Ruskup was needed for emergency duty in place of two-time HL defender of the year Jenna Story at NKU and had 20 digs herself, helping to catapult the Raiders back into the conference race.
“Jenna was cramping. We were heating her, we were icing her. We couldn’t get her to stop cramping, and I had to put the (solid-colored) libero jersey on Ellee,” Matters said.
“She was able to put on that jersey — which has been untouchable for four years — and we were able to trust her and win without Jenna. That’s really a cool culture to be part of.”
The Raiders won the league regular-season and tournament titles last season (played in the spring of 2021) and then notched their first NCAA tourney win by beating Samford.
They were overwhelming favorites to repeat as champs. And while they notched wins over Michigan State (in the Spartans’ invitational) and Dayton (which is in first place in the Atlantic 10), they stumbled to an 8-6 start.
“When I first got hired, when we’d play the No. 1 team in the conference or a big match, we’d say, ‘We’ve got nothing to lose. We’ve got to play our best volleyball to beat a team like this.’ And now we know what our opponents’ locker room sounds like when they’re about to play us,” Matters said.
“This is what we’ve created. We’ve worked really hard to get this target on our backs. It’s been tough and challenging, but we’ve figured some things out.”
The Raiders have won eight straight matches and are tied for second in the league with NKU at 8-2, trailing only 11-0 Milwaukee with seven matches left.
The returning stalwarts are doing their part. Reigning HL setter of the year Lainey Stephenson is second in the league in assists (9.41 per set), and Story is second in the nation in digs (5.76).
Both seniors plan to return next fall for their optional fifth year, which the NCAA granted to all 2020-21 athletes because of Covid-19.
“You hear about other players around the country not wanting to take their Covid year. I think, ‘Wow, I wonder what goes into that decision?’” Matters said. “It’s great to have athletes who are saying, ‘Yeah, I’m coming back. I wouldn’t miss it.’”
Milwaukee, which finished fifth in the league last season but missed qualifying for the conference tourney when it was reduced from six teams to four, beat Wright State in five sets in their first meeting Oct. 1.
The two will tangle again in McLin Gym at 6 p.m. Friday, part of a busy stretch for the Raiders with three matches in four days.
“They came in with a chip on their shoulder this year, and I don’t blame them. They got a really good freshman in, and they’re going on all cylinders. They’re the team to beat,” Matters said before adding:
“That’s fine with me. Give the pressure to someone else.”
GOLF: The Raiders finished their five-tourney fall season with their fourth victory, winning the 10-team Dayton Invitational by a whopping 22 strokes last week.
Bryce Haney won the individual title by one shot, birdieing the last two holes to do it. He shot 70-71-68 on the par-71 NCR South course.
He’s the fourth Raider to earn medalist honors, joining Tyler Goecke, Mikkel Mathiesen and Cole Corder.
First-year coach Conner Lash’s squad finished second in its only other event at the Marshall tourney, making its cumulative fall record 64-1.