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Rutgers volleyball wins UConn Challenge title, off to best start since 2012

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The Scarlet Knights beat CCSU, Lafayette and UConn to move to 5-1 on the season.

Beka Kojadinovic won MVP honors for the UConn Challenge.
Rutgers Athletics

The Rutgers volleyball team won all three matches of the UConn Challenge this weekend to win the title. The Scarlet Knights swept CCSU on Friday night before defeating Lafayette in four sets and UConn in three sets on Saturday. Senior Beka Kojadinovic was named MVP of the UConn Challenge, while seniors Inna Balyko and Shealyn McNamara were also named to the All-Tournament team. At 5-1 on the season, the Scarlet Knights are off to their best start since 2012.

Rutgers had three players record double digit kills in the win over CCSU led by Kamila Cieslik with 11, while Kojadinovic and McNamara had 10 each. Balyko had a game high 27 assists and Madyson Chitty, who made the FGCU Invitational All-Tournament team last weekend, registered a career high 22 digs.

Against Lafayette, the Scarlet Knights dominated the first set, winning 25-11, before falling in the second set 23-25. However, they won the third set decisively 25-17 and pulled out the fourth set 25-23 to close out the victory. Kojadinovic had a team high 15 kills while Tina Grkovic hit .533 with 10 kills on her 15 attempts. Balyko had 41 assists, 7 digs, and 3 blocks in the win. McNamara had a career high 11 blocks and Chitty had 18 digs..

After winning the first set against the Huskies 25-23, RU won the last two sets decisively by the score of 25-12 and 25-17. The Scarlet Knights hit a program best .450 as the team had only six attack errors in over 80 attempts. Anastasiia Makismova had a game high 11 kills, while Kojadinovic had 10 kills and four aces in the win. Balyko had 33 assists, Chitty had 9 digs and Grkovic had two blocks

“Last weekend, we played our best match of the weekend in the first match and then kind of went down a bit as we went to the next two matches,” said second year head coach Caitlin Schweihofer. “I charged the team with trying to work to do the opposite this weekend, to start strong and finish even stronger. I thought that was really evident tonight.”

Schweihofer has made amazing progress with the program in just her second season. Her approach to details and the attitude of her players is key to taking another step forward as a team this season.

“We discussed this week in practice about being consistent and that elite level teams have a lot of consistency in everything they do, their attitude, their execution and their confidence,” said Schweihofer. “We went into the match tonight thinking about what each individual could do to be consistent and what one thing they could truly focus on. I think we met the task. We reached that goal because we basically played error-free volleyball tonight. We only had six hitting errors and two service errors. Eight errors in a three-set match is pretty remarkable. I’m really proud of their effort.”

To see the progress that this program has made in such a short time is incredible. The Big Ten gauntlet ultimately awaits. For Rutgers to have any chance of earning an NCAA Tournament bid, which Kojadinovic made clear was the team’s goal in our season preview, they must win as many non-conference games as possible.

Rutgers will play its first home match of the season next weekend as they play host to the Rutgers 9/11 Memorial Tournament. Opponents include NJIT, NC State and Brown. All matches will be played at the RAC and their matchup against N.C. State (2-4) will be televised live on BTN at 6:30 p.m. ET. Attendance is free and masks are required.