Rutgers ends 3-game homestand against Iowa
Riding through a rollercoaster of emotions over the weekend, the Rutgers volleyball team is staying on the Banks for this Wednesday’s game against Iowa.
The Scarlet Knights (6-13, 0-6) have suffered six consecutive Big Ten losses and are eyeing a win after coming so close to upsetting Ohio State on Friday.
“I think it was definitely hard for our Saturday walk through before Maryland, after Ohio State,” said junior libero Karysa Swackenberg. “I think morale was pretty low, but I think we kind of looked at each other and realized we still have a whole half of a Big Ten season left. We can't let a close loss ruin what we can do. So I think that we're still moving on from that loss, but we're ready for Iowa.”
Last weekend, Rutgers went head-to-head with Ohio State and Maryland. The Buckeyes match kept both teams on the edge of their seats as the Knights fought their way through five sets before ultimately losing the last set 15-9.
Freshman middle Merle Weidt recorded a career-high 15 kills, while posting a match-high eight blocks to outblock Ohio State 13-7. Freshman setter Inna Balyko led Rutgers in the assist department with 46 assists and 12 digs to set up her first Big Ten double-double.
Other notable performances came from senior outside hitter Sahbria McLetchie’s 14 kills followed by freshman outside hitter Tali Marmen’s 11 kills. Both players also notched 11 digs to add their names alongside Balyko for a double-double.
The Knights came on strong in the first set against the Terrapins, but fell off quickly to lose in three straight sets (25-27, 15-25, 14-25).
This time around, McLetchie led the attack with 10 kills, two digs and one block, while Balyko held up with 30 assists. Swackenberg saved the ball for a match-high 13 digs, which is her 10th game digging in double digits.
“I think consistency is huge for us,” Swackenberg said. “If we can be good and not great. If we can just focus on passing good balls, not perfect balls or just hitting balls and keeping it in play, I think we'll be able to really compete. Instead of just have longer rallies instead of just one point here, one point there."
Rutgers is going to have to work for every single point when it faces up against the Hawkeyes (11-6, 3-3) tonight. Iowa is coming off of a big win over No. 6 Wisconsin in an extremely close five-set battle.
The surprise upset has the Hawkeyes heading into New Jersey with their heads held high. It’s up to the Knights to shock their opponents and take advantage of their bubbling confidence.
“I think going into Iowa, we can just take that we need to finish," Swackenberg said. “We need to be the aggressors. We can't wait until fifth sets to come out and be the dominant team on the court.”
Overcoming loss is one thing Rutgers knows all too well, but with the addition of its talented freshmen group, it looks like the team is finally establishing its place in the Big Ten.
The international freshmen class has already made a drastic impact on the Knights, and they’re not stopping anytime soon.
“The expectation is that you come in and contribute,” said head coach CJ Werneke. “(The freshmen) have the skill set of how quickly can you adapt to this game and this style of play within our system, and at the end of the day, you have to produce. They’re learning how to do that more and more, and they’ll be better at the end of October then they are at the beginning of October. And so, we’re just looking forward to that continued development and how hard they work and how quickly they understand the concepts we're giving them.”
There’s no time to make a mistake or mess around with Iowa. Rutgers will have to have their own hawk-eyes and be tuned in to every point if they want to have a chance to score big time against their Big Ten opponent.
The Knights serve up against the Hawkeyes at 7 p.m. at the College Avenue Gymnasium. The match will also be livestreamed on the Big Ten Network.
"I think when we realize we just need to go out there and everybody do their own job, then we'll be able to actually win,” Swackenberg said.
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