Rutgers heads to Indiana for matches against Boilermakers, Hoosiers

Two matches await in Indiana for the Rutgers tennis team’s final weekend of Big Ten competition. The Scarlet Knights (9-10, 1-8) will face Indiana on Saturday at 11 a.m. before serving up their last match against Purdue on Sunday at noon.

If Rutgers wants a chance at qualifying for the Big Ten Tournament the following weekend, it's going to have to step up in a big way on the road.

“We have an opportunity,” said head coach Hilary Ritchie. “If we can control our own matches, win, then we’re going to get lucky with some other teams losing. We’ll see how it plays out.”

Last time out, the Knights were gunning for a win against Michigan State in their final home match of the season, but couldn’t secure a key doubles point that led Rutgers to a 5-2 loss. 

“We can go out with even more energy,” said freshman Tess Fisher. “We may think it’s enough, but it’s not really enough. We can still do more. We just need to have confidence and know we can do it.”

Double Trouble

Since the doubles point will be key for the Knights in their last two matches, all options are on the table. 

Against No. 14 Michigan, the freshmen duo of Fisher and Sydney Kaplan won their doubles match 6-3 while junior Jaci Cochrane and freshman Kristiana Zahare nearly pulled out another win, losing their match 7-6 (4-0).

But, Rutgers wasn't able to maintain its momentum in its doubles performance against the Spartans (15-10, 6-5) the following day. Whether the Knights will stick to their original pairs or switch them around again is up in the air.

The duo of junior Kat Muzik and Fisher dominated the fall season, but the Big Ten seems to be throwing them a curveball with only one doubles win. Instead, Fisher and Kaplan have excelled with a 3-1 in conference outings. Their first loss was against Michigan State.

The only other pairs to win at least one doubles match are sophomore Isabelle Da Silva and Zahare as well as sophomore Maya Jacobs and Muzik. They look like Rutgers' best shot at securing the early lead.

Freshmen Phenoms

Out with the old and in with the new. Fisher (3-6) and Kaplan (3-5) lead the Knights in singles play with three Big Ten wins each. If they’re out in the first set, they know how to close and most likely will play into a third set for the win. 

Fisher and Kaplan are usually slotted into No. 3 and 4 seeds in the column, but it would be no surprise to see them move up in the ranks this weekend.

Air is thin at the top of the column. Jacobs has a 0-7 record, but she has definitely been handed the hardest schedule of any of Rutgers player at the No. 1 spot. Jacobs was also out for three weeks, trying to get medically cleared. 

Taking her place was Muzik (2-6), who put together a strong showing at the top spot. Muzik has built her way up to multiple Big Ten victories, winning her past two matches and looking to add two more to that.

Scouting the opponents

The Hoosiers (14-10, 4-5) sit comfortably in the middle of the conference with nationally-ranked singles and doubles players. Making it into the singles rankings this week was Indiana's Madison Appel at No. 122 after capturing a ranked win against No. 21 Ohio State. 

Appel, along with Jelly Bozovic, are a strong pair that sits No. 60 in the nation and will be the ones to beat.

On the other hand, the Boilermakers (8-12, 3-6) are slowly making their way back up from the bottom. Purdue has Silvia Ambrosio and Amina Mukhametshina as its go-to doubles pair, ranking 46th in the country. Even though the Boilermakers are at the bottom, they did defeat the Hoosiers this season 5-2. 

“There’s a lot of circularity at the bottom this year,” Ritchie said. “Teams beating teams. You think somebody is out, then they have a good win, so it’s doable if we can play well this weekend.”

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