Rutgers heads to West Point for match against Army

The Rutgers tennis team will compete in its first away match against Army on Friday at noon. The Scarlet Knights (2-0, 1-0) have proved over the past two home matches that they aren’t just participants in the Big Ten, but tough competitors as well. 

In its last match, Rutgers edged out Big Ten rival Penn State 4-3 in a comeback win, last Friday. 

After losing a crucial doubles point, the Knights were down 1-3 with the sole win coming from sophomore Maya Jacobs in the No. 1 spot. Since the fall, Jacobs is Rutgers’ top singles player and will be looking to notch as many wins in her pocket this season.

“Overall, we did really well fighting and just staying in it because we didn't get the doubles point,” said freshman Tess Fisher. “If you get that point, then that helps your momentum going forward in a positive way."

Junior Kat Muzik was the catalyst in the Knights' turnaround win against the Nittany Lions (5-1, 0-0). She had a rough 1-6 start in the first set before fighting to a 7-5, 3-0 win by retirement to clinch the No. 3 position.

Fisher and freshman Kristiana Zahare followed behind in Muzik’s place with their own wins in three sets. Fisher claimed the No. 2 spot (4-6, 6-3, 6-3) while Zahare got the job done for Rutgers in the No. 6 position (6-4, 1-6, 6-2).

“They both had very different matches,” said head coach Hilary Ritchie. “They had very different momentum in each one, but the fact that both of them were able to just stay focused in the third set and pull out a win when there was a lot of atmosphere and a lot of pressure on the line speaks volumes to how they are as competitors.”

On Fisher’s end, she could feel the weight on her shoulders to deliver, but she was able to push that all aside by taking a deep breath and staying focused on what she could control on the court.

For the freshmen to be able to shut down their opponents under pressure is a testament to the Knights' entire culture. Even though Fisher and Zahare haven't played a full season in the collegiate tennis landscape, they have seamlessly transitioned into key players for Rutgers.

Additionally, Muzik’s win changed the course for the rest of the competition and showed upperclassmen leadership to control any situation.

With resilient singles players, the Knights need to work on their doubles play since three doubles matches determine 1 point of an overall 7-point competition. Ritchie said that doubles pairings will switch between matches.

This creates an environment to build relationships within the team while also testing out different pairs to see which pairing is best compete with against some tough Big Ten teams. 

Zahare and Fisher said consistent, high-intensive work in practice will eventually translate into competition. The better Rutgers is able to outwork its opponents, the more wins it’ll be able to checkmark off the schedule.

The little things do matter, Zahare said, because working on the details can create a significant impact in competition. For the Knights, they’ll have to put a major focus on doubles play throughout the season since the doubles point could mean the difference between winning and losing a Big Ten matchup.

No matter if they’re at home or away, the Black Knights (4-2, 1-0) are on a three-game winning streak against Colgate, Binghamton and Sacred Heart. Most recently, Army had its double-header home opener against the Bearcats and the Pioneers with only one singles match decided in a third set.

“We continue to work on both singles and doubles, but doubles is definitely going to be a key for us in our upcoming matches,” Ritchie said. “We know that we're playing well and we're close, but we need to capitalize on every game point that we earn.”

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

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