Rutgers volleyball ended its opening weekend of the season in dramatic fashion. After losing the first two sets of the match to UMBC, a 2021 NCAA Tournament Team and America East Champions, the Scarlet Knights refused to lose. Both sets were close, falling 28-26 and 25-21, before flipping the script and winning the last three sets 25-17, 25-21 and 15-6 to complete the comeback victory.
Saturday’s triumph marked the first time that Rutgers came from behind to win after losing the first two sets since they defeated Wofford in 2012.
Beka Kojadinovic produced a double-double with 16 kills and 11 digs along with a game-high four aces. Inna Balyko, a First Team All-Big Ten selection last season, just missed a triple double with a game-high 45 assists with 11 digs and nine blocks. Cansu Gunaydin stepped up and was an integral part in the comeback with a career-high 14 kills. Shealyn McNamara added nine blocks and Madyson Chitty finished a tremendous weekend with a team high 19 digs.
RU produced 17.0 blocks as a team, the most in a game since 2019 and fourth most ever in the rally era.
“It’s good for us to play under pressure early on in the season,” said head coach Caitlin Schweihofer. “We are never not going to play under pressure in the Big Ten. There’s going to be a large attendance, there’s going to be television audiences, there’s going to be high level volleyball and competitors and we have to learn how to play under pressure. UMBC did a wonderful job of keeping the pressure on us. They’re an excellent team and played in the NCAA tournament last year so they know how to compete against high level teams.”
On any changes that the team made that helped Rutgers in the comeback, Schweihofer said, “We were able to make some lineup adjustments and Cansu (Gunaydin) really changed the overall chemistry and dynamic of the game. I was really proud of her in that moment. Inna (Balyko) continued to maintain composure throughout the match, didn’t get overly frustrated and acted as a true leader, and Madyson Chitty showcased that she is one of the best liberos in the country.”
Chitty was one of five players overall named to the All-Tournament team and the lone representative from Rutgers.
It was a great ending to a solid start to the season, finishing with a 2-1 record at the FGCU Invitational in Fort Meyers, Florida.
On Friday, Rutgers delivered the program’s first season-opening win since 2013 in a 3-0 victory over USF (25-23, 25-16, 25-14). Kamila Cieslik led the team with nine kills and Kojadinovic had eight kills. Balyko dished out 27 assists, three aces and a pair of block assists. Chitty finished with a game-high 18 digs while McNamara delivered two block assists.
Later that night, host FGCU handed the Scarlet Knights its first loss of the season in straight sets. (18-25, 14-25, 21-25). Last season’s Atlantic Sun Setter of the Year, Chelsea Lockey, led the way for FGCU, who went 3-0 on the weekend en route to winning the tournament title. Lockey was named MVP this weekend’s tournament along with teammate Erin Shomaker, who was named to the All-Tournament team.
In the loss, Balyko had a double-double with 26 assists and 12 digs along with three blocks. Anastasiia Maksimova had eight kills and 10 digs, Chitty had a game high 17 kills and Kristina Grkovic had four block assists.
Starting the season with a 2-1 record in the first non-conference action of Schweihofer’s tenure at Rutgers was a solid performance. They dominated USF, struggled against the host FGCU and showed plenty of character in the comeback win over UMBC. There were contributions from many players and the team gained some valuable experience in a tournament setting. With greater expectations this seasons, the Scarlet Knights have a chance to produce its best Big Ten campaign ever. This weekend’s results showed this team has the potential to accomplish that.
Rutgers will next play Central Connecticut State on Friday, September 3, followed by Lafayette and host UConn on Saturday, September 4 as part of the UConn Challenge in Storrs, Connecticut.