The Rutgers volleyball team continued its season this Friday and Saturday with a series of away games against Iowa. After losing their last four games, the Scarlet Knights (2-8, 2-8) regrouped and bounced back this weekend, splitting the series and winning a contested match on Saturday.
"It feels really good just because we've been working so hard in the gym. Even though we are rebuilding, and we know it's going to be tough to have the victories, we showed we could have them. It definitely makes it easier to get back in the gym and work hard the next week," said junior middle blocker Shealyn McNamara. "Definitely a big step in the right direction."
On Friday, the Knights fell in the first two sets of a tightly contested series. Though the Hawkeyes (2-8, 2-8) jumped out to an early lead of 13-7, Rutgers fought back, cutting the Iowa lead to just 3 in the first set. The Hawkeyes came back, though, and outscored the Knights for the rest of the first two sets.
In the third set, Rutgers was trailing 23-22 late in the round. The Knights would go on to close out the set, taking the next 3 points. In the final set, Iowa got off to a rough start, with three early errors. The Hawkeyes would get back into form quickly, though, leading Rutgers the rest of the way and eventually winning the match.
In a closely contested match that went all the way to five sets, the Knights defeated Iowa on Saturday, obtaining their second win of the season and tying the Rutgers’ all-time record for the most Big Ten wins, just 10 games into this season's campaign. The Knights started off slowly, hitting at just a 0.120 hitting percentage, which, compared to the Hawkeyes' 0.524 percentage, caused Rutgers to drop the first set.
The next set proved to be a bounce-back opportunity, with the Knights hitting 0.448 to take an early lead and close the round out. Once again, the third set would be the tightest contest, this time enduring 14 ties and eight lead changes. With a late 7-2 run, Rutgers would capture this round as well.
The fourth set would be just as contested, with the Knights trailing by two late in the set. This time, Iowa wouldn’t lose the lead and hung on to force a fifth set.
The final set would prove to be an incredible defensive showing for Rutgers, which held the Hawkeyes to a 0.074 hitting percentage. The Knights led from start to finish, giving them their second victory of the season.
On Friday, junior outside hitter Anastasiia Maksimova and freshman middle blocker Tina Grkovic led the team with 11 kills each. Grkovic also led the team in hitting percentage with 0.526 and just one error, hitting in double-figures at more than a 0.500 percentage for the second-straight match, while Maksimova filled up the stat sheet with two aces, three block assists and 7 digs.
Two other Knights finished with double-digit digs as well, with freshman libero/defensive specialist Madyson Chitty and senior right-side hitter Kamila Cieslik each registering 13 digs, which would set a new season-high for Cieslik.
Junior setter Inna Balyko, who was the Big Ten Setter of the Week a few weeks prior, continued her excellent play by leading the team in assists with 32. Defensively, Rutgers combined for 18 block assists, led by five from Grkovic and four from McNamara.
The following day, the team continued its excellent play, this time securing the win. Maksimova tied her career-high with a team-high 17 kills and was backed by Grkovic, who had a season-high of 12, and McNamara, who collected 11. Balyko assisted on 54 points, the most ever by a Knight in a Big Ten game, and defensively, McNamara would add seven block assists.
“We came up pretty flat (Friday) night, and unfortunately, it carried through to the first set, even though we tried to change it,” said head women's volleyball coach Caitlin Schweihofer. “The fact that we were able to change a few things mentally allowed us to refocus ourselves, reset ourselves and continue on the path (toward) success for the whole match tonight."
Though this week ended in success, a challenge awaits Rutgers in the form of the undefeated Ohio State. The team will be back in New Jersey next weekend for the matches.
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