Rutgers gets swept by Illinois, drops 10th straight match
The Rutgers volleyball team dropped its 10th straight game in a loss to Illinois Saturday night, with the Fighting Illini (9-4, 2-0) sweeping the Scarlet Knights (4-11, 0-2) to a 3-0 victory.
The sets finished with scores of 18-25, 15-25 and 21-25.
The loss marks the 10th consecutive loss for the Knights. Through two matches in the conference, Rutgers is 0-2 with the other loss from last week's home game against Penn State.
Illinois started the season well with a 9-4 record and won its first two Big Ten matches.
Junior outside hitter Meme Fletcher provided much of the star power for the Knights, as she racked up six digs and led both teams with 13 kills.
Fletcher accepted the challenge that Illinois posed and felt that helped her in her play.
“The challenge of the big blockers on these other Big Ten teams motivates me,” Fletcher said. “It is more fun to get points off of and play against these teams, and I feel like that is how I took it and ran with it tonight.”
The match kicked off with the Illini jumping out to an early 9-1 lead. Rutgers steadily bounced back off of a few key blocks by senior middle blocker Mikaela Matthews to bring the game within two points, but the Knights were unable to recover from a few costly errors late in set one, and Illinois pulled away for its first win of the night.
Featuring heavily throughout all three sets was the aforementioned Matthews, whose five blocks were the most out of any player on the court. One of the more exciting plays in volleyball, Matthews’ blocks often resulted in the balance and momentum shifting in the group’s favor.
“Whenever someone gets a block on the team, whether it is me or anybody else, it really brings up the momentum and gets everyone amped and excited,” Matthews said. “It makes everyone play harder, and it generates more blocks and better defense. Blocks are extremely important in this game.”
But the second set did not go as smoothly for Rutgers, as it was held at a considerable distance for much of the period.
Illinois controlled game two, nabbing the first five points and never looking back as it finished ten points ahead.
Game three was a much different story for both sides. It was a point-for-point battle throughout.
Illinois established an early lead, but the Knights were able to break even and jump ahead halfway through the set. Rutgers controlled the court, with players like Matthews and Fletcher producing on the offensive and defensive ends.
The game ultimately turned to Illinois’ favor, as the Knights found themselves down due to a few attacking errors, which awarded the Illini the last few points.
The inability to finish sets has been a running narrative for the Knights, and head coach CJ Werneke has been critical of that throughout the campaign.
But being on the road in the Big Ten, Werneke said he thought there was more to it than an inability to finish.
“I think when you are on the road in a hostile environment, you have to take care of the little things,” Werneke said. “We did not focus on what got us there. We did not execute on those little things. You do not play to 20 or 22, you play to 25, and, you know, we have to find a way. Good teams find a way. Good teams rise to the occasion.”
The team will look to rise to the occasion next weekend as Rutgers will see out September with a match against Michigan and ring in October against Michigan State. The Knights will host the two in hopes for their first two conference wins this fall.
And though wins are always seen as the greatest measure of success, Werneke has adopted a different perspective. With this young Rutgers squad, he doesn’t look to wins or losses as an accurate barometer for the its success.
“I am not so worried about the record or the results, it is more a question of ‘are we getting better,’” Werneke said. “The Big Ten forces you to get better, it forces you to bring your A-game, and I think we are figuring that out and responding to that. So I think we are taking steps in the right direction, regardless of the wins and losses.”
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