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Rutgers mounts comeback to defeat Penn State for 1st Big Ten win of season

The Rutgers tennis team battled Penn State for a win in a tight 4-3 match on Friday afternoon. The Scarlet Knights (2-0) had a rocky start in doubles play, but inched their way closer to finish ahead of the Nittany Lions (4-1).

Losing the lone doubles point at the beginning of the match, Rutgers dropped the first two doubles matches to Penn State. The Knights' duo of junior Kat Muzik and freshman Tess Fisher held a tight set, but ultimately fell 4-6 to the Lions' Gabby O’Gorman and Olivia Rohrbacher for the No. 1 spot. 

Sophomore Maya Jacobs and junior Jaci Cochrane also weren’t able to pull together a win, losing 4-6 to Penn State's Frederikke Svarre and Chelsea Sawyer for the No. 2 spot.

Freshmen Sydney Kaplan and Kristiana Zahare were on the way to a doubles win for Rutgers at 5-4 against the Lions, but tied 5-5. Since Penn State already won the first two doubles sets, they clinched the early doubles point lead to get ahead of the Knights heading into singles play.

“Today was a great matchup,” said head coach Hilary Ritchie. “Penn State competed very hard, but after we lost the doubles point, we came out very determined and today the results of our match was truly just a demonstration of what happens if you don't give up.” 

Jacobs was the first to storm away with a 6-2, 6-4 win to O’Gorman for the No. 1 position. Next to finish was Cochrane, who couldn’t take the No. 5 spot away from the Lions' Svarre (3-6, 4-6). Along with Cochrane, Kaplan was unable to secure the No. 4 position as Penn State's Samantha Smith took the match 3-6, 2-6. 

After four matches, the Lions carried a 3-1 lead over Rutgers, but that’s when the Knights turned the match around.

Muzik took the No. 3 position away from Sawyer. Falling 1-6 in the first set, Muzik didn’t start off her singles match well. But she took charge to capture the second set in a close 7-5 win. 

In the third and final set, Muzik tore through a dominant 3-0 win by retirement to close the gap against Penn State.

Down to the final two matches, Fisher and Zahare both worked their way to three sets and followed behind Muzik’s comeback performance.

Fisher lost the first set 4-6, but came back around in the second set to a 6-3 win. Holding onto the third set, Fisher captured a 6-3 victory against Rohrbacher for the No. 2 spot to tie up the overall dual at 3-3.

In the final match, Zahare would break the tie for Rutgers. In the No. 6 position, Zahare sealed the first set 6-4, but struggled in the second set for a 1-6 loss. Her loss in the second set was a wake-up call as she ran away with a 6-2 win in the third and final set of the match.

“We were down 3-1 and (Muzik) and (Fisher) just fought hard to come back, the same as (Zahare) to finish in three sets," Richie said. "So I'm very proud of our team and I hope we can keep the momentum going."

Hours of hard work spent in practice and maintaining consistent performances throughout the fall has grown the Knights’ confidence tremendously in believing that a match is truly never over until it’s over.

“I think it's all about confidence in the fall,” Muzik said. “It builds our confidence, and the results this fall were definitely good. That confidence will hopefully carry over into the spring.”

Rutgers has now won two consecutive home matches, its next match against Army will be the Knights' true test to be able to garner a win on the road. 

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

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