July 21, 2018 | ° F

RU returns talent for move to Big Ten

As of Monday, the Rutgers volleyball team is officially a member of the Big Ten conference.

In volleyball, the move is the equivalent to joining the Southeastern Conference in football.

The teams are bigger, faster, stronger and more athletic, producing national championship contenders every season.

Since 2004, only once has the National Championship game not featured a current member of the Big Ten.

From 2006 to 2010 a current Big Ten team won the title. Nebraska did so once and powerhouse Penn State won the championship four times in a row.

In 2011, Illinois finished runner-up to UCLA, marking the last time a Big Ten school was featured in the title game.

With the Scarlet Knights now a part of this highly competitive conference, head coach CJ Werneke has warned the players of what is to come.

“The level of expectation and commitment is going to rise, and if you’re not ready for those expectations, then this might not be the place for you,” Werneke said.

The Knights, who in their history only made the NCAA Tournament appearance once in 1982, will need a lot more than hard work if they are to avoid a similar fate to this past season.

Rutgers’ only test against Big Ten competition came early in the season when they fell in straight sets against the less competitive Indiana, who finished 1-19 in conference play.

As a whole, the American Athletic Conference was 0-7 against Big Ten competition. Conference champion Louisville (23-7, 18-0) lost every set in its three matches against Big Ten opponents this season, giving some perspective on the talent gap between the two conferences.

“I told them every match in the Big Ten we’re going to be out-talented, out-skilled, outmatched physically and if we rely on those three things we’re going to have another disappointing year,” Werneke said. “We have to be better than those teams at the intangibles, we have to be a better team than the teams we play, we have to be more disciplined and do all those little things to have a shot.”

While the Big Ten provides some talented opposition, the Knights will retain a large part of their young core.

Junior middle blocker Rachel Andreassian will return partnered up front with freshman middle blocker Lauren Cloyd. A much-improved sophomore middle blocker Mikaela Matthews, who led the AAC in blocks this past season, will join them.

The Knights will also bring back another promising freshman in outside hitter Micaela Anderson and a proven scorer in sophomore outside hitter Alex Lassa.

For Andreassian, joining such an elite volleyball conference comes as a bit of a shock.

“I never really expected to be playing Big Ten volleyball but it’s really exciting,” Andreassian said. “Getting to play against some of the greatest volleyball teams in the country … and spending my last season in the Big Ten when I look back on it will be an experience not many people will be able to have, so I’m excited and a little bit anxious.”

One Knight who misses out on the Big Ten next season is senior libero Tracy Wright. While her leadership will be missed, the Fair Lawn, N.J. native expects big things for the program’s future.

“It’s going to be a challenge, but I think we will bring in great recruits and I think that they will grow more,” Wright said. “I think it will be tough at first, but there’s no doubt in my mind the team will grow and be just as good soon enough.

For updates on the Rutgers volleyball team, follow Targum Sports on Twitter @TargumSports.

By Sean Stewart

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