PISCATAWAY, N.J. (August 27, 2013) – The Rutgers volleyball team begins the 2013 regular season Friday Aug. 30 at the Indiana Invitational in Bloomington, Ind. RU returns a wealth of experience, with three starters including the libero and 11 letterwinners coming back. The squad welcomes six newcomers to the roster as well.
Rutgers is coming off one of its best seasons in recent history. In 2012, sixth-year head coach CJ Werneke led the Scarlet Knights to double-digit wins for the fourth-straight season and an 18-12 (4-11 BIG EAST) record.
The 18 wins for RU marked the most since the 2000 squad recorded 23, while the four conference victories were the most since the 2005 team totaled six. Rutgers also notched its first winning season since the 2004 team went 16-10.
The Scarlet Knights look to build on the 2012 team’s success, returning plenty of experience and talent to the 2013 roster.
Rutgers has compiled a challenging schedule for the 2013 campaign, participating in four tournaments throughout the season. RU will face one team that made the 2012 NCAA Tournament, taking on conference-foe Louisville twice.
The slate is marked with 32 total matches, including 18 American Athletic Conference contests. The Scarlet Knights will host 10 matches at the College Ave. Gym, participate in 13 true road contests and play in nine neutral site matchups. Additionally, RU will face five teams which they have never played before in program history.
“We’re very excited about the schedule,” said Werneke. “We’re in a new conference competing against some teams we haven’t competed against before. The pre-conference schedule is as difficult of a schedule as we have had since we’ve been here. We’re going to be road warriors, which is going to be challenge for us. I think the conference is up for grabs with so many new teams as well as some familiar faces. “
The squad’s first test comes at the Indiana Invitational (Aug. 30-31). RU takes on Kent State on Friday, Aug. 30 before playing future Big Ten opponent and host Indiana on Saturday. The Scarlet Knights close the tournament with a 2:30 p.m. Saturday matchup with Robert Morris. Rutgers will meet the Colonials for the first time in school history.
Rutgers then travels to New York to participate in the Syracuse Invitational. The Scarlet Knights take on Oakland and the host Orange on Friday, Sept. 6, before concluding the tournament against Colorado and Stony Brook on Saturday, Sept. 7. RU holds a 2-0 all-time record against the Seawolves and takes on both the Grizzlies and the Buffaloes for the first time.
The Scarlet Knights host Seton Hall for their home-opener on Wednesday, Sept. 11 at 7 p.m. Rutgers is 19-16 all-time against the Pirates. RU next travels to its last two tournaments; participating in the Delaware Invitational (Sept. 13-14), before heading to Pittsburgh for the Panther Invitational the following weekend (Sept. 20-21). In Delaware, RU takes on the Blue Hens on Friday (Sept. 13), before meeting up with Furman and Sacred Heart on Saturday (Sept. 14). It will be Rutgers’ 24th matchup against Delaware.
RU faces Morehead State and former BIG EAST foe Pitt on Sept. 20, closing the Panther Invitational on Sept. 21 against Cornell.
The Scarlet Knights return home for their conference-opening weekend, hosting Houston (Sept. 27) and SMU (Sept. 29). Rutgers is scheduled to play the Cougars for just the second time in program history and will meet the Mustangs for the first time.
The team then hits the road for five-straight conference road matches, starting with USF (Oct. 4) and UCF (Oct. 6) in Florida. RU closes its first American road trip with UConn (Oct. 11), Memphis (Fri. 18) and Temple (Oct. 20).
Rutgers welcomes Louisville (Oct. 25) and Cincinnati (Oct. 27) then heads to Texas to take on the Mustangs (Nov. 1) and Cougars (Nov. 3) for the second time of the season.
Matching its five-game conference road slate earlier in the season, the Scarlet Knights host five home matches in the middle of November. RU hosts UCF (Nov. 8), USF (Nov.10), UConn (Nov. 15), Temple (Nov. 22) and Memphis (Nov. 24). The squad closes the regular season on the road, traveling to Cincinnati on Wednesday Nov. 27 and Louisville on Friday Nov. 29.
The Scarlet Knights added six freshmen to the 2013 roster, all coming to the Scarlet Knights with experience and success at the club level.
The newcomers come from five different states, adding depth at each position. OH Micaela Anderson (La Canada, Calif.), MB/RS Dulce Duran (Austin, Texas), DS Alyssa Ensminger (Aurora, Ill.) and MB/OH Sarah Richardson (Germantown, Tenn.) add to the two signees, MB Lauren Cloyd (Champaign, Ill.) and OH/RS Cole Trimble (Orlando, Fla.), which were announced in December.
“This class is deep,” said Werneke. “There is a lot of versatility. Any time you bring in six people, you’re going to add depth to a lot of different positions. All of them come in with a very high level of experience at the high school and club level, playing in multiple national championships and with several accolades individually and team-wise. We’re excited about adding another wave of youth, athleticism and experience and we will see how each of them will contribute over their careers.”
Rutgers returns a lot of young talent to the outside hitter position, including sophomores Alex Lassa (Eagle, Colo.) and Megan Stephenson (Burbank, Calif.). Lassa led last year’s squad with 3.43 kills per set (sixth in the BIG EAST), while earning BIG EAST Weekly Honor Roll recognition once. She posted 11 double-doubles on the season.
In 48 sets last season, Stephenson was second on RU’s roster with 2.67 kills per set.
“We have two sophomores coming back who gained a lot of experience last year,” said Werneke. “Alex is a true six-rotation, front court, back court player who can impact the game in multiple areas from passing, to defense, to serving, to blocking, to attacking. Megan has one of the best arms if not the best arm in our gym. She has a cannon for an arm.”
The right side returns two players who have experience and have performed at a high level in their Rutgers careers. Both are coming off of injuries from a season ago, but are proven commodities for the Scarlet Knights.
Junior Sofi Cucuz (Crown Point, Ind.) missed the entire 2012 season, but finished second on the team with 263 kills in 2011. Senior Brittany Bozzini (Saratoga, Calif.) played just 23 sets last season, but ranked third on the team with 225 kills in 2011.
Sophomore Kelli Mullane (Fullerton, Calif.) also returns after developing as a freshman and looks to be in the mix.
“The right side is a question mark for us moving into the fall and season,” said Werneke. ”Hopefully by the end of the preseason and preconference play, we will have a little better understanding of where they are coming off their injuries.”
In the middle, the Scarlet Knights lose Alex Jones, who capped her career in 10th place on Rutgers’ career kills list, compiling 917 putdowns in four seasons. Junior Rachel Andreassian (Fredericksburg, Texas) was one of four players on the team to play in all 119 sets last season. She switched from right side to middle blocker in the spring and looks to help fill the position. Sophomore Mikaela Matthews (San Diego, Calif.) made strides training in her freshman year
“We lose two starters from last year, so a lot of experience and a lot of statistics that are going to be gone,” said Werneke. “We feel that Mikaela had a great freshman year, even though she was just training. She really developed this spring and showed great improvement, especially in the two spring tournaments. She’s going to be in the mix there. Rachel, who played right side last year, moved back to the middle this spring and we really liked some of the things we saw.”
Rutgers looks to replace four-year starter Stephanie Zielinski, who finished second on RU’s all-time lists in career assists (4,255) and assists in a season with 1,342 helpers in 2012. Junior Nicole Bayer (Concord, Ohio) and sophomore Anna Sudbury (Tomahawk, Wis.) each return after learning the team’s system last season.
The two have different qualities and will have an open competition for the spot in preseason camp.
“Anna is a really physical, technical setter and Nicole is more of a leader, feel setter,” said Werneke. “At some point we’re going to need both of them throughout the season. There are a lot of options for us and both of them give us those options so we’re excited about that. “
Defensive specialist returns a wealth of talent in what may be the deepest position on the court for the Scarlet Knights. Junior Tracy Wright (Fair Lawn, N.J.) comes back after leading the squad in digs, coming up with 356 in an injury-shortened 2012 season, seventh on Rutgers’ single-season list.
Sophomores Ronnie Komisarek (San Mateo, Calif.) and Ali Schroeter (Bakersfield, Calif.) gained valuable playing time in strong freshman campaigns, as Komisarek played in 100 of the 119 total sets and Schroeter saw time in 81 of them. Junior Taylor Nelson (Great Falls, Va.) comes back from injury and made the transition from setter to defensive specialist to provide even more depth.
“Tracy had a great year until she got injured. We’re looking forward to her being back to her natural self,” said Werneke. “Ali and Ronnie had great freshmen years. They showed a lot of leadership and the ability to impact a match from a passing and defensive standpoint. Taylor brings some competitiveness and eagerness to get back after missing a year and a half of play. We will be excited to see the energy she brings as well.”
“We have enough talent to win,” said Werneke. “I think we showed that last year going five sets with a number of top teams in the conference and across the country. I think one of the biggest pluses for us is we are a team. Each night, we’re going to win and lose as a team. Not one individual is going to win for us and not one individual is going to lose for us. Our strength is that we’re a pretty diverse team. We don’t rely on one position over another. For us to be successful, everybody has to do their job and do it to the best of their ability.”
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