After sweeping its games last week against Maryland, the Rutgers women's volleyball team finished its season this Friday and Saturday with another sweep against Michigan State. Friday gave the Scarlet Knights (6-14, 6-14) their first-ever win against the Spartans (3-12, 3-12), and the six wins are tied for the most any Rutgers team has ever achieved in conference play.
On Friday, the Knights beat Michigan State in a come-from-behind win that showcased 48 ties and 30 lead changes. The first set saw the team hit at a game-best 0.345 percentage, grabbing hold of an early lead and outsourcing the Spartans 6-2 down the stretch to win the round.
Michigan State fought back in the next set, tying up the match while hitting at 0.480. The lead alternated between sides, but a late 7-1 Spartans run won the them the round.
Rutgers led most of the way in the third set, but 5 unanswered points gave Michigan State a narrow 20-19 lead. The next few points alternated between sides until a last-second Spartan kill gave Michigan State the win.
The fourth set was another close one, but the Knights managed to stay alive thanks to five kills on six swings from freshman middle blocker Tina Grkovic. The deciding set was knotted the whole way through, with neither side leading by more than 2 points at any time.
Tied 14-14 late in the round, a Spartan error and a team-total 14th ace, tied for the most in program history since 2008, from junior outside hitter Anastasiia Maksimova gave Rutgers the set and the game.
The following day was a similar contest, as the Knights took the match in four close sets behind an all-time school record of 17 aces. Senior right-side hitter Beka Kojadinovic served up six aces to power ahead in the first set. Rutgers hit at 0.579 and went on a 7-1 run to close Michigan State out. The next round saw 11 ties but ultimately ended with a 7-0 Spartan run to tie the contest at 1-1.
The Knights jumped out early in the third set, gathering six more aces to build a 23-15 advantage. Though Michigan State went on a 7-1 run late in the round, a kill by senior right-side hitter Kamila Cieslik gave Rutgers the set.
The fourth and final round was perhaps the closest, with the Spartans leading 24-22 late in the match. The next 4 points, though, went to the Knights, 3 of them being Michigan State errors. The win allowed Rutgers to complete its second-straight series sweep.
On Friday, the Knights collected 14 aces, tied for the most in the rally-scoring era. Maksimova and Kojadinovic both earned their third-consecutive double-doubles in kills and digs, scoring their fourth and sixth double-doubles on season respectively.
Grkovic and Cieslik were also both in double-figure kills, with Cieslik gathering a season-high 12. Junior setter Inna Balyko, who was named Big Ten Co-Setter of the Week on March 29, paced the team with 48 assists and a game-high four aces.
Kojadinovic’s 10 aces on Saturday were the most by any Big Ten player since 1989 and tied for the second-most in Big Ten history. Her record surpasses Cieslik’s seven aces, a record that she set against Maryland last week. She, along with Maksimova, recorded a fourth-straight double-double, with Kojadinovic falling just one dig short of a triple-double. Balyko contributed 36 assists and a pair of block assists as well.
"We've just defeated all odds,” said Rutgers head volleyball coach Caitlin Schweihofer. “Our mindset was expect to win and sometimes it worked out for us and sometimes it didn't. This team has totally bought into my vision for the program. We're making a lot of noise, and I'm so excited for the future (of) the program."