The Rutgers volleyball team finishes its season this Friday and Saturday with a series of away games against Michigan State.
The Scarlet Knights (4-14, 4-14) went through a historic stretch last week when they won their past two games against Maryland. The matches gave them a team record for most Big Ten wins in a season and their first-ever series sweep since Rutgers joined the conference in 2014.
The Knights face an opponent with a similar record in the Spartans (3-10, 3-10), who are coming off a split pair of contests from last week against Iowa, winning on Friday and losing on Saturday.
Last week, Rutgers fought hard across both games and came away with two solid victories. On Wednesday, the Knights beat the Terrapins (4-14, 4-14) in a series of close sets, in which Rutgers rallied and went on multiple come-from-behind runs to close out Maryland.
The final set was the tightest, with six ties and three lead changes. The Terrapins came out hot early, but a 6-1 run by the Knights tied the score at 17 apiece. Rutgers closed out the set on a 5-1 run, and with it, won the match.
"This game was circled on the calendar as a must-win, and our approach on the court was to play with the same mental focus, same focus, same effort and determination as any other match we have played,” said Knights head volleyball coach Caitlin Schweihofer following the match. “I am really proud of the progress that this team has made this year. Although we have been battle-tested throughout the season, we continue to raise the standard for Rutgers volleyball."
In that game, senior right-side hitter Beka Kojadinovic scored a team-high 13 kills to go along with 13 digs and was helped by junior outside hitter Anastasiia Maksimova, who gathered a career-best 14 digs and four aces. Junior setter Inna Balyko, who won Big Ten Co-Setter of the Week with her performances across both games, paced the team with 40 assists and 13 digs, collecting her fourth double-double of the season.
The following day was a similar contest, as Rutgers took the match in four close sets behind double-figure points from three Knights. The final round saw Rutgers hit at a match-best 0.368 percentage. On top of the six kills by Kojadinovic, a 7-1 run late in the game let the Knights close out the set and the match.
Kojadinovic continued her good play with a career-high 19 kills and 13 digs, while Maksimova followed suit with 16 kills and 13 digs. Balyko scored a career-best 58 assists as well as collecting her fifth double-double. Senior right-side hitter Kamila Cieslik set a rally-era school record with seven aces, more than half of the team’s total 13.
Rutgers hasn’t had much success against Michigan State in the past, going 0-10 since it joined the Big Ten and 0-11 overall. This weekend, the Knights will look to repeat their performance from the last two matches and once again beat the odds to walk away from East Lansing with a victory.
“We just (want to) keep perfecting what we’re doing and just clean up a few things that will take us to a higher level and get us another win,” Schweihofer said.
For updates on the Rutgers volleyball team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.