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Rutgers' Big Ten Tourney appearance determined by next 6 matches

Six more matches. Six more opportunities to make the Big Ten tournament. 

There is nothing the Rutgers tennis team wants more than to make its name among the rest of the teams in its conference. The Scarlet Knights (8-7, 0-5) are trailing toward the bottom of the rankings, but they’re determined to change those stats around in the next couple of weeks.

 “In comparison to other teams, it's very evident that there are Big Ten players that are quick and very, very aggressive,” said sophomore Maya Jacobs. “Those are things that we've also been working on this season and what we're going to see a lot in the Big Ten. As we come away from those matches, we've made a lot of adjustments and we're really excited to show what we've been working on.”

After facing two hard losses to No. 24 Northwestern and No. 36 Illinois, Rutgers is remaining optimistic that its goal is still within reach. The key matches the Knights will be eyeing conference wins in are against Iowa, Nebraska and Purdue. 

Since the Hawkeyes (10-8, 2-4) are ranked 10th in the conference, they will be Rutgers’ hardest opponent to beat out of the three teams. 

The Cornhuskers (8-14, 0-6) sit comfortably at the bottom of the conference. If the Knights aren’t able to beat Nebraska, it’s unlikely they’ll make it into the tournament. 

There’s also the Boilermakers (6-11, 1-5), who didn’t start building up steam until this past weekend when they won against the Huskers 4-3. 

The Big Ten tournament takes the top-10 teams in the conference based on ranking, head-to-head competitions and records. If Rutgers is able to run away with these Big Ten wins, it has a good shot at sneaking into the tournament. 

There’s one caveat: They’re all away competitions.

In Illinois, Jacobs said the facility was big and the fans took their part in cheering, but that wasn’t the biggest factor leading the Knights to perform the way they did. Rutgers does fairly well in tuning out the hoots and hollers from other Big Ten home crowds, but there are so many other factors that go into away matches. 

Flying, busing, sleeping in a hotel and eating food they're not used to can all contribute to poor performances. As long as the Knights are able to cope with these changes and put a solid travel routine in place, it won’t matter when competition comes around. 

But Rutgers is more worried about the actual mentality heading into a match, not just away or at home.

“It's about making sure we're in the right mindset,” said junior Kat Muzik. “The night before the match, just taking a moment to visualize, sometimes that works for people and just thinking about what we're going to do the next day.”

In Jacobs’s mind, the right mindset can only be summarized best in two words: Everyone’s beatable.

The Knights will have the chance to take down their conference opponents, who are all eyeing the same spots in the Big Ten Tournament. Rutgers will fly out west to compete against Iowa on April 5 at 3 p.m. before facing Nebraska on April 7 at 9 a.m.

With only a few short weeks left of the season, the Knights are trying to fine tune their skills in practice, hoping to implement those improvements into competition. Time will only tell, but Rutgers has to balance on the physical and mental toughness needed to excel in one of the top conferences in the nation.

“We have a lot of opportunities left in the six matches we have left,” Muzik said. “As long as we step up and make sure we really focus on everything and we're really practicing, it's still a goal that we can reach.”

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

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