The Rutgers women's volleyball team continues its season this Friday and Saturday with a series of away games against Penn State. The Scarlet Knights (2-10, 2-10) were slated to play Michigan last weekend but had their games postponed due to coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns within the Wolverines' (2-3, 2-3) program.
With an extended rest comes extra time to prepare, and after falling on both occasions to its third nationally-ranked opponent in four weeks, Rutgers looks to regroup and bounce back this weekend.
The team faces a challenge in the Nittany Lions (5-5, 5-5). After losing last Friday in four sets, Penn State was able to turn its weekend around and beat its opponent 3-1 on Saturday. In the first matchup, the Nittany Lions were held to a 0.172 hitting percentage.
Although Penn State has lost five times this year, each of those losses has come against nationally-ranked opponents. They have yet to lose against an unranked opponent, and in their victory last Saturday, the Nittany Lions held their opponent to just a 0.186 hitting percentage.
On Feb. 26, the Knights fell to Ohio State in a series of close sets, with the team seeing six lead changes in the first set and 13 ties in the second. The third set was much more one-sided, with the Buckeyes (12-0, 12-0) jumping out to an early 9-1 lead. A late Rutgers rally would cut the lead to just 5 points, but the Knights would go on to lose the set, and with it, the match.
The following day was a much closer contest, as Rutgers pushed Ohio State all the way up to five sets. Both teams alternated control of the first four sets, winning two apiece with plenty of lead changes and late-round rallies creating tension on both sides.
The final round began with the Knights leading 12-7 but saw the Buckeyes score 5 straight to tie it at 12-12. After another Rutgers point, Ohio State earned three-straight kills, winning the set and the match.
“The fact that we were able to have last night’s performance, and then, again, adjust some things on our end … is an extremely proud moment as a coach,” said head volleyball coach Catlin Schweihofer following the Feb. 27 match. “We are continuing to work on perfecting our skill, managing our emotions and just learning from all the opportunities we have to play in extended sets.”
Although the Knights fell, there were some positives within the game. The first day saw senior right-side hitter Beka Kojadinovic and junior outside hitter Anastasiia Maksimova both score nine kills. Junior setter Inna Balyko led the team with 29 assists and moved within reach of the sixth most assists in Rutgers' history. Defensively, junior middle blocker Shealyn McNamara led the team with three total blocks.
On Saturday, Balyko not only reached the sixth spot but moved ahead to the fifth-most assists in Knights history, achieving 44 assists that night and pushing her career total to 2,304. Kojadinovic set a career-high with 16 kills and also achieved 10 digs. Balyko and Kojadinovic each had their third double-double of the campaign, while Maksimova scored her first.
“We’re just continuing to prove that Rutgers volleyball is changing,” Schweihofer said. “We are competing in the best league in the conference … and the more opportunity that we have to compete in these matches and push the other team, the more our program will continue to grow.”
Rutgers hasn't had much success against Penn State in the past, going 0-13 in matches. This weekend, the Knights will look to beat the odds and leave with a victory.
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