After an excellent start to the spring season with a strong showing at the NJIT Invitational, Rutgers Women’s Tennis has gone 5-14 overall and 0-10 in Big Ten Conference play. The team picked up their first Big Ten wins last season against Penn State and Wisconsin but are still looking for their first this season with one match remaining.
The team’s last overall win was over a month ago, 4-3 over Georgia Southern, and they’ve lost straight (all Big Ten contests) since then. The team seemed to have found its footing by picking up points against Nebraska, Iowa, and Michigan State but fell to both Michigan and then Purdue on Friday.
Sophomore Jaci Cochrane has gone 11-12 overall this season, including a convincing 6-0, 6-4 singles win against Iowa’s Adorabol Huckleby. Cochrane also impressed at the NJIT Invitational and was subsequently named the program’s first Big Tennis Women’s Tennis Athlete of the Week. She says, “honestly, it was surprising. I had no idea until my coach Hilary [Ritchie] sent me a text message but it felt really good. I mean, obviously I was feeling really good after that tournament so I guess getting that recognition felt pretty special.”
When asked about her favorite aspect of playing for Rutgers, Cochrane says, “For me, it’s honestly just playing for the team. We have a really good dynamic and it’s not about you, you know. It’s college tennis now so you’re playing for yourself but you’re also playing for the girl on the court next to you.”
Freshmen Maya Jacobs and Isabelle Da Silva have settled in nicely, stepping in for two graduates. When asked about them, Head Coach Hilary Ritchie also emphasizes a major difference: “Our freshmen are very eager, they’re very coachable. They work very hard at practice. I think it’s a shock from playing junior tennis sometimes where it’s such an individualized sport. You know you’re only concerned about yourself and how you do in each tournament and now with a team win, you’re chasing your individual victories as well but you’re also concerned about how you work at practice in relation with the team, if your match impacts the overall win, it’s a big difference.”
Jacobs picked up her first conference win (1-6, 6-2, 10-5) over Illinois’ Emilee Duong and hopes to build on that going forward. “That gave me a lot of confidence and it was finally nice to see, like, what works and what doesn’t… I think it’s going to help me in the long run when I get into those situations again.”
Ritchie adds, “I think that was huge actually. She was doing really well in our fall season until she actually had a pretty big injury… the injury to her shoulder definitely impacted her confidence toward her match-ups and I noticed early in the season that she wasn’t playing the same. I think slowly, through these matches, she’s gained confidence but that win, especially to come back after losing the first set, that will really help her.”
And that’s a sign of better things to come. Ritchie is in her second year as the team’s Head Coach and the team underwent a few adjustments this season. And although they won’t finish with a record better than last year’s (8-13 overall, 2-9 in conference), their 5-14 (0-10) record so far this season isn’t an accurate representation of how well they’ve played. Many of their matches have been close and one of their goals is to find ways to win points and games, and close out sets.
Ritchie explains, “Our biggest goal is to compete the same way in pressure moments just like when the score early in the match might be 2-2, something like that. Our goal is to find that confidence to compete the same way in the close moments, maybe even when we’re having a lead, to close out a lot of these sets. We have leads, we have opportunities, but unfortunately we’re playing a little too tentatively.”
However, they’re trying to build something special, something that can’t necessarily be measured in wins and losses.
Ritchie says, “We’re saying a lot of the right things and coming to practices with the right attitude. It’s easier said than done but focus on the process. You hear that a lot in sports; just focus on what you can control but they’re really doing that and they’re coming to practice, they’re not complaining, and they’re not making excuses. They’re coming ready to work. They’re trying to look at each match as individuals instead of looking toward the rest of the season as a whole so trying to focus on what each person can do on the court in hopes of getting that collective Big Ten win. It’s really what we’re trying to instill upon them and they’re buying into it.”
Jacobs adds, “If we continue to fight the way I know we can, no matter what the outcome is, I’ll be really proud of us… I think we’re a very well-mannered, family-like team. We get along very well.”
The team’s culture is changing and the wins will come; until then, they’re going to do all of the little things right.
They’ll look to finish the season strong on Senior Day (Sunday, April 22) in an 11AM match-up against Indiana at the Rutgers Tennis Complex in Piscataway.