Rutgers suffers 7th Big Ten loss of season
After suffering six consecutive Big Ten losses, the Rutgers volleyball team was hungry for a win last night.
But, the Scarlet Knights (6-14, 0-7) fell to Iowa in straight sets at the College Ave Gymnasium on Wednesday evening, which ends their three-game homestead, as they pack their bags to face off against Indiana on Saturday.
In the first set against the Hawkeyes, Rutgers put all of its cards on the table and shocked its opponent, matching almost every point that Iowa threw at it. But, the Hawkeyes' three service aces in the first set allowed them to pull slightly ahead for the win in 25-21.
Iowa controlled the first half of the second set, leading 18-9 before the Knights took a timeout to enter back on the court with a completely different mindset. Rutgers produced a 7-point stint, led by senior outside hitter Sahbria McLetchie’s 3 kills, to bring the score up to 18-16, before the Hawkeyes had to take a timeout of their own.
After a tight battle toward the end of the second set, Iowa was able to pull through in a close 25-23 win.
The Knights took the blows of the Hawkeyes’ 7-1 and 6-0 stints to bring up the score to 14-5. From there, Rutgers was unable to catch up, ending the third set, 25-15.
Taking the lead in the attack department was McLetchie with 12 kills, followed close behind by sophomore right side Beka Kojadinovic with 11 kills. Freshman setter Inna Balyko helped the Knights with 34 assists, while junior libero Karysa Swackenberg produced 13 digs, which marks her 11th double-digit mark in the dig department.
Off to a shaky start in the Big Ten games, Rutgers has put up some tough battles to try to earn a win in such a daunting conference and isn't giving up. If anything, the Knights are going to be thirsty to get their first Big Ten win in the books this weekend, when they travel to Bloomington, Ind. to play the Hoosiers.
“Yeah, I think we're all excited for Indiana,” Swackenberg said. “It's always one of our best matches of the year. Last year, we went to five with them and again lost in a close fifth set, so I think we're excited to go out there and not wait until the fifth set to make a statement that Rutgers is here in the Big Ten, and we're ready to play and we're ready to win.”
With a large majority of the team as freshmen, Rutgers is working to step up its game to be able to compete with teams with more seniority.
Proving she deserves to be in the Big Ten competing alongside athletic powerhouses is freshman middle blocker Merle Weidt, who has put up an incredible 21 kills and 11 blocks in two games. Weidt is stepping in for injured junior middle blocker Stasa Miljevic, who had been a past leader in kills and blocks.
Another star for the team is Balyko who totaled 46, 30 and 34 assists over the past three games. The freshmen are showing that they deserve to compete in the Big Ten despite their age and experience.
The last two games at home have been full of fight and emotion from the Knights, especially from Swackenberg. During their three-game homestand, she consistently encouraged the team to keep fighting for every point, which is something head coach CJ Werneke has noticed after their loss on Saturday.
“This league means you have to pick yourself (up) and play at the same level,” Werneke said last weekend. “And when you don’t, you have a disappointing performance. Now, how do we respond to this?”
Rutgers knows the feeling of loss all too well, but it looks like that’s about to change come Saturday. The Knights shocked Iowa in the first two sets, and they hope to do the same again when they hit the ground running in Indiana.
“I think we're excited that Indiana is closer competition with us, like Ohio State was. I think we're definitely ready to pull out a win, hopefully this weekend and finish that fifth set if it comes to it,” Swackenberg said.
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