Rutgers gets visit from Ohio State, Maryland this weekend

Back-to-back Big Ten games against Ohio State and Maryland are slated for the Rutgers volleyball team this weekend. 

The Scarlet Knights (6-11, 0-4) will finally get to play their first two conference games at home and could claim their first Big Ten win on the Banks.

Completing its road trip against No. 17 Michigan and Michigan State last weekend, Rutgers’ growing confidence has head coach CJ Werneke hopeful for some consistent performances in the Knights’ upcoming matches.

“I thought we had some consistent passing against Michigan, better than the weekend before against Wisconsin and Maryland,” Werneke said. “We blocked pretty well against Michigan as well and I thought our defense discipline and intensity (was good). So (if) we do those things at a high level throughout our match you’re going to be competitive with whosoever across the board.”

Even though Rutgers played better against the Wolverines than previous games, it wasn’t able to recover quickly enough from its initial slow start to the game. 

Werneke notes that it comes down to playing smart to get back into the rhythm of the match.

“We have to find a way to score more points,” Werneke said. “Two things: one, we’ve got to maintain what we just developed and add to that. If we can continue this weekend to play that kind of defense and pass consistently and be that discipline while improving our offense, I think it’s going to be even more competitive. I think we have to find ways to score points one and one, and make smart decisions when we’re not in rhythm or we’re a little bit out of our system.”

Currently, the Knights’ defense is ranked seventh in the nation and third in the Big Ten with an average of 2.92 blocks per set in addition to out-blocking their opponents in 12 out of the 15 matches this season. 

But, many of those blocks came from junior middle blocker Stasa Miljevic, who is out for the rest of the season battling an injury from the match against the Terrapins on Sept. 19.

Freshman middle blocker Merle Weidt seems to have filled Miljevic’s place and is quickly learning how to perform on demand with the pressure looming over her head.

“When I came here, I had troubles performing the way I know I can perform and for me, there wasn’t a pressure because there are two other good middles who are playing very well, so I don’t have to play immediately," Weidt said. “Now it’s like, 'okay, you have to play…' It’s hard. It’s definitely some pressure, but like I said, the coaches are very helpful. They try to help me as best as they can and I think it’s working out quite good so far.”

Defensively, Rutgers has stepped up its game this season, but as Wereneke said, the team needs to find a clear method to get more points up on the board. 

This upcoming weekend will give the Knights plenty of opportunities to rack up those Big Ten points and even get a chance to redeem themselves after their 3-0 loss to Maryland two weeks ago.

“They are more physical, they are more bigger and taller, and they hit harder,” Weidt said about the Big Ten teams. “It’s just completely different because the team, the whole athletic of the team is much higher than what we played against the other teams because they were just like… scrappy. The defensive teams play smart. They don’t score by killing the ball very hard. They play with the block and try to move you, so it’s completely different.”

With a predominantly international team, Rutgers has to figure out a way to adapt to the Big Ten’s aggressive playing field. Not to mention, the Knights have an entirely new team with the freshmen taking up almost half of the roster. 

Fortunately for the team, this breath of fresh air has created a new and better atmosphere for Rutgers to attack these next upcoming Big Ten matches.

First up, the Knights will play Ohio State on Friday at 7 p.m., followed by a match against Maryland on Saturday at the same time.

“The expectation is that you come in and contribute,” Werneke said. “They 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."

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

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