Tough weekend awaits Rutgers at home with Northwestern, Illinois on docket
Two Big Ten opponents will once again come to the Banks to face off against the Rutgers volleyball team this weekend at the College Avenue Gym. First up will be Northwestern (10-4, 0-2) on Friday followed by Illinois (11-2, 2-0) on Sunday. Both teams played each other last week in Evanston, Illinois where ultimately, the Illini dominated to close out the win in a straight-set victory.
Last time out, the Scarlet Knights (5-9, 0-2) stayed home for their Big Ten openers, losing to both teams in straight sets against Iowa (25-17, 25-16, 25-14) and No. 14 Nebraska (25-15, 25-20, 25-11).
Rutgers hit a season low of .012 against Iowa, but paving the way for the Knights again was freshman opposite hitter, Kamila Cieslik, recording nine kills. The rookie already accumulated a total of 19 aces this season before the Iowa match, which placed her 50th in the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and fourth in the Big Ten.
Sophomore setter Megan Sharkey so far has played an integral part for Rutgers, as she logged 44 total assists between the matches against Iowa and Nebraska, pulling her ahead toward the Knights’ all-time leaderboard in assists. Since the beginning of her freshman year, Sharkey has totaled 940 assists, which is very close to cracking the top-10.
Other noteworthy performances over the weekend were junior outside hitter Sahbria McLetchie’s seven kills during the Iowa match and sophomore outside hitter Jillian Duffin with ten kills to lead Rutgers against Nebraska.
The Knights are not the only Big Ten team coming off of a disappointing start to their conference season as Northwestern logged two consecutive losses against No. 13 Purdue and Illinois last weekend. They have become one of four teams tied for the bottom ranking in the Big Ten including Rutgers. Both the Knights and Northwestern have lost their past three matches, so this will likely be Rutgers' best opportunity to defeat one of its Big Ten rivals.
On the other hand, Illinois is having a phenomenal season and is currently ranked in a four-way tie for first in the Big Ten conference rankings after winning its past five matches including ones against Big Ten opponents Indiana and Northwestern. The Illini’s .311-hitting percentage puts them at No. 8 in the NCAA behind three other Big Ten schools: No. 2 Penn State, No. 13 Purdue and No. 5 Wisconsin.
The Knights should keep an eye on junior middle blocker Ali Bastianelli, Illinois’ Academic All-Big Ten honoree, who is now fourth in the nation with her .491-hitting percentage.
Hope is still alive for Rutgers as the team fights to erase its three consecutive losses this Friday and Sunday against two more Big Ten teams.
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