Rutgers seeks historic win on Senior Day

<p>Mariam Zein is 1 of 3 seniors who will be honored on Senior Day Sunday prior to Rutgers matchup with Penn State.</p>

Mariam Zein is 1 of 3 seniors who will be honored on Senior Day Sunday prior to Rutgers matchup with Penn State.

After nearly upsetting Big Ten rival Illinois last Friday, the Rutgers tennis team will face two threatening conference foes this weekend.

Saturday, the Scarlet Knights (6-9, 0-5) have a noon match versus Ohio State at the Rutgers University Tennis Complex.

The NCAA ranks the Buckeyes as the second best team in the country, and they have a staggering 17 wins on the season compared to only 2 losses.

In the extremely competitive Big Ten they are undefeated with a 3-0 record, which has been propelled by outstanding performances from the entire lineup.

This past week, Miho Kowase, a junior for Ohio State, was named the Big Ten Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week for the second time this season.

Kowase, who is from Tokyo, Japan, was 6-0 in singles and doubles combined, but she isn’t even considered the best player for the Midwestern side.

That title belongs to freshman Francesca DiLorenzo, who was graded as the number one recruit nationally in the class of 2015 coming out of high school.

In college, she has completely lived up to that assessment by capturing the National Intercollegiate Indoor Championships title in the fall season.

Last year without the superstar first year, the Buckeyes dominated Rutgers, 7-0.

Despite all these intimidating statistics, the Knights remain hopeful and optimistic entering the match.

“We know we’re walking into some really tough competition against one of the best teams in the nation,” said senior Gina Li. “But, we just played at an extremely high level in one of the best matches I’ve ever been part of, so we’re riding high come Saturday.”

Battling Illinois to the last point was a greatly impressive feat for Rutgers, as the team has failed to pick up its first conference win in five chances.

The Knights have shown drastic improvement throughout the campaign, and that has inspired confidence in many of the players and coaches.

“Ohio State is superbly talented, probably even more than they were last season,” said head coach Benjamin Bucca. “However, with our home court advantage, we feel we can give them a run for their money.”

While Rutgers is an overwhelming underdog on Saturday, the squad appears a lot more likely to achieve victory the following afternoon.

Sunday, the Knights will square off with the Nittany Lions of Penn State, who own a similar record at 5-8 overall and 1-2 in conference.

Sunday is also Rutgers’ final home matchup of the spring and is correspondingly Senior Day for the team.

Along with Li, Lindsey Kayati and Mariam Zein are graduating at the culmination of this semester, and are proudly finishing their four years of NCAA eligibility.

“Senior Day is always emotional, but I think it also brings out our best tennis,” Bucca said. “If we can pull out the victory, it would be one that the three seniors absolutely deserve after great careers.”

A triumph is definitely possible for the Knights, especially because the Nittany Lions are an opponent of comparable ability.

In addition, Penn State will be traveling from a match in College Park, Maryland, the day before, which should create fatigue and give Rutgers the upper hand.

“We engaged in a really close match with Penn State last year,” Zein said. “The momentum we gained from almost knocking off Illinois last weekend has us feeling we can take PSU and grab that elusive Big Ten win.”

With Sunday’s match being the final home game for the seniors, one would expect the tensions of the Knights to be high, but that is simply not the case.

Rather the Knights are loose, poised and ready to go to battle.

The seniors in particular are eager for the weekend’s matches, and coach Bucca believes they’ve earned the right to be hungry and can’t wait for them to taste the conference win column.

“These seniors built a strong foundation for four years, always rocks in the lineup,” Bucca said. “I just hope we can celebrate even harder after the match than we will during Sunday’s pregame ceremony.”

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

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