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Nightmare season continues for Rutgers as it drops its 24th straight match

<p>Senior right side hitter Lauren Cloyd led Rutgers with seven kills against Ohio State Friday.</p>

Senior right side hitter Lauren Cloyd led Rutgers with seven kills against Ohio State Friday.

Two more to the loss column for the Rutgers volleyball team.

The Scarlet Knights (4-25, 0-16) suffered road defeats to conference opponents Ohio State (17-11, 7-9) and Maryland (11-17, 3-13) this weekend.

The Knights extended their losing streak to 24 games, and the side has not won in over two months of play.

Rutgers entered Columbus Friday with high expectations, looking to pounce on a team that had not been performing to its potential in recent matches.

But from the first serve of the game, the Buckeyes had addressed those concerns and put a rest to any hope on the Knights’ end.

Ohio State jumped out to an 8-1 lead to start the first set, connecting on three consecutive service aces. Rutgers brought the score within three at 11-8, but the Buckeyes went on a 9-0 run and ended the set with a commanding 25-12 victory.

The Knights seemed to parry the home side’s momentum at the beginning of the next game, as they inched toward a 4-3 lead. But that momentum returned in the form of a 7-0 run to give Ohio State a 10-4 edge.

The Columbus crew did not let up, putting on the pressure until the final whistle and not allowing Werneke’s side any openings. The second game finished the same as the first, with Ohio State clinching the 25-12 win.

Looking to at least grab something out of its trip to Ohio, Rutgers stayed relatively close in the opening stretches of the third stanza, thanks to players like senior right side Lauren Cloyd, who led the squad with seven kills Friday.

“It’s obviously discouraging,” Cloyd said, on whether playing well time and time again in defeat is frustrating. “But we still have work to do, we have four games left so we’re trying to finish with a win. And in the next four games, I’m just trying to keep my production up, and then hope for the best for my teammates.”

But as they had done all match, the Buckeyes distanced themselves considerably, holding a 10-point lead midway through the set. The Knights were determined to not allow Ohio State run all over them for the third consecutive set, and they chipped away at the Buckeyes’ lead in the final few moments.

Ohio State proved much too strong for the Jersey side, as they trounced Rutgers once again to the tune of 25-16 in the third set.

The Knights moved back East for a Sunday showdown against Maryland, in which they looked to rectify their early season loss to the Terps.

And from the start, it looked like Rutgers would make good on its promise.

The two teams went point-for-point at the beginning of the first set, but Maryland pulled away slightly, holding a 3-point lead into the middle.

With the score at 19-16 in favor of the Terps, the home side nabbed six in a row to grab the first set.

The second started identical to the first, with both squads trading points. The Knights pulled ahead at 10-6, and they held this lead for much of the game until Maryland closed the lead at 19 all.

Neither side would gain an edge heading into the final moments of the set, as it was another instance of trading points that led the set to a 25-25 deadlock.

But just as in the first match against Maryland a few weeks back, Rutgers was unable to close the set at this stage, and Maryland cleaned up, as the Knights dropped their second set of the day.

Though Rutgers found themselves behind once again, on paper, the team held its own. With freshman setter Megan Sharkey’s 13 digs, Rutgers paced the home team 35-27.

And due to freshman middle blocker Jasmine Stackhouse, whose five blocks led the entire floor, the Knights out blocked Maryland as well.

“I was just focused on what I had to do,” Stackhouse said. “I was focused on getting up for the blocks, and I was confident that I could produce blocking-wise.”

Despite having a steep wall to climb, the visitors got off to a positive start in the third set, establishing an early advantage until Maryland emerged to tie the score at 10. From then on, the Terps maintained a steady lead over Rutgers, keeping them within 1 or 2 points until the final stretch, where they closed out the game and the match with a 25-21 victory.

Maryland seemed the most likely side to award the Knights their first Big Ten victory of the season, but after two losses to them, Rutgers faces its toughest challenge yet in garnering a conference win to redeem what has been a monumentally disappointing season.

But head coach CJ Werneke, in light of Sunday’s loss, was not dependent on Maryland to grant the team a conference win. On whether or not the door is closing on that accolade, Werneke remained optimistic.

“There are four matches left,” Werneke said. “I think in all four matches, we have an opportunity to win. We just have to continue to put our best foot forward, continue to work and continue to execute at the level we did today. And those opportunities are going to present themselves.”

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

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