Rutgers drops final two home matches of season as Big Ten woes continue

<p>Senior Lindsey Kayati said the fact that she was playing in her final home match at Rutgers didn’t set in until after she had won her singles match</p>

Senior Lindsey Kayati said the fact that she was playing in her final home match at Rutgers didn’t set in until after she had won her singles match

The Rutgers tennis team dropped two home matches this weekend, the first being a loss to Ohio State, 7-0, Saturday afternoon at the East Brunswick Racquet Club.

Currently ranked No. 2 by the Intercollegiate Tennis Association (ITA), the Buckeyes represented the highest-ranked opponent to visit New Jersey's state school in the tennis program’s history.

“They’re very talented and they play with a lot of confidence,” said head coach Benjamin Bucca of the Buckeyes. “Ultimately, consistency was the name of the game today, and that always wins out in tennis.”

On the bright side, seniors Gina Li and Mariam Zein captured a win in the No. 1 position in doubles play, which was the first doubles victory for the Scarlet Knights in Big Ten play this season.

In doubles action, Li and Zein downed Francesca Di Lorenzo and Olivia Sneed, who entered the match ranked as the No. 54-best doubles team in the country.

The 6-4 win that prevented Ohio State from sweeping the doubles point was the first doubles win for Li and Zein since March 15 at Prairie View A&M.

Li also battled in the No. 1 singles position against Di Lorenzo, eventually suffering a 6-3, 6-2 defeat.

Di Lorenzo, a freshman and a two-time Big Ten Player of the Week this season, is currently ranked as the third-best player in the country.

“We rarely get to play an opponent on that level, but we came out and fought hard,” said junior Farris Cunningham. “The final score wasn’t indicative of the flow of the match because you couldn’t really tell that much of a difference between the two teams just by watching.”

Rutgers returned to action the following afternoon, when the Knights hosted Penn State at the East Brunswick Racquet Club beginning at 12:30 p.m.

Penn State came into the match with five wins compared to nine losses on the season and 2-3 Big Ten record.

Sunday’s match against the Nittany Lions served as the Knights’ Senior Day, as the program recognized the accomplishments of Li, Zein and Lindsey Kayati.

The ceremony took place approximately 10 minutes prior to the match and each senior was presented with gifts from the rest of the team, as well as framed action photos to commemorate their excellent careers.

“Honestly, I viewed it as a special day, but I was pleasantly surprised that my competitiveness took over so I could focus on the match at hand,” Kayati said. “It didn’t quite hit me that this was my last home stand until after singles.”

Despite having that laser sharp focus as well as clinching the doubles point and seeing singles victories from Li and Kayati, Rutgers fell to Penn State, 4-3.

With the help of a thunderous crowd at the EBRC, the Knights jumped out to a fast start in doubles play.

In the No. 2 position, sophomore Chloe Lee and junior Ksenija Tihomirova downed Katia Blik and Samantha Tutelman, 6-2.

Kayati and Cunningham also won by a 6-2 margin in the No. 3 position to secure the point leading to the first time Rutgers has won the doubles point in Big Ten play this year.

In singles action, Kayati delivered her first conference victory of the season with a straight-set triumph over PSU’s Katherine Whiteaway.

After Kayati jumped ahead with a 6-4 win in the first set, both Kayati and Whiteaway battled neck and neck in the second stanza.

Down the majority of the set, Whiteaway brought the score to five all, but Kayati settled down for the 7-5 win.

Li also had an intense match in the No. 1 position against Penn State’s Kimberly-Ann Surin.

The ace of the Knights' lineup managed a 7-5 win in the first frame before Surin came back with a 7-5 result of her own in the second set.

In the third-set tiebreaker, the two went back and forth before Li pulled away with a 10-4 win.

The match served as the final home event of the Rutgers 2016 spring season as the Knights fell to 6-11 overall and 0-7 in conference play.

Rutgers begins its final road trip next weekend, traveling to the Great Lakes State for its next two matches to compete against Michigan and Michigan State.

The Knights are still chasing that elusive first conference triumph, but have made a lot of progress throughout the season.

“Last year, we barely won any individual matches and were losing to teams 7-0, whereas this year we we’ve gotten our feet wet and are making bigger strides toward knocking someone off,” Kayati said. “To do that would truly be the icing on the cake in what has been a great ride for me here at Rutgers.”

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

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