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Trip to Wisconsin offers new level of opponents

(04/08/10 4:00am)

 Crunch time is here in full force for the Rutgers tennis team, as it faces the toughest portion of its 2010 season this weekend. The Scarlet Knights journey to Milwaukee, Wis., to take on Marquette and Big East beast DePaul in a series of make-or-break matches. Rutgers (11-5, 5-1) caught fire over the past month and a half, winning eight of its last 10 matches and creeping to the edge of the conference's upper echelon. The Knights reeled off five straight Big East wins — the most recent two on the road. Despite all the success thus far, the squad faces its moment of truth this weekend. Think of the two matches as the Knights' opportunity to claim the title of "contender" or "pretender." The easiest matches of the team's schedule are behind them and if Rutgers wants to continue moving forward it will have to go through some formidable foes. Judgment day comes Saturday, when the Knights go face-to-face with No. 21 DePaul. The Blue Demons (13-3, 4-1) present the biggest challenge the Knights faced all year. Rutgers has never beaten a nationally ranked team and head coach Ben Bucca knows it. His players know it. Quite frankly, Saturday's match is one of the program's most pivotal contests in years. Senior captain Katherine Arlak feels her team is well-equipped to handle the pressure. "DePaul is a ranked team and we know they're going to be tough," Arlak said. "I don't think we're nervous though. We know we're not expected to win the match, but if we go in there and play the best we can and play hard, we can beat them." Sophomore Jen Holzberg, the team's No. 2 singles player, is just as confident as her captain that the Knights will play up to the task. "I think we're ready for this," Holzberg said. "We've practiced hard and we've beaten all the teams that we should have. We're on the right track to finally beating a ranked opponent." Should Rutgers knock off mighty DePaul, junior ace Amy Zhang believes it would change the culture of the University's tennis program. "It would mean a lot to beat DePaul," Zhang said. "This team has really improved since my freshman year. We're at the point now where we could just level off or continue to get better." "We're so close to becoming a ranked team and it's time for us to get over that hump. It's not about talent on this team, it's about believing in our own abilities." Those abilities have not let the Knights down very often this season.

Title in sight after win over Hall continues dominance

(04/06/10 4:00am)

 Wondering which Rutgers sports program will be the next to bring a Big East title to the Banks? The Rutgers' tennis team is looking more and more like a viable candidate to do so with every win it collects. The Scarlet Knights brushed aside intrastate rival Seton Hall 6-1 yesterday in South Orange, earning Rutgers its fifth consecutive conference victory. The Knights (11-5, 5-1) are 8-2 since Feb. 25 and now stand firmly among the conference's hottest teams. Rutgers entered the road contest knowing it was the heavy favorite — and they certainly played like one. The Knights dominated throughout the afternoon as they pounded the Pirates early and often. Seton Hall (5-9,0-4) could not keep up with Rutgers from the start. The Knights rolled through doubles play with little challenge. Sophomore Jen Holzberg, who teamed up with junior Amy Zhang for their sixth-straight win as a pair, believes her team set the tone early. "We knew that we could win this match," Holzberg said. "Coming out strong and proving ourselves right away was important and that got us going." The Knights success in pairs carried over into singles play, where Zhang laid the hammer down by double-bagling her opponent 6-0, 6-0. But Rutgers' No. 1 player was not the only one to dominate. Holzberg cruised to her eleventh win of the season with a 6-1, 6-3 decision, while sophomore Maryana Milchutskey (6-1, 6-4) and senior Caitlin Baker (6-1, 6-0) also eased their way to victory. Sophomore Leonora Slatnick refused to lose once more, earning a 6-3, 6-2 win. The Austin, Tx. product has not lost since February and has been an X-factor for the Knights. "She's improved a lot and just keeps getting better," Holzberg said. "We're very confident when Leo's playing in a match because of her how she's been doing." Teammates should believe in Slatnick. The Knights have been at their best during her streak, which has seemingly helped jump-start the group. Slatnick said she is not the only member of the team inspiring others. "It helps when you watch your teammates and see them doing well," she said. "At one point during the match I looked over at Jen [Holzberg] and saw she was playing great — that definitely motivated me." Head coach Ben Bucca's squad is firmly positioning itself for a high seed in the Big East postseason tournament — which begins April 22 in South Bend, Ind. The Knights' sixth win on the road provides another example of the team's mental fortitude according to captain Caitlin Baker, who picked up a victory in doubles play. "We've matured a lot as players this season when it comes to mentally preparing for matches," Baker said, "Our mental toughness is what keeps us going. Every single one of us can find a way to grind out a win, even if it's ugly." Now that the Knights have shredded through much of the conference, they face a tough task in the last two road matches of the season.

Knights put down Huskies in Big East win

(03/31/10 4:00am)

The Rutgers tennis team entered March searching for consistency. On the first day of April, the Scarlet Knights are a model of it. RU overwhelmed Connecticut 6-1 in Storrs, Conn., yesterday afternoon, picking up a much-needed road win and extending its conference unbeaten streak to four. The team put its road struggles to rest as Rutgers earned its first Big East win beyond the Banks this season. Though the Huskies (3-8, 1-4) entered the contest as one of the conference's doormats, they won three of the last five matches, including a decision over Providence last Thursday. UConn played sharp, but the Knights (10-5, 4-1) were up to the challenge, according to senior captain Katherine Arlak. "UConn is a lot better than they were last year," Arlak said. "Physically though, I think we were fitter and we hit more consistently than they did. That made the difference. Everyone played very tough. Many of us had close matches and were able to come out on top."

Huskies to serve up difficult road competition

(03/30/10 4:00am)

Last time the Rutgers tennis team took to the road for a Big East match, Syracuse blanked the Scarlet Knights 7-0 in the Jan. 31 season opener. Exactly two months since that embarrassing stumble out of the gate, Rutgers looks to claim its fourth consecutive conference victory and continue to climb in the Big East rankings. The Knights head to Storrs, Conn., today to take on the Connecticut in a conference clash. Rutgers (9-5, 3-1) enters the showdown as winners of six of the team's last eight contests, while the Huskies (3-7, 1-3) picked up all three of their wins in their last five matches. Though Rutgers appears to be the obvious favorite on paper, head coach Ben Bucca knows nothing is a given. "The team has to come ready to play enthusiastic tennis," Bucca said. "We've had some good wins against UConn in the past, but they always end up very close. Plus they will be at home." The fact that the Knights will be journeying up the Northeast for the match could work in the Huskies' favor. Rutgers is 4-5 away from home this season — a stark contrast to the team's 5-0 record on the Banks. Sophomore Jen Holzberg attempted to explain her team's struggles beyond Piscataway. "It's a combination of not being used to our surroundings and not having our fans there to support us," Holzberg said. "We've also played most of our tougher opponents on road so that doesn't help either." Bucca said the issue is simple — it's just a whole lot harder to play on the road. "My overwhelming experience is that traveling counts," he said. "There is truth to the saying ‘home court advantage,' and it presents us with a challenge." Sophomore Maryana Milchutskey believes the Knights turned a corner in their road play and will be ready to take on UConn today. "In the beginning of the season we started off shaky on the road in our loss at Syracuse and that hurt our confidence a little bit," Milchutskey said. "But lately we've been playing much better away from home and that's important to us.

Perfect home record on line against 'Nova

(03/09/10 5:00am)

The Rutgers tennis team has a prime opportunity to extend its win streak to three when it hosts Big East rival Villanova this afternoon at the RU Tennis Complex. The Scarlet Knights (5-3, 1-1) are unbeaten in three home matches this spring and are playing with confidence after two impressive wins. Head coach Ben Bucca is pleased with his team's performance in Piscataway this season and believes the Knights are at their best when playing at home. "We're clearly a better team on our home court. We like the environment here and play well here," Bucca said. "A number of fans come out and I know the girls get inspired by that." RU played inconsistent tennis during the early portion of the season, but the group appears to have found its groove over the past couple weeks. The Knights swept conference opponent Georgetown 7-0 on Feb. 25 before outlasting Army 5-2 on Sunday. The contest against Army was grueling. It lasted more than five hours and many of RU's players endured lengthy, hard-fought matches. Sophomore Jen Holzberg does not believe there will be a hangover effect from Sunday's difficult match. "The match [against Army] was definitely straining but I think we are in good condition as a team," Holzberg said. "We had Monday off and got some rest so I think we'll be physically ready to play hard against Villanova."

Conference sweep steers Knights back on track

(02/25/10 5:00am)

Consider the Rutgers tennis team back on the upswing. The Scarlet Knights (4-3, 1-1) swept away Georgetown yesterday afternoon 7-0. Hosting a match for the first time in three weeks, the Knights made quick work of their Big East rivals while picking up their first conference win. After a rough past weekend, in which RU lost two matches, head coach Ben Bucca believes yesterday's win provided his team with much needed momentum. "This was a tremendously motivational victory for us. We looked like a significantly improved team," Bucca said. "We are getting better with each match and that's encouraging."

Big East home opener offers break from road

(02/24/10 5:00am)

Big East play resumes today for the Rutgers tennis team when Georgetown pays a visit to Piscataway. The Scarlet Knights (3-3, 0-1) look to halt a two-match losing streak and pick up their first conference victory of the spring. The Knights haven't faced a Big East opponent since a season-opening 7-0 loss at Syracuse. Senior captain Caitlin Baker views today's match with the Hoyas (1-2, 0-2) as a prime opportunity to start fresh within the conference.