Rutgers drops contests to No. 8 Wisconsin, No. 3 Minnesota to end season

Capping off its final two games of the season, the Rutgers volleyball team fell in straight sets to No. 8 Wisconsin and No. 3 Minnesota over Thanksgiving weekend. 

The Scarlet Knights (6-27, 0-20) did not have the most successful season, but they have to at least be thankful for attaining a program-record 300 total blocks, averaging 2.6 per set. 

On Friday evening, Rutgers fought hard to take on the nationally-ranked Badgers (22-6, 15-5), but were unable to overcome early leads set by Wisconsin in each of the three sets.

In the first set, the Badgers put up a 7-2 lead and prevented the Knights from scoring more than 2 points in a row. 

Rutgers was able to come around in the second set and secure an early lead at 6-4. Both teams went back and forth, with the Knights controlling a 5-1 run to notch another tie at 13-13. They could not maintain their lead, though, and a Wisconsin 6-1 run was enough to take control for a set win.

In the third set, the Badgers took a commanding 9-2 run from the start. An attack and service error from Wisconsin gave Rutgers 2 points at the beginning of the set. After calling a timeout, the Knights were able to score a couple of points, but still were 7 points behind their opponent at 12-5.

The Badgers would go on two 4-0 runs, as Rutgers could not catch up after scoring no more than 2 consecutive points in the final set.

Freshman setter Inna Balyko led the team with three blocks, 22 assists and nine digs in the loss to Wisconsin.

The Knights faced the Big Ten's first-place team, the Golden Gophers (25-3, 19-1), last Saturday in their final match of the season. They had 35 kills compared to Minnesota’s 39 kills. But, the Golden Gophers bolstered a .395 hitting percentage while the Knights made 21 errors and finished with a .147 hitting percentage.

Minnesota had a dominant 15-2 lead in the first set. Rutgers mounted a small comeback late in the set, eventually narrowing the lead to a 10-point difference. The Golden Gophers ultimately won the set, 25-13.

The second set played out similarly to the previous set, with Minnesota controlling a strong 11-4 lead in the beginning. The Knights recorded a 4-1 spurt, but the Golden Gophers countered with an 8-2 run. Rutgers only allowed its opponent to score one or two points, but wasn't able to mount a large comeback, as Minnesota won the set, 25-14.

Midway through the third set, the Knights were 2 points behind their opponent at 8-6. The Golden Gophers pulled away with a 7-1 run, but Rutgers countered at the end of the set with a 6-1 stint to reach within 3 points of the lead. A late timeout from the Knights allowed Minnesota to falter on three attack errors before it held up its end to close the match, 25-20.

The season was filled with various Rutgers' program records. Junior middle blocker Jasmine Stackhouse recorded 120 total blocks of the season, placing her eighth on the single-season individual blocks leaderboard. Stackhouse will enter her senior year in the all-time top 10 with 290 career blocks.

Recording 13 digs against the Golden Gophers, junior libero Karysa Swackenberg is No. 10 on the Knights' all-time digs leaderboard, after notching a career total of 961 digs.

Over the weekend, senior outside hitter Sahbria McLetchie had 22 total kills. The San Antonio, Texas native originally committed to Virginia Commonwealth before transferring to the Banks as a junior. Throughout her 107-match career, McLetchie accumulated a total of 1,061 kills, 455 digs and 175 blocks.

Rutgers finished a tough season with some highs and lows. If there’s one thing to learn from the Knights, it’s their resilience and optimism. They didn’t win one conference game, but are grateful for the small wins that made up their 2018 season.

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

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