Bulls Defeat Rutgers In Five For First Ever Win Over Big Ten Program

Polina Prokudina

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ – The University at Buffalo volleyball team overcame a slow start on Saturday morning to defeat Rutgers, 3-2, at the Seton Hall Tournament.  The victory was UB's first over a Big Ten program.  Sophomore Polina Prokudina had another huge day, finishing with 26 kills.

Buffalo took the contest, 10-25, 25-21, 25-19, 22-25, 15-9 as the Bulls narrowly outhit Rutgers, .266 to .250.  After a five-set battle last night against Rutgers, UB came out slow, dropping the first set, but the Bulls immediately fought back in the second.

Buffalo trailed 16-10 in the second set when it scored five straight points, including a pair of service aces from junior Larra Bickelhaupt. The set was tied at 21-21 when the Bulls scored the final four points, two of those coming on Prokudina kills to take the set and tie the match up at 1-1.

Rutgers opened up an early 7-3 lead in the third, but a quick 7-2 run by the Bulls gave them the lead.  UB led by just two at 17-15 when freshman Andrea Mitrovic recorded back-to-back kills to put the Bulls up by four.  A block from sophomores Rachel Sanks and Kristina Nieves put the Bulls ahead 24-18 and a Nieves kill ended the set and gave Buffalo the 2-1 lead.

The Scarlet Knights came back to win a tight fourth set, which sent the match into a fifth for the second straight day for the Bulls and the third time already in just five matches this year.

The Bulls dominated the fifth set, as they hit .636 as a team with seven kills and no errors on 11 attacks.  Buffalo raced out to the 9-3 lead in the fifth and was never going to be denied.  The Bulls used a pair of Mitrovic kills, a couple of services aces, and some big blocks to stake themselves out to that lead.  Rutgers never pulled closer than five late in the fifth set as a kill form Mitrovic clinched the match.

Prokudina finished with 26 kills, the second time this season she has recorded at least 26 kills in a match. She hit .426 for the match, while adding a pair of service aces.  Mitrovic had 12 kills, while she finished with a career-best four service aces.

Sanks had seven kills and three blocks, while Nieves finished with six kills and a team-high four blocks.  Fellow middle Megan Wernette had five kills and three blocks.

Sophomore setter Scout McLerran ran the offense as she recorded 51 assists, the second straight match that she had at least 50 assists as she finished with 55 against Seton Hall on Friday night.

Sophomore Hannah Watson led all players with 19 digs, while Bickelhaupt added 15 in addition to her three service aces.

"I thought the team battled back from a tough first set," said head coach Blair Brown Lipsitz. "It's been an exciting weekend on the road with two five-set matches, and we saw a lot of growth and grit with this team.  We are hoping to use some of the momentum from this win in practice this upcoming week."

For Rutgers, it was just the Scarlet Knights' second loss of the season as they entered the day on a three-match winning streak.  It is the third time that UB has defeated Rutgers all-time, but the first time since Rutgers has been a Big Ten program.  It is also UB's first win over a school from a Power 5 conference since defeating Syracuse in 2012.

The Bulls will return to the road next weekend when they head to the Georgetown Classic.  They begin play on Friday when they face Coppin State at 4:30 pm.  UB will face James Madison and Georgetown on Saturday.