Needing three wins in its final three matches for a shot at NCAA Tournament qualification, the IU volleyball team begins its mission in Piscataway, New Jersey, where it will face Rutgers on Sunday afternoon.
It is crucial that the Hoosiers, 16-14 overall, 5-12 in the Big Ten, start this stretch with a victory over a 4-26, 0-17 Rutgers team that has yet to win at home this season and that has only one win in its three seasons of Big Ten play.
Rutgers has won just two sets against conference opponents this season, one of which came in the team’s first meeting of 2016 with IU and the other of which came against Iowa on Wednesday.
On Oct. 14, Rutgers out-blocked IU 10-4 and took the first set 25-23. Those were the only two things that the Scarlet Knights would win, and the Hoosiers claimed the next three sets and led in kills, aces, assists and digs.
“Rutgers will present a challenge,” IU Coach Sherry Dunbar-Kruzan said. “We have seen this season in the Big Ten it is not easy to win on the road. Rutgers took a set from us when we played them earlier this year and we expect a battle against them.”
After accruing 14 service errors in Wednesday night’s five-set loss to Purdue, IU will need to rediscover the serving prowess that established the team as the second best serving program in the Big Ten this season.
The Hoosiers outperformed Rutgers in the service aces category last time, earning 11 compared to just three by the Scarlet Knights.
“One of the things that we talk about is our serving game and having that travel on the road,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “We know we serve very well at home, and it will be important to continue that on the road against Rutgers.”
Without senior setter Megan Tallman in the last match between the two teams, freshman setter Victoria Brisack stepped in and tallied 43 assists, while Rutgers’ leader only had 16.
IU hopes to have a repeat in their offensive performance from that last Rutgers matchup, as senior outside hitter Allison Hammond knocked in 19 kills, sophomore right side hitter Elizabeth Asdell had 11 kills and freshman outside hitter Kendall Beerman, who left Wednesday’s match with an injured right ankle, contributed nine kills.
Senior outside hitter Lauren Cloyd led Rutgers in kills with seven.
“We are playing well at the end of the season, and that is a good sign,” Dunbar-Kruzan said. “The other thing I like to see is that our kids are still motivated. They want to keep playing, and they don’t want this season to be over.”
Opening serve will be at 1 p.m. Sunday in Rutgers’ College Avenue Gym.
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