After a strong performance in the Homewood Suites FGCU Invitational, the Rutgers volleyball team will travel to Storrs, Connecticut this weekend to participate in the UConn Challenge.
The Scarlet Knights (2-1, 0-0) begin the tournament against Central Connecticut State on Friday at 2 p.m. before a double header the following day against Lafayette and the hosts, UConn, at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m., respectively.
Rutgers goes into the tournament riding high on momentum, winning a pair of games in the FGCU Invitational against South Florida and UMBC. The Knights started off the tournament strong with a resounding 3-0 victory over the Bulls (1-2, 0-0) before dropping the next game to the hosts, Florida Gulf Coast, 0-3.
Rutgers then finished the tournament with a come-from-behind victory over the Retrievers (0-4, 0-0) by a final score of 3-2. UMBC, a team that had qualified for the 2021 NCAA Tournament and won the American East Conference, won the first two sets, before the Knights stormed back to take the next three. It was Rutgers’ first win after trailing 0-2 since Aug. 25, 2012 when the Knights beat Wofford 3-2.
"It's good for us to play under pressure early on in the season,” said head volleyball coach Caitlin Schweihofer after the win over the Retrievers. “We are never not going to play under pressure in the Big Ten.”
Standout stars of the tournament included senior setter Inna Balyko, who recorded two double-doubles as well as a career-high nine block assists in the win over UMBC, along with sophomore libero Madyson Chitty, who was named to the FGCU Invitational All-Tournament team for her 4.91 digs per set over the course of the weekend.
“(Balyko) continued to maintain composure throughout the match, didn't get overly frustrated and acted as a true leader,” Schweihofer said, “and (Chitty) showcased that she is one of the best liberos in the country."
Other important players to Rutgers’ success were fifth-year seniors middle back Shealyn McNamara and right setter Beka Kojadinovic, with the former recording 13 blocks in the three matches while the latter notched a crucial double-double in the Knights’ win over UMBC.
Looking ahead now, Rutgers’ weekend opponents feature a combined record of 1-5, with the Huskies (1-2, 0-0) boasting the lone win out of three schools and the Leopards yet to play their first game.
One name to watch in particular is UConn’s Caylee Parker, who was named to the Preseason All-Big East Team. Parker has led the Huskies in kills as well as kills per set in each of her first three seasons and made the AAC First-Team All-Conference Postseason in her freshman year.
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