Rutgers leaves Robert Morris Invitational with pair of wins
The Rutgers volleyball team said goodbye to its five-match losing streak last weekend by securing the Robert Morris Invitational title in Moon Township, Pennsylvania. The Scarlet Knights (5-7) settled on a pair of wins against the University of Pennsylvania and Middle Tennessee State University before falling to the host Colonials.
Facing a doubleheader on the first day, Rutgers took on Penn first in an extremely close four-set match (25-23, 25-22, 24-26, 25-20) where the Knights were able to set a season-high 59 kills led by freshman opposite hitter Kamila Cieslik’s 20 kills. Also hitting double-figures were sophomore opposite hitter Jillian Duffin with 13 kills in her season debut and freshman outside hitter Yana Kamshilina’s 11 kills.
In the game against Middle Tennessee State, Rutgers lost the first set 25-21, but fought back to soar past it by winning the next three sets (26-24, 25-14, 25-19). This time around, Kamshilina and Cieslik both recorded 11 kills and two blocks to lead the Knights to a rather smooth win.
Other notable performances on that day were sophomore Karysa Swackenberg with her 28 digs to lead the defense and sophomore setter Megan Sharkey’s 86 total assists. Fifty-one assists came from Sharkey from the Penn match, which is a career high and ties for the eighth most in program history for a four-set game.
Reflecting back on the tournament season, head coach CJ Werneke believes that the team’s mental approach in practice is much different than what he knows they are capable of.
“We’ve been inconsistent,” Werneke said. “I think our skill set is some of the best since I’ve been here and the best in the Big Ten, but I think our day in and day out mentality and approach to who we are has just been inconsistent and shows up on the weekends.”
This inconsistency seemed to have shown up on the final match of the invitational as Rutgers was unable to continue the momentum it had from its pair of wins the previous day. The Knights lost in a straight-set match (25-20, 25-20, 25-21) to Robert Morris. In her debut invitational, Duffin tied her 13 kill mark from the day before with a .400 hitting percentage in addition to two blocks. Behind her was Cieslik with nine kills, three blocks and an ace.
Opening up the season with the ECU Invitational title, Rutgers was able to cap off the tournament season the same as how it began it with the Robert Morris Invitational title.
Next up for the Knights will be their first Big Ten matchup against Iowa at the College Avenue Gymnasium on Friday.
When asked about what the team is most looking forward to heading into the conference portion of the season, Cieslik is confident that Rutgers will finally get a chance to affirm its place in the Big Ten.
“We’re excited to play the best teams in the country and show everybody what we’ve got," Cieslik said.
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