiers, 6-1, Saturday afternoon at the Rutgers Tennis Complex.
Indiana is impressively ranked in the top-50 teams in the country with a 12-4 overall record and a 2-0 start to Big Ten play.
Li produced the Knights’ first singles conference victory of the season overcoming the nationally acclaimed Madison Appel in three sets during their No. 1 singles bout.
After falling behind in the first set, 3-6, Li battled back with a convincing 6-2 win in the second frame.
Li then collected a tightly contested 7-6 (4) tie-breaking win to secure the match and she now leads the Rutgers team with eight singles victories this spring.
That would be the only success of the day for the Knights despite outstanding efforts from Cunningham and sophomore Lee Levy, who both narrowly missed coming out on top in their respective matches.
Rutgers will continue its home stand on Friday when they play host to No. 62 Illinois.
“We’re vastly improving,” Bucca said. “It’s just a matter of time before we knock somebody off.”
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