Rutgers starts 2-game homestand against Michigan State
The Rutgers volleyball team will face Michigan State at the College Avenue Gymnasium on Wednesday at 7 p.m. in a midweek match.
The Scarlet Knights (6-23, 0-16) are coming off of mixed performances over the weekend in Illinois, but head coach CJ Werneke is hopeful for more progress to be made in the team's last four home matches of the season.
Last weekend, Rutgers lost both of its matches against No. 4 Illinois and Northwestern, but still managed to take a set from the Wildcats for their first set win against the Chicago school since joining the Big Ten in 2014.
Despite the fact that the Knights fell to No. 4 Illinois, 25-20, 25-22, 25-11, Werneke was proud that the team kept its opponent in close proximity for the first two sets before falling off toward the end of the match.
Surprisingly, Werneke was not pleased with Rutgers’ performance the following day against Northwestern even though the Knights captured the third set.
“It's not like we're tapped out or maxed out. So taking a set while not even playing our best shows that we have some grit and could still accomplish some good things," Werneke said.
With that in mind, Rutgers needs to find a way to finish stronger toward the end of each set and each match. Over the past weekend, it was only able to score 11 and 14 points in the last set against its opponents.
Additionally, the Knights are becoming more consistent scoring in the twenties against some nationally ranked teams, but are unable to close the set with a win.
“We're more familiar to what it feels like and looks like to be in those situations. So now we've just got to continue the same execution the last 5 points as we did the first 20," Werneke said.
This is not the first time the Knights have played the Spartans this season. Rutgers battled them on Sept. 29 where it was able to notch a win in the first set, 25-18, before falling in the other three sets.
Michigan State's head coach Cathy George applauded the Knights' progression throughout the years.
“Rutgers is vastly improved, and they pushed us — we realized that we had to play aggressive and poised. I think we really showed that in our third and fourth sets when we really put things together," George said, according to .
On Wednesday night, Rutgers should find a way to turn the tables and maintain its aggressive playing from the beginning to the end of the match.
The Knights are ranked 24th in the country with 2.67 blocks per set, as of this week's rankings, behind the Spartans' 2.68 blocks per game for 21st. They have been consistent in their defensive play.
In Michigan State’s most recent match, it lost to Iowa in four sets. After the Spartans captured the first set, the Hawkeyes came back to take the final three sets, 30-28, 25-19, 25-23, in a tight match.
“We had leads, but showed our inexperience in closing out sets and matches. It's something we're working on, but it frustrated us tonight. We did a lot of good things — we saw a lot of big performances this week over our two matches, but tonight we couldn't close it out when we had control,” George said.
Both Rutgers and Michigan State struggle closing out sets and matches, so the Knights have the opportunity to capitalize on their opponents' weakness. Luckily for them, they’ll be playing in front of a home crowd, coming in with the upper hand.
“It's always nice to be home,” Werneke said. “It's a little bit of a competitive advantage, but you don't have to travel, especially heading into that second match, or even the first match. When you’re comfortable in your home surroundings, you're a little bit more refreshed and a little bit fresher than the other team.”
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