Rutgers opens up Big Ten conference play against Iowa
This Friday, the Rutgers volleyball team will go head-to-head against Iowa at the College Avenue Gymnasium to kick off its first Big Ten game of the conference season. The Scarlet Knights sit at a 5-7 record with a .417 hitting percentage and will be fighting to win at least one set during the upcoming match against the Hawkeyes.
Rutgers is facing tough competition as Iowa holds an 11-2 record and an outstanding .846 hitting percentage, which is its best start to a season since 2006. Iowa has won its past four games where it nabbed the team title at the American Volleyball Classic, defeating Howard University, American University and Princeton University. This week also marked a program first as Gabrielle Orr was named Co-Freshman of the Week, recording 117 assists with a .500 percentage at the American Volleyball Classic.
The Robert Morris Invitational team title that the Knights won last week should boost their confidence heading into Friday’s match. Rutgers is already on a better trajectory than last season with two wins against Penn and Middle Tennessee State under its belt from its final invite.
The most impressive match was against Penn as freshman opposite hitter Kamila Cieslik posted 20 kills while sophomore opposite hitter Jillian Duffin debuted her season with 13 kills and freshman outside hitter Yana Kamshilina hit 11.
Additionally, sophomore setter Megan Sharkey recorded a career-high 51 assists against Penn, which is tied for the 8th best in program history for a four-set match.
With the underclassmen playing a significant role this season as evident from last weekend’s matches, head coach CJ Werneke believes that the team’s identity is a key factor in moving forward, but still has yet to be found among the players.
“With such a young team and so many few pieces, we are still trying to figure out our identity,” Werneke said. “A team without an identity is hard to go somewhere, but I have total belief in our skill set. … We just have to continue to work on our mental approach.”
There have been glimpses of this talent from Cieslik’s 146 kills to Sharkey’s 374 assists throughout the season, but the team agrees that it needs to work on its consistency if it wants to win any matches against its conference opponents.
“We know that we have a lot of talent on the team and to utilize that every game … that would really help us in the Big Ten,” Sharkey said. “You know that every team is going to give us their best, so we have to be able to rise to the occasion and play our best as well.”
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