August 18, 2019 | 74° F

Rutgers goes back on road to face Iowa, Nebraska

Photo by Garrett Steffe |

Although the Rutgers volleyball team managed to end its five straight-set losing streak, it continues to struggle with good, consistent plays in practice and in competition. 

The Scarlet Knights (6-19, 0-12) are traveling to the Midwest this weekend to face off against Iowa and No. 8 Nebraska, but not without some doubt looming over their heads.

This past weekend, Rutgers put up some of its best performances of the season, winning at least one set against No. 13 Purdue (21-25, 25-23, 23-25, 13-25) and Indiana (25-21, 17-25, 25-27, 12-25). But, the Knights were unable to seal the deal and have yet to win a Big Ten match.

“Obviously we were very competitive, and could’ve won three against a ranked team in Purdue, but it got away from us,” said head coach CJ Werneke. “The moment was a bit bigger than we were, and we made some errors in critical moments and errors you can’t make at this level in those moments.”

Capturing the second set against the Boilermakers (25-23) was the first time Rutgers won a set against a nationally ranked team since Nov. 18, 2015, when the Knights fired up a 27-25 win in the third set facing Purdue.

But the team was still unable to capture the overall win and had to settle with the moral victory of winning a set.

“I think we got this set because we had a big desire to do this, and I think we expected that we can do this,” said freshman setter Inna Balyko. “I think we’re just happy we did it at least once.”

The desire to win a set against a nationally ranked team needs to be on the forefront of every player’s mind. 

That mindset and behavior needs to cultivate in practice for those great performances to translate in times of high-pressure situations.

“We play in matches like we practice and so that’s been an emphasis,” Werneke said. “Up our level of intensity and execution in practice. You’re going to play how you practice.”

Hopefully for Rutgers it is able to bounce back with the same level of intensity when it travels to Iowa City, Iowa and Lincoln, Neb. The Knights have already played the Hawkeyes this season, and if they can sharpen up on some of the errors that they’ve made, they will be in good shape come Friday.

The last time Rutgers took on Iowa, it logged its highest hitting percentage of .284 in a Big Ten match, but still lost to the Hawkeyes in straight sets. The Knights threw down a massive .424 attack clip in the first set and continued to fight their way through the following set, but ultimately fell through on the third and final set.

“For us, the last couple matches haven’t been (consistent) and that’s creating a lot of errors,” Werneke said on playing out-of-system. “That tells me either we’re trying too hard or we’re doing our own thing and forgetting about the game plan.”

Luckily for the Knights, the Hawkeyes haven’t been doing well with five consecutive losses recorded since their last win against Rutgers on Oct. 10. Iowa's head coach Bond Shymansky said the team's chemistry seems to be in the works after its straight set loss to Maryland (19-25, 22-25, 21-25) last weekend, which the Knights can use to their advantage.

Scouting the Cornhuskers, they are coming off of a loss against No. 4 Illinois (20-3, 9-3) over the weekend. Interestingly enough, Rutgers is ranked No. 16 in the nation when it comes to blocks per set with 2.70, behind Nebraska’s 2.73 blocks in 15th. 

Even though the Knights have built up a strong defense, scoring points comes down to having consistent kills.

“We got to control the first contact pass well to put Inna in a good situation to make decisions to make our hitters better and our last contact as hitters making good decisions,” Werneke said. “It’s easy being a great hitter when you’re in the system and everything’s flowing, but when things get a little rattled and little off course, are we still a good hitter?”

The freshmen may be the answer to Werneke’s question. Most recently, freshmen outside hitter Tali Marmen, Balyko and middle blocker Merle Weidt all scored career highs playing against the Hoosiers over the weekend. Marmen produced 17 kills, Balyko threw down 17 digs and Weidt jumped to eight blocks. 

Additionally, classmate right side hitter Anastasiya Kudryashova launched a team-high three aces that night.

“It starts with the serve,” Werneke said. “We served really, really tough against Purdue and got them out-of-system all night. It helped us. Can we replicate that against Iowa?”

For updates on the Rutgers volleyball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

Alexandra Fabugais-Inaba

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