After playing two matches in the Midwest last weekend, the Rutgers tennis team will serve up competition against No. 14 Michigan and Michigan State this weekend at the Rutgers Tennis Complex.
The Scarlet Knights (9-8, 1-6) will take on the Wolverines (13-4, 9-0) on Saturday and the Spartans (13-10, 4-5) on Sunday with both competitions beginning at 11 a.m.
Michigan isn’t the first nationally ranked team Rutgers will play against. The Knights faced then-No. 24 Northwestern and No. 36 Illinois back to back, losing both matches with freshman Sydney Kaplan capturing the lone singles win against the Fighting Illini (9-10, 4-3).
“(Kaplan) has gained a lot of confidence,” said head coach Hilary Ritchie. “In her last few matches she has really been willing to fight until the end.”
Hailing from Montebello, New York, Kaplan capped off an undefeated weekend while in the Midwest. Her four doubles and singles wins add to her three straight Big Ten wins in singles action at the No. 4 position.
A change of environment for Rutgers saw a switch up in the doubles pairs. The usual pairings are junior Kat Muzik and freshman Tess Fisher at the No. 1 seed, and sophomore Maya Jacobs and junior Jaci Cochrane at the No. 2 spot.
Against Iowa (12-8, 4-4) and Nebraska (9-15, 1-7), Muzik and Jacobs paired up at No. 1 with Cochrane and freshman Kristiana Zahare at No. 2.
“We decided to mix up doubles pairings in hopes of getting some fresh energy,” Ritchie said. “Clearly it worked last weekend, but we still have to continue to execute on first serves and returns.”
The new pairings still need to build chemistry and will have the chance against the Michigan teams to test themselves.
The Knights are always looking to improve, but with these last two home matches, there isn’t much time left in the season to ease into new environments. Rutgers is going into every competition full force and isn’t letting up just yet.
“A major focus on these last two weekends will be intensity,” Ritchie said. “This is a long season, and the teams that are healthy and still hungry to compete can finish strong. Our win against Nebraska was fuel to stay focused and continue working hard.”
The Wolverines have yet to lose a Big Ten matchup. Michigan secured wins against Illinois and the Wildcats (11-7, 5-2). The Wolverines are returning from their most recent match against Florida, and will be storming onto the Banks.
Michigan’s Kate Fahey is the one to beat and is ranked No. 3 in the nation, according to the ITA singles rankings. Other Wolverines in the national singles rankings are No. 44 Chiara Lommer and No. 45 Brienne Minor. Fahey and Minor are ranked No. 25 in doubles play.
“Against Michigan, we are the underdogs but each player is going to be focused on their match and controlling what we can do,” Ritchie said. “In fact, it will be important for our players to have that type of mindset from here on out. We can't worry who is on the other side of the net. We have to focus on executing our shots.”
Scouting Michigan State
The Spartans dropped a 6-0 match to the Fighting Illini, but came around to a 4-3 win against Northwestern, last weekend on the road. Michigan State is slated to compete in Maryland on Friday before heading to New Jersey to take on the Knights.
The Spartans don’t have any nationally ranked singles or doubles players, but they are a serious threat that Rutgers has to be prepared for.
With the home court advantage, the Knights will have the crowd behind them, but they’re going to need a lot more than that if they want any shot at winning a single match against either team.
Both of its opens are ranked significantly higher than Rutgers in the Big Ten, but the Knights aren’t letting the numbers dictate their upcoming competition. To them, every competition is an opportunity to win.
"Same mindset as we've had all matches,” Kaplan said on this weekend’s competition. “Going out there and being hungry to win and excited to be playing tennis and we're going to be outside, so enjoy the nice weather and enjoy playing."
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