PISCATAWAY, N.J. (August 26, 2014) – Rutgers women’s volleyball is set to begin its inaugural season in the Big Ten Conference on Friday, Aug. 29 at the Air Force Invitational in Colorado Springs, Colo. Conference play is slated to start on the road at Northwestern (Sept. 26).
RU looks to capitalize on the surplus of experience across the roster this year. After graduating only two seniors in 2013, RU returns 11 letterwinners, with five starters including the libero. RU also welcomes five newcomers to the squad, three of which bring college-level training “To the Banks.”
Led by seventh-year head coach CJ Werneke, the Scarlet Knights are prepared to embark on a new era of Rutgers volleyball.
Rutgers is ready to make big strides in the regular season, facing a challenging 2014 campaign. The schedule consists of nine NCAA qualifiers, including the 2013 National Champions, Penn State, and runner-up, Wisconsin.
“As we go into the Big Ten, we are really excited about the competition level,” said Werneke. “We will be traveling to some new venues we have never been to and playing against the best competition in the country. It is going to be a great challenge for us, but one we are looking forward to.”
Overall, Rutgers will compete in four pre-conference tournaments, 10 home conference matches and 10 away conference matches. Eight conference opponents made an appearance in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. A total of four games of the tournament were Big Ten match-ups, most notably the national title contest.
Within conference play, RU is set to have home-and-home meetings with Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan State, Ohio State, Purdue and Wisconsin. The Scarlet Knights welcome Iowa, Michigan and Nebraska to New Brunswick and will travel to Northwestern, Minnesota and Penn State.
Rutgers starts the 2014 campaign off with four-straight tournaments, including three consecutive road trips. The team opens its season at the Air Force Invitational (Aug. 29-30), which includes host Air Force, Winthrop and Southern Illinois University – Edwardsville.
The next stop is South Orange, N.J., for the Seton Hall Tournament (Sept. 5-6). The event will feature in-state rival and host, Seton Hall, as well as Siena and Cornell. Rutgers concludes its three-tournament road stand at the Rhode Island Tournament (Sept. 12-13), with host Rhode Island, Cincinnati and NJIT.
The Scarlet Knights host the Rutgers Tournament for their home-opener on Friday, Sept. 19 and Saturday, Sept. 20. The tournament will include American, Akron, Princeton and James Madison. American highlights the competition after advancing to the Sweet Sixteen of the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
RU faces its first test in Big Ten play with back-to-back road matches, starting with Northwestern (Sept. 26), followed by a trip to Illinois (Sept. 27).
On Friday, Oct. 3, Rutgers is set to host its first Big Ten match-up against Purdue at the College Avenue Gym. Purdue had a strong run in the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals before being knocked out by Wisconsin. RU will complete the weekend at home facing Indiana on Sunday, Oct. 5.
Conference play continues as Rutgers hits the road to take on the national runner-up Wisconsin (Oct. 10).
Next, the Scarlet Knights will stop in Minnesota (Oct. 11), before returning home for back-to-back matches against Michigan (Oct. 17) and Michigan State (Oct. 18). All three squads made an appearance in the NCAA Tournament last season.
After Rutgers pays a visit to Big Ten newcomer Maryland on Tuesday, Oct. 21, the Scarlet Knights welcome the Terps “To the Banks” on Saturday, Oct. 25. The squad will remain home to face Nebraska (Oct. 31), followed by Iowa (Nov. 1).
RU will then travel to University Park, Pa. to take on the 2013 National Champions Penn State (Nov. 7). The Nittany Lions have captured the NCAA title five times in the past seven years. Rutgers will continue on the road for a match-up at Ohio State (Nov. 8).
Starting on the road at Indiana (Nov. 12), the squad then returns home for a contest against Illinois (Nov.15). After facing Purdue (Nov. 19) on its home court this time around, RU will follow with a visit to Michigan State (Nov. 22).
The Scarlet Knights play their final two games at home, hosting Wisconsin on Wednesday, Nov. 26 and Ohio State on Saturday, Nov. 29 to conclude the 2014 regular season.
Rutgers welcomes five newcomers to the squad this season. The newest additions bring in a plethora of talent, along with a wide array of experience across different levels.
Freshmen Talia Holze (Wheaton, Ill.) and Madison “Meme” Fletcher (Overland Park, Kan.) are coming off tremendous careers at the high school and club ranks, bringing youthful energy and strong ability.
Holze enters after a remarkable career with Sports Performance, one of the top club programs in the country. Fletcher competed for KC Power, making an appearance in six consecutive USA Volleyball National Championships.
Transfers Eden Frazier (Irvine, Calif.), Lauren Howard-Chavez (Long Beach, Calif.) and Lea Williams (Plainsboro, N.J.) will join the Scarlet Knights, offering college level experience to the squad.
Frazier enters after a two-year stint at the University of Utah. Howard-Chavez hails from the University of Miami (Fla.), where she redshirted this past season. Williams, a N.J. native, transferred from Virginia Commonwealth University and has been a student at RU, playing on the women’s club team. The Scarlet Knights have welcomed Williams to the program, giving her the chance to test her skills at the collegiate level.
“With five newcomers to add to our returners it will bring in some fresh faces, as well as some college experience. We look forward to them adding to our program,” said Werneke.
The position of outside hitter returns a wealth of experience with three letterwinners, adding one newcomer to the mix.
Junior Alex Lassa (Eagle, Colo.) returns after a successful 2013 season. Lassa led the squad with 383 total kills to average 3.25 putdowns/set. The Colorado native also managed 12 double-doubles on the year, six of which she notched in AAC play. For the season, Lassa took 1,336 total attempts, also setting a new single-season Rutgers record.
Junior Megan Stephenson (Burbank, Calif.) and sophomore Micaela Anderson (La Cañada, Calif.) saw limited action in the position last season, but still made a strong impact on the court. Stephenson recorded 135 kills last year, registering double-digit performances in five matches. Anderson finished third on team in kills (148), managing double-digits in the column on seven occasions.
Incoming freshman, Fletcher enters after an illustrious high school career. The Blue Valley West product surpassed the 1,000 kill milestone, notching 373 kills in her senior season alone.
“We are looking forward to some healthy competition in the position. Who will challenge Alex from a production and execution stand point? Who has developed? How will Meme “hang” at this level? Our expectation is that it will be a battle week to week and match to match,” said Werneke.
Right Side/Middle Blocker
The depth of talent on the roster can certainly be seen within the positions of middle blocker and right side. The roster boasts seven Scarlet Knights that can fill the roles in both areas and may serve interchangeably over the course of the season.
“Right sides and middles for us are kind of interchangeable. Some players will be purely designated as middles or right sides,” said Werneke.
“Cole Trimble (Orlando, Fla.) was here last year and she learned our system. Being a sophomore, she is familiar with what we want to get done and what we want to do. She will be designated as a right side. Then, we have two players designated as middles. Mikaela Matthews (San Diego, Calif.), who came on strong towards the middle part of last year and Eden Frazier, who transferred from Utah. We are looking forward to their continued development,” said Werneke.
Matthews led the team with 96 blocks and finished the season ranked third in the AAC with a 1.23 block average. Frazier made an appearance in eight sets last season with the Hotes, registering five kills and six blocks. Trimble notched nine kills and an assist over five matches, totaling 10 points in her freshman year.
While Matthews, Frazier and Trimble will serve their respective positions, the fellow middles and right sides will rotate from the outset of the season. Lauren Cloyd (Champaign, Ill.), Rachel Andreassian (Fredricksburg, Texas), Howard-Chavez and Williams will split the roles.
Andreassian has experience at both positions, having played right side as a sophomore, followed by middle last season. The senior finished second on the team in blocks (91) and fourth in kills (145). Cloyd played middle in her freshman season, compiling 118 kills in 16 matches. The sophomore also adds flexibility in the area of right side.
Transfer Howard-Chavez comes in as a multi-faceted player and will mostly serve as a right side. Williams joins from the Rutgers club team and will now contribute her skills to the varsity program.
“Until we really get in and work with [Andreassian, Cloyd, Howard-Chavez and Williams], we really won’t know. Their designated positions may change a little bit as the season progresses, but right now the options are good,” said Werneke.
Setter returns two starters in senior Nicole Bayer (Concord, Ohio) and junior Anna Sudbury (Tomahawk, Wis.).
Bayer compiled 590 assists last season to lead the team, tallying a total of 24 double-digit assists over 20 matches. She also tied for second on the team with 24 aces. Sudbury notched 563 assists of her own to finish second in the category. The junior notched double-digit assists in 27 matches, dishing out 20 or more a total of 15 times.
“We have really worked on developing a lot in their technical game. We are now going to focus on execution of game plans, strategy and running an offense rather than just focusing on the technical aspects of things. This is where both of them after two years in our program should really grasp what we are trying to do. Now it is their time to shine and show us what they have learned,” said Werneke.
Holze also joins the line-up for the Scarlet Knights, adding her skills and experience to the sturdy position.
“Talia is coming from one of the best clubs in the country, as far as her position. We are expecting a lot of good things out of her as well.”
Despite graduating top performer Tracy Wright, the position at defensive specialist remains strong with two returning juniors, Ronnie Komizarek (San Mateo, Calif.) and Ali Schroeter (Bakersfield, Calif.). Both saw substantial playing time last season. Schroeter made an appearance in all 32 matches and led the squad with 544 digs. Komizarek played in 114 of 125 total sets, tallying 226 digs of her own and ranking fourth on the team.
“Ali and Ronnie are productive players and good leaders. I think it is going to be a healthy competition between those two for the libero spot. They both bring different attributes to the table,” said Werneke. “Depending on what we need or how well they are performing, I can see either one of them being the libero at some point of this year. “
With the expanded depth of the roster and experience, the Scarlet Knights are ready to begin a historic season. The squad looks to embrace the strength of competition and use it towards the growth of the program.
“The Big Ten conference schedule speaks for itself. It is going to be challenging. It is going to be a gauntlet. We are going to learn a lot about ourselves, but we are going to have some fun along the way. We are going to compete along the way. We are going to have some new experiences,” said Werneke.
“We always thought to be the best, you have to play the best and that is what we are going to do when we get to conference play. We will take it all in stride and stay together as a team. We will focus on what we can control and embrace the opportunity.”
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