Rutgers hosts Delaware in spring opener

After a successful fall season and a couple weeks on winter break, the Rutgers tennis team is ready to serve up a jam-packed schedule for the spring. The home opener for the Scarlet Knights begins on Friday at 12:30 p.m. where they face Delaware at the East Brunswick Racquet Club.

In the fall, Rutgers competed in four tournaments, with the ITA Regional Championships being its most impressive showing in program history. Not only did five players make their way into the main singles draw, sophomore Maya Jacobs was able to win five matches to advance to the round of 16 where she lost in three sets to Yale’s Caroline Dunleavy.

Junior Kat Muzik and freshman Tess Fisher shined on the court to make it all the way to the semifinals in the doubles draw. The Knights' duo was the only unseeded team among the four pairs in the semifinal round, and unfortunately, they lost a close battle to Syracuse.

Additionally, junior Jaci Cochrane and freshman Kristiana Zahare competed in the doubles quarterfinals, losing to Boston University in that round.

“We definitely had a lot of success in our doubles, which was great,” said head coach Hilary Ritchie. “But we're still going to work to mix up our doubles pairings, so that we have good fundamentals and we can play with anybody. But we also competed well in singles and I think what we need to do is continue our aggressive style of playing.”

In terms of the overall fall season, Rutgers captured four out of five hidden duals against Stony Brook, Brown, UConn and Buffalo. 

The strong and rather consistent showing for the Knights didn’t come easy since they cranked up training in practice and have garnered a lot of competitive spirit competing against their opponents.

Interestingly enough, Rutgers won’t be thinking about its opponents anytime soon. The Knights are working on the controllable, which begins with themselves individually and as a united front.

“I think our biggest goal for this season as a team is kind of not focusing on who we're playing and just more focusing on ourselves,” Cochrane said. “In the past, we got hung up on who we're supposed to beat and what not. This year, we're kind of focusing more on ourselves as individuals and as a team and doing what we can do.”

Even if Rutgers isn’t looking at who it will be facing throughout the season, it's worth noting that the Blue Hens have already begun their spring season last weekend. Delaware’s first dual was a 0-7 loss to UPenn followed by a winning sweep against Mount St. Mary’s in its home opener.

The Knights have a busy schedule compared to the fall, when they would have one or two matches every weekend as well as two midweek duals in February and March. Rutgers is slated for 10 non-conference duals and 11 Big Ten matches with the majority of its conference plays in March and April.

“We do have a busy season, but I do think it works out nicely where we have to really be diligent with taking good recovery time. Some of that recovery time includes our yoga,” Ritchie said. “We're trying to schedule a really thoughtful yoga, but also foam rolling and recovery time for the ladies, so that we can stay injury free.”

Rest and recovery seems to be key in preparing to compete against hungry opponents every week, but the Knights know that a large part of their season will be coping with the mental aspect of competition.

Not to mention, Rutgers doesn’t have any senior leadership. Luckily, the young and small group of Knights is something that Ritchie thinks will benefit the team in the long run as the season progresses.

“I think it's exciting to have a young team,” said Ritchie. “A lot of times, being naive can be a great thing. You don't set barriers for yourself and instead, we're going to go out and see how much we can accomplish.”

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

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