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Rutgers Volleyball opens Big Ten play following best start since 2012

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The Scarlet Knights completed non-conference play with an 8-3 record.

Rutgers Athletics

Last weekend, Rutgers volleyball split two contests at the Big Orange Bash a win over ETSU and a loss to Clemson. The Scarlet Knights completed non-conference play with an 8-3 record, which is the best start for the program since 2012.

Big Ten play opens this weekend with two matches against ranked foes at the RAC. Rutgers will face No. 20 Penn State on Friday and No. 2 Wisconsin on Saturday. Both matches begin at 7:00 p.m. and will air live on Big Ten plus.

Penn State is 7-3 overall to start the season. They own wins over lowa State, Oregon State, LSU, St. John’s and West Virginia but are 0-3 against ranked foes. Last season, PSU went went 10-6 overall advanced to the regional semifinals before losing tonational runner-up Texas. Rutgers was swept in both matches at Happy Valley last season and will look to be more competitive in the Big Ten home opener on Friday.

The following day, Wisconsin will come to the RAC one day after visiting Maryland. The Badgers have started 8-0 this season with 3-1 match wins over No. 8 Kentucky and No. 10 Baylor. They have not conceded a set to any other opponent in its six other matches. Last season, Wisconsin went 18-1 with its lone loss to national runner-up Texas in the national semifinals.

The Scarlet Knights went 6-14 last season in Big Ten play after a 3-117 record in the previous six years combined. Head coach Caitlin Schweihofer worked wonders in her first season that did not include a traditional offseason or a non-conference due to COVID-19. It was the first time Rutgers avoided a last place finish in the Big Ten and ultimately came in 9th place last spring. She spoke about the progress made and increased expectations for this season in our interview with her last month here.

Redshirt senior Shealyn McNamara has had a great start to this season after being named to all-tournament teams for the UConn Challenge and Rutgers 9/11 Memorial Tournament. She had a career and team high 18 kills last weekend in the win over ETSU. McNamara leads RU with 51 blocks, which is 9th most in the Big Ten, as well as a .376 hitting percentage, which ranks 10th in the league.

Senior Inna Balyko was named a First Team All-Big Ten selection last season, a program first, is 10th in the Big Ten with 9.95 assists per set. She is now fifth all-time and second in the rally era in assists in program history.

Fifth year senior Beka Kojadinovic leads the attack with 3.26 kills per set and 14 aces this season. Kojadinovic is just five away from becoming the program’s all-time rally-era leader in aces.

Madyson Chitty leads the defense in averaging 4.23 digs per set and is already third all-time in program history in the rally era in digs per set midway through her sophomore season. She was also named to the FGCU Invitational All-Tournament team in the opening weekend of the season.

Rutgers will play 20 Big Ten regular season matches overall and will play its first ever league contest at the RAC this weekend. If you want to attend either match against Penn State on Friday or Wisconsin on Saturday, Admission is free. Friday’s match is a RED OUT, as all fans who do wear red will have a chance to win Apple AirPods or an Apple Watch. All fans must register for parking and you can click here to register your vehicle. Fans are allowed to bring bags that are “clear plastic, vinyl, or PVC and approximately 12″ x 6″ x 12″, or one-gallon clear plastic bags or similar, and small clutch bags, approximately the size of a hand, can be taken into athletic venues”. They will make exceptions for medically necessary items after a full inspection.

This is a big weekend for Rutgers, as they look to build off its 8-3 start in non-conference play and surprising finish in Big Ten play last spring. The roster is experienced and knows what to expect both in league play and in the second year with Schweihofer leading the program. Hopefully, even more progress can be made the rest of this season now that conference play is underway.

You can watch Kojadinovic and Anastasiia Maksimova discuss the team’s experience playing in the RAC for the first time following RU’s victory over Brown earlier this month.