After two wins over Rutgers last week, the Terps return home to take on Iowa (9-12 & 1-9 B1G) and Nebraska (12-7 & 6-4 B1G). The Hawkeyes enter the weekend in 13th place, one spot behind the Terps. Their sole conference win was against Northwestern in five sets.
A brief but sharp look at the Iowa Hawkeyes
Iowa, like Maryland, is at or near the bottom of all the B1G statistical rankings. For the season, the Hawkeyes are 11th in the conference with a .201 hitting percentage while the Terps are 13th with their .153 hitting percentage which puts them ahead of only Rutgers. However, Maryland defends a bit better than Iowa allowing opponents to hit only .216 while the Hawkeyes allow a .230 opponent hitting percentage. In conference games only, Iowa's opponents hit .299 while Maryland's opponents hit .264.
Sophomore Lauren Brobst leads the Hawkeyes offensivley with 3.24 kills per set in conference play. Senior middle hitter Alessandra Dietz and freshmen outside Jess Janota add experience and size offensively. Iowa runs a 6-2 offense with Alyssa Klosterman and Kaylee Smith as the setters. Smith and Klosterman each average just under six assists per set for the season.
Aw shucks. Some kernels about the Nebraska Cornhuskers
Saturday the Nebraska Cornhuskers come to town. Don't let that 12-7 record fool you. Nebraska is a big time team. Four of their losses have come against teams ranked 2nd, 3rd, 5th and 13th in the nation. Not only are the Huskers ranked 14th in the Coaches poll, they hold the 12th spot in the RPI.
Leading the Husker attack is sophomore outside hitter Kadie Rolfzen who averages 3.46 kills per set. A Nebraska native, Kadie has taken over in Lincoln and looks to be a perennial all conference and possibly All American performer. Her twin sister Amber Rolfzen starts on the right side and, though she averages only 2.15 kills per set she has the second most kills behind her twin. Outside hitter Kelsey Fien has recently carved out a much larger role and middle hitter Megan Haggerty plays with a craftiness beyond her years. Senior setter Mary Pollmiller runs the sixth most efficient offense in the B1G at a .231 hitting percentage.
The 'X' factor
The Iowa match presents an opportunity for another conference win for Maryland. The Hawkeyes are similar to the Terps in many respects with new head coaches at the helm along with a mix of senior leaders and emerging young players.
Maryland was bolstered last week by the return of outside hitter Ashleigh Crutcher who picked up 42 kills in the two matches against Rutgers. Crutcher is fourth in kills per set in conference only matches and fifth in all games. The Terps also have a budding star in freshman Hailey Murray who has raised her game as the season has progressed. The middle blocker is eighth in the B1G in hitting percentage and twelfth in blocks since beginning conference play.
Still, I am predicting a close match and it truly could go either way. Maryland's serving will be one key to a Terrapins victory. Iowa is much less dangerous when taken out of system. A vocal home crowd could be the 'X' factor and turn the tide for Maryland.
Despite their record, Nebraska truly is an elite level team. They hold opponents to a .180 hitting percentage, are third in the B1G with 2.81 blocks per set, and trail only Wisconsin in digs per set. The Cornhuskers have four players who average more than two kills per set. Only Ashleigh Crutcher can make that claim for Maryland. I believe they will handle Maryland in three straight sets.
Both matches this weekend are in the Xfinity Center and both start at 7:00PM on Friday and Saturday respectively. The Iowa match can be seen on BTN2GO.