The Terps head back out on the road this weekend after losses to Iowa and #13 Nebraska. The first stop is Columbus, OH on Friday to face the Buckeyes (16-8 7-5 B1G). Following the trip to Ohio, Maryland heads up to PA to match up with defending national champion Penn State (22-3 10-2 B1G). It will be Coach Aird's first stop to State College with his new team. And the first trip to State College for a Maryland team since the handshake incident.
But let's start at Ohio State
Ohio State enters the weekend coming off the unenviable task of facing Penn State twice last week and leaving with two straight three set losses. Despite recent results, the Buckeyes have proven their ability to beat quality competition with wins over Nebraska and Illinois earlier this season. Statistically, Ohio State is solidly in the middle of the rankings but blocking is an area where the Terps have an advantage (2.45 vs 1.85 blocks per set respectively). The Buckeyes do attack at a much better rate than Maryland (.211 vs .117 percentage & 12.87 vs 10.11 kills per set).
Senior outside hitter Erin Sekinger leads the team in kills with 3.09 kills per set in conference play. Sophomore middle hitter Taylor Sandbothe is a dynamic offensive player hitting .303 with 2.62 kills per set in the B1G. A player some of the Terps may be familiar with is junior transfer outside hitter Elizabeth Campbell. Campbell played her first two seasons at Duke and in her freshman season (2012) put up 17 kills in a five set loss to Maryland. She starts opposite Sekinger and averages 3.02 kills per set.
Hello Penn State, Goodbye Columbus
Saturday marks a big day for Coach Steve Aird. He returns to his alma mater to take on his mentor, Russ Rose of Penn State. The Nittany Lions haven't missed a beat this season with their only losses to Stanford, Nebraska and Illinois. Penn State is at the top of nearly every B1G category and leads in kills, hitting percentage and aces.
The aces ranking is almost single handedly based on senior setter Micha Hancock. Her wicked lefty serve accounts for 1.00 aces per set which leads the nation. She runs the most efficient offense in the country (.346) and adds an attacking threat when she is in the front row (1.18 kills per set). Offensively, Penn State is not lacking at any position. Freshman outside hitter Ali Frantti leads in kills per set with 3.24 but juniors Aiyana Whitney and Megan Courtney bring a blend of power and shot making respectively which is difficult to defend. Freshman middle Haleigh Washington started the season off slowly but she has grown quickly during B1G play and is a top contender for Freshman of the Year.
Ohio State can be very up and down as some of their wins and losses demonstrate. Though they lack the balance offensively of the upper echelon B1G teams, they have played well enough to sit 22nd in RPI and be ranked 18th in the most recent AVCA Coaches Poll.
According to reports, Maryland has had a good week of practice and if the Terps have shown, as they did against Nebraska, that when they put their game together, they can play with some of the better teams in the conference and in the country. If Maryland can exploit some of the weaker rotations, there is a chance for a set win or two and make the match interesting. Freshman Hailey Murray should have another quality start and senior Ashleigh Crutcher could have a big night. The question remains whether the other starters can chip in with above average numbers. The best case scenario would be the same level of play during the Nebraska match from last week when the team did everything but finish.
Playing Penn State anywhere is difficult. But Penn State at home presents a truly daunting task which I feel will be insurmountable for a undermanned Terps squad. The Nittany Lions are again a national championship caliber team and will most likely overwhelm Maryland offensively and defensively. I believe they will handle Maryland in three straight sets. But like many of the contests this season, there will be lessons to learn and hopefully they will benefit from the experience.
Friday and Saturday nights matches both start at 7:00PM. The Ohio State match can be seen on BTN2GO.