Milwaukee-Algonquin for the good land- was a very good place for the UC Santa Cruz Banana Slugs.
The fourth-ranked volleyball team finished their whirlwind Midwest trip with a pair of wins on Sunday morning, outlasting host Milwaukee School of Engineering 3-1 (33-31, 27-25, 13-25, 25-18) and beating Benedictine University also by 3-1 (25-10, 25-19, 21-25, 25-18).
The Banana Slugs (9-2) have won four straight after dropping their first two games of the year at the start of the roadtrip.
In the early match, UCSC and MSOE went back and forth as the first two sets were evenly matched. The two teams were tied ten straight points in the tail end of the opening game before Riley Rutan ended things with two straight kills to give UCSC the 33-31 win. The second set had UCSC up by six before the host Raiders tied it at 20-all. It was just like the opening frame as there were three more ties before the Slugs survived to win the second set 27-25 on consecutive MSOE hitting errors.
The third set was all the hosts, as they trailed only at the opening point and then put UCSC away with a 14-4 run to end the match.
However the fourth set was all to UCSC. The Slugs opened on a 5-0 run, including Brian Campbell and Rutan combining on a pair of blocks. UCSC hit a .345 in the final set and .211 overall. Rutan led UCSC with 16 kills and Lake Merchen had 15. Cameron Bardeau had a team-high 19 digs.
The second match of the day had the Slugs face the Benedictine Eagles out of Lisle, Illinois. The first two sets easily went to UCSC, with the Slugs hitting over .429 in both sets. The third set was different, with seven ties and no lead bigger than two points until the Eagles were able to put things away. The Slugs regained their form in the fourth set. After twelve ties, UCSC finished on a 9-2 run to win for the fourth time since Saturday afternoon.
The Slugs hit .383 for the match and held Benedictine to .137 hitting. Three Slugs (Riley Rutan, Jake Howard and Lake Merchen) had ten kills apiece with Rutan hitting .529. Evan Kittle had 45 assists and a team-high 14 digs to go with an ace.
The Slugs return home to face NAIA powerhouse Hope International Thursday February 11 at 7:00pm in the West Field House.