Rutgers continues search for first Big Ten win
Rocker Willie Nelson was famous for singing that he "just can’t wait to get on the road again."
The Rutgers women’s tennis team seems just as excited for its upcoming road battles versus Wisconsin and Minnesota.
For the Scarlet Knights, this weekend’s road trip provides a great opportunity to earn their first Big Ten win.
In a season full of ups and downs, including an impressive doubles winning streak to begin the season and great play from senior Gina Li, there have been a few too many moral victories.
Rutgers has six wins compared to 13 losses on the year, and is yet to triumph in a conference matchup in nine tries.
The Knights have come close several times, and those results have given the team confidence that they hope to utilize come Friday at 4 p.m. in Madison, Wisconsin, as well as 11 a.m. Sunday in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
In its last match on April 10, Rutgers fell to Michigan State in East Lansing, Michigan.
The Knights brought three singles matches into the third deciding round, while Li recorded a straight-set victory in the No. 1 position.
With that 6-3, 7-6 victory over MSU’s Erin Faulkner, Li leads Rutgers with 11 victories in the spot of ace, including four in Big Ten action.
The veteran has now won 6 of her last 8 matches and is looking forward to continuing that success this weekend.
“With last week off to rest, I’m pretty excited to compete,” Li said. “As a team, we’re real excited and hyped up for our final two regular season matches.”
Sophomore Chloe Lee also excelled in the loss to the Spartans, picking up her second conference singles win of the season.
Seniors Mariam Zein and Lindsey Kayati have also contributed conference wins this spring.
Zein also expressed excitement to hit the road, stating that after a weekend off the Knights are prepared and focused.
“We’ve had three good days of practice in a row,” Zein said. “Last year we took some games from Wisconsin and Minnesota, so I think we’ve got a good shot, especially in doubles.”
Last season was Rutgers' first season in the Big Ten, and it played both programs at home at the East Brunswick Racquet Club.
The Knights suffered defeat at the hands of both the Badgers and Golden Gophers, but did not go down without a fight.
Rutgers pulled out 3 points between the two matches in 2015, and has improved mightily since.
Wisconsin, on the other hand, is in a rebuilding year this spring, entering Friday’s match with a 6-13 overall record and a 2-6 mark in Big Ten play.
Two Badgers are currently ranked in the ITA top-125, as Lauren Chypyha and Ekaterina Stepanova represent Wisconsin at No. 54 and 89 respectively in the rankings.
Chypyha owns a 12-4 mark in singles action with six conference wins, while Stepanova has produced a 12-5 record with a team-leading eight conference triumphs.
Despite their talented players, Rutgers head coach Benjamin Bucca isn’t too distraught about facing Wisconsin.
“We’re a very competitive team playing strong tennis right now,” Bucca said. “If we get a couple lucky breaks, we can take the match.”
Minnesota, meanwhile, has a more successful campaign, garnering 12 wins on the season compared to 10 losses.
The Golden Gophers possess a 4-5 conference record and feature two excellent singles players of their own, Paula Rincon-Otero and Julia Courter, who lead the squad with 12 wins each.
Clearly the Knights will be tested in both matches, but the team is remaining positive and truly believes it will come away with something in the win column.
“Despite this being our last weekend, we’re coming in loose like it’s another stretch,” Li said. “We’ve had a strong year constantly moving toward a conference victory, and I think we’re ready to get one on this trip.”
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