After falling flat to Michigan in three sets, Maryland volleyball needed a win over the unranked Michigan State Spartans, and it did just that.
Maryland suffered a loss in the first set to Michigan State last Saturday, as the Spartans ended the opening set on a 7-3 run. The Terps got back on track in the second, however, jumping to a 4-0 lead and riding their momentum to a four-set victory, improving as each set progressed.
Setter Sydney Dowler and outside hitter Sam Csire had themselves a day, with Dowler recording 34 assists, three service aces and 11 digs, while Csire finished the night with 15 kills, 10 digs and a .308 hitting percentage.
The Scarlet Knights were solid in nonconference play, finishing with an 8-3 record. Since then, Rutgers hasn’t won a single game, losing all eight conference matchups and only winning two total sets.
The Terps return home match on Wednesday night at 6 p.m. to take on the Scarlet Knights and the game will be aired on Big Ten Network.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights 8-11 (0-8, Big Ten)
2020 record: 6-14
Head coach Caitlin Schweihofer was named Rutgers head coach on Jan. 15, 2020, and is now in her second season. Despite a losing record, Schweihofer showed incredible promise in her first season, checking a lot of conference firsts off the list for the Scarlet Knights, including first-ever home-opening Big Ten victory, first-ever Big Ten series sweep, set victories over more than one Top 10 program and the team’s first-ever wins over Indiana and Michigan State.
After a rough start to conference play, Schweihofer and the Scarlet Knights will look to turn it around starting Wednesday night.
Players to know
Redshirt senior middle blocker Shealyn McNamara, 6-foot-2, No. 5 — McNamara spent her first three seasons at Auburn where she was a two-time SEC Academic Honor Roll member and a recipient of the 2019 Peach of an Athlete Award. Since arriving at Rutgers, she has appeared in every single game. This season, McNamara is 10th in the Big Ten in blocks per set (1.23), third on her team in hitting percentage (.235), and fourth on her team in kills (112).
Senior setter Inna Balyko, 6-foot, No. 10 — Balyko has already solidified herself as one of the best setters in program history as she is already fifth all-time in assists with 2,602. She was selected to the Spring 2021 First Team All-Big Ten and was Academic All-Big Ten in 2019 and 2020. Balyko has further proven to be an all-around threat this year leading the team in hitting percentage (.402) and assists (530), second in blocks (47) and service aces (18), and third in digs (147).
Fifthyear outside hitter Beka Kojadinovic, 6-foot-1, No. 1 — Kojadinovic is an Academic All-Big Ten 2019 and 2020 selection and is the school record holder for aces in a game. She is having another great season, leading the team in kills (185) and service aces (21), is second in digs (162), and third in blocks (37).
Experience. One part of its game that Rutgers is extremely strong at is its experience and leadership. McNamara, Balyko, and Kojadinovic are all in their fourth or fifth year of collegiate play and do not fold under the pressure of a close and competitive game.
Offense. Rutgers has had a really tough time on offense this year, as it seems to have led to its conference play demise. The Scarlet Knights are 12th in the Big Ten in hitting percentage (.190) and last in both assists per set (10.32) as well as kills per set (11.46). They will have to heavily up their offensive production against Maryland’s swarming defense.
Three things to watch
1. Can Csire come up big for the Terps again? It has been no coincidence that when Csire plays well, the Terps win. In the Terps’ last two wins against Indiana and Michigan State, Csire put up 3.43 kills per set, 2.86 digs per set, and a .239 hitting percentage. On the other hand, in their last two losses against Michigan and Northwestern, she averaged 2.23 kills per set, 1.75 digs per set, and a .026 hitting percentage. If Csire can continue her solid play from the last match, the Terps should have a good shot to pull out the win.
2. Will the short break impact the Terps play? Maryland just finished its two weekend matchups just four days prior to its Wednesday night outing against Rutgers. This is new to the Terps who have had six days in between games virtually all season long, so it will be interesting to see how the limited rest and preparation impacts Maryland’s game plan.
3. Can the Terps make it two in a row? Maryland is 3-5 in conference play but has yet to string together back-to-back wins against Big Ten teams. The Terps are in prime position to do that Wednesday night against an opponent who hasn’t won a conference game yet and frankly seems unmatched for Maryland’s ferocious defense.