July 19, 2018 | ° F

Knights focus on ending streak

Serving, passing and defense.

Those are the principles Rutgers head volleyball coach CJ Werneke instilled in his players this season.

But when the Scarlet Knights (4-21, 0-11) host Central Florida (16-7, 7-3) tonight at the College Ave. Gymnasium, they will need consistency to end their 11-game winless drought.

To achieve that, Werneke believes a strong performance from his middle blockers is key. Junior middle blocker Rachel Andreassian maintains a solid third season, while sophomore middle blocker Mikaela Matthews registered a career-high nine blocks against Houston.

Werneke likes what he has seen from the pair and believes their strong play is essential.

“Our middles are going to have some great opportunities to impact the match and so they’re going to have to step it up offensively,” Werneke said. “When our middles play well, it opens up everything else offensively and when they don’t it kind of bogs things down. So we spent all week really working with them and hopefully that translates to being an impact [today] and Sunday.”

If the Knights long for a weakness to expose Central Florida, they may have a difficult time. UCF places among the top of every major statistical category in the AAC, including first in blocks averaged with 2.97 per set.

Central Florida features five players who have more than 100 kills this season, led by middle blocker DeLaina Sarden. Sarden sits sixth in the conference in kills per set.

The stat does not alleviate any concerns the Knights have with alleviating a loss at the hands of UCF earlier in the season. Rutgers lost in straight sets Oct. 6 when it faced UCF.

Werneke feels the team showed they could compete. UCF also recorded six of its seven losses on the road.

“Central Florida is a real physical team,” Werneke said. “They have great net play, size and athleticism at the net, but I don’t think they’re as good of a defensive passing team. So we really have to capitalize getting past their block offensively and being aggressive serving-wise to make their offense more predictable.”

The Knights will also host conference rival South Florida (13-11, 7-3) this Sunday.

Rutgers visited the Bulls on Oct. 4 to open its road conference schedule.

The Knights failed to lead the entire match and posted a season-worst -.035 hit percentage. South Florida was on a five-game winning streak before falling in straight sets Nov. 1 to Central Florida.

Sophomore outside hitter Erin Fairs leads South Florida. Fairs tops the conference with 3.66 kills per set and has 305 kills on the year.

By Sean Stewart

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