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Sydney Kaplan's transition into Rutgers

From the moment she picked up a tennis racquet, she knew this was where she was supposed to be. For Sydney Kaplan, a freshman on the Rutgers tennis team, her natural ability to hit the ball over the net came at a young age. 

Kaplan’s brother is three years older than her and had a tennis lesson, which Kaplan watched. She was sitting on the sidelines, but wanted to try hitting the ball. Her brother let her try. Kaplan hit the first ball, and it went over the net. She hit another ball, and the same thing happened.

Kaplan was a natural.

She played soccer and basketball on the side, but tennis became a greater commitment than any other sport she played. She decided to play competitively before she turned 10 years old.

Positivity and energy filled the tennis courts whenever Kaplan played. To this day, it’s a standard she continues to build upon while playing at the collegiate level. 

But, like many student athletes, tennis wasn’t always sunshine and rainbows. 

“I’ve definitely had my moments where it was emotionally and mentally a lot,” Kaplan said. “I went through a time where I wasn't winning. I had moments where I said I wanted to quit, but not really meaning it. I've been through a lot of obstacles to get where I am now, so they were worth it. Tennis has taught me a lot, mentally and emotionally."

Sacrifices were made. Before becoming a Scarlet Knight, there were weekend competitions where she couldn’t hang out with her friends. When she did lose, she had to find ways to bounce back and be ready for her next match. 

Like any sport, tennis is hard work — it doesn’t come easy.

Looking at colleges, Kaplan wanted a challenge. Funny enough, Rutgers wasn’t part of that list, but quickly made its way to the top.

 “When I was younger, I told my mom I really wanted to play for a Big Ten school,” Kaplan said. “Looking at schools, to be honest, Rutgers was not on my radar at first. I thought I wanted to go far away, but I realized how much I'd be traveling for this sport.”

The Knights are close to home, and if she wanted to, there was the option of popping by for a good home-cooked meal every once in a while throughout the semester. Location was ideal, but it was the coaches and team that got Kaplan signing her letter of intent to Rutgers University. 

"(The coaches and team) are very genuine,” Kaplan said. “The team seemed like such a family. The coaches really want to coach us to be better and help us in all the ways that they can. My teammates are so nice and supportive of each other."

When she moved on the Banks, Kaplan was thrown into the Big Ten gauntlet with fierce competition. She didn’t know what to expect, but quickly understood what it takes to win conference matchups.

"It takes being positive, and it takes wanting it more than anything,” Kaplan said. “Playing to win, and knowing that you're playing for your team. It's a good feeling to play on a team and win for them.”

In her first season, Kaplan has captured three straight Big Ten singles wins against Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska — all at the No. 4 spot. She likes to push her opponents back and dictate the points. When Kaplan’s in control of the ball, she never wants to let that up.

Kaplan’s natural ability at tennis landed her a spotlight on the Big Ten stage. She hopes for at least a .500 record — more wins than losses — by the time she leaves the Knights. With the streak she’s on, Kaplan is more than capable of getting above that goal set in her mind.

"When I step on the tennis court, I feel at home,” Kaplan said. “I feel like it's where I'm meant to be and belong. When I get on the court, I know exactly what I need to do and I just need to do it.”

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

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